In 1978, D.L. Johnston presented the concept of "The 'T' Shaped Man". This can best be explained in contrast to the 'I' shaped person, whereby both shapes represent knowledge as the shape moves downwards. In the case of the 'I', simply there is a functional disciplinary skill that is developed steadily, a person becomes an expert in one particular field or duty but has no other skills. Alternatively, the T shaped person has a wide (yet short) working knowledge of a range of subjects, paired with the same deep stemmed expertise in one area.
At Mäd we saw the advantage of T shaped team members in a multitude of areas. Firstly, it became easier to collaborate with others. Knowing aspects of teammates' skills helps us communicate concisely in potentially domain-specific jargon. We became aware of various limitations, or possibilities, meaning we could more effectively assign tasks and manage projects. The ability to understand various perspectives makes a worker a stronger asset.
With varying personalities types, it has not been uncommon to discover that certain people find certain tasks exciting that others may deem tedious. It is advantageous to develop skillsets to discover new possibilities. When we enjoy the task, we almost always work better at it.
We also find, that T shaped individuals can speed up projects. We previously explored how when teams grow too big, productivity slows and a messy web of miscommunication can falter a project. If individuals only have one particular skill, then we would need one such individual per project function.
E.g. for building a website, if we took I shaped people it may look like this:
Alternatively, with T shaped team members, we can reduce our staff from 6 to 3 or perhaps 2. For example, our Head of Comms is proficient with copywriting, graphic design softwares and client facing functions - whilst many of our designers are full stack capable.
Another further consideration, is how T shaped people can help increase efficiency when difficulties arise. When a particular part of the project is overloaded with work, the T shaped workers can remove some of the 'non-expert' tasks to help the expert focus on the main problem(s). There's also the possibility that the T shaped workers can then help tackle the main problem(s) by offering the expert support as they'll have some working knowledge to aid the situation.
The 'I' Shape we introduced before was as a vertical line, an expert in one area. There's also the possibility of a horizontal 'I' which translates to a 'jack of all trades but master of none'. The 'T' shape takes this horizontal model, learning a bit of everything (or many areas) then becomes a master of something too.
But why stop there? As the 'T' shape idea has been acknowledged and adopted, many have gone on to champion new shapes such as the 'Pi' shaped person, or the 'Comb'. We like to illustrate the 'Comb' as an 'M', as realistically we'd muse there will be limitations on just how many areas a person can truly master.
The 'M' demonstrates a multi-skill profile, with the ability to apply deep knowledge across multiple situations and areas of expertise.
Much like our earlier example of T shaped people reducing the need for vast teams, competent M shaped people let our work shine.
Imagine three workers experts in one particular field (A, B and C). When worker A completes the first part of the task, they rely on B to progress it, but they may need to take some time to explain exactly what they've done on the project so far and try to understand how B will use their work to further the project. Once B moves the project on, they need C to take over and add particular elements beyond their own skillset. C and A may not have communicated at all yet, and confusion may occur as C had no original understanding of the foundation of the project.
When our M shaped team member takes on a task suited to their varied skills, they're able to work confidently and competently. The working knowledge of the entire project allows them to work much quicker, and ensure a consistent standard of work.
Some skill combinations are highly useful and adaptable.
Take a coder + a graphic designer + a copywriter, and you've created the ideal individual to create high quality websites.
Take a photographer + a social media marketer + a PPC advertiser, and you'll have a fierce content strategy able to react at speed to any evolving trends and opportunities.
Ultimately, there are no bad M combinations, even though some expert areas may rarely meet (say, banking and music), the core concept here is that you still have that breadth of general knowledge at your disposal as we outlined in the T shaped discussion. Knowing that time is finite, pursuing both your passions and that by which you're naturally talented (see: the easy learn) will lead you to strong competencies quickly.
Should you find that your expert qualities are at a mismatch, perhaps there will be a unique opportunity to create a new role previously unexplored due to lack of imagination and idealism- let's revisit our suggested example of banking and music. Expertise in these fields could lead to composing strong jingles for financial institutions -indicating trust and security for Ad campaigns, or engineering sound-wave based secure passwords for sensitive banking data. Perhaps even, creating a new banking platform that favors the lifestyle and income habits of an essentially freelance musician.
At Mäd, we take the time to find the perfect M shaped combinations that'll help our projects soar, and ensure those taking the lead on the projects have enough depth to communicate effectively with the clients and team members involved. Generally, we work with lots of tech savvy thinkers based on the various corporate projects we've taken on in the past. If you feel you're a talented individual worthy of our attention, get in touch with us via the careers page - we'd love to say hello.