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Any.Talk Podcast Episode 3 - T-Shaped People

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Are you a t-shaped person? Are you curious about what a t-shaped person is?

Listen to our newest podcast episode to find out everything there is to know about t-shaped people.

What is a t-shaped person?

Imagine someone standing with their arms outstretched, looking like the letter 'T'.

  • The body represents your special expertise and your core skillset

  • The arms represent additional skills that are of value that you can bring to the team

There's no 'team' without the 'T'

When you think about a rugby scrum, each individual player has their arms outstretched but together form a team. T-shaped people are able to reach out with their arms and help out other people within their team.

What characteristics does a t-shaped person have?

There are four main characteristics:

  • Commitment to teamwork

  • Empathetic to others

  • Offers encouragement to others

  • Holds technical expertise in their chosen field

Is it better to hire a t-shaped person over an expert?

A t-shaped person can still be an expert in their field but they work as part of a team rather than alone. The idea of a t-shaped person is more about their attitude and mindset rather than a lack of specialisation.

Why are t-shaped people successful?

T-shaped people see the bigger picture. They're also more agile, so they are able to adapt quickly to change and have a commitment to teamwork. They see self-improvement as a way to benefit the whole team, rather than purely their own benefit.

Listen to episode 3 of Any.Talk now. You can also find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Full Transcript

Annie-Mei: Today we’re talking about T-shaped people. You may have heard this term used before but if you haven’t… imagine a person standing with their arms outstretched in the shape of the letter ‘T’. Their body represents the depth of their knowledge while their arms represent the breadth of their understanding. When you listen to this podcast. Think about whether you’re a T-shaped person and where your knowledge lies.

I’m your host, Annie-Mei Forster and this is Any.Talk.

Annie-Mei: Good morning. I’m Annie-Mei Forster, the Communications Specialist at Anywise. Today I’m joined again by Managing Director Adam Evans. Good morning, Adam.

Adam: Good morning, Annie-Mei. Good to be here.

Annie-Mei: And I’m also here with Steven Kouloumendas.

Steve: Good morning, Annie-Mei.

Annie-Mei: So today we’re talking about t-shaped people, which are generalised specialists. Steve, if I could start with you, where did you first come across this term?

Steve: I first came across this term a couple of years ago and I think it was Adam who I first learned the term from. So certainly, when we were looking to mobilise large teams for clients, this was one of the things and we had a strong, sort of, recruitment drive, be it from suppliers or employees.

One of the things we really valued for this activity was this concept of t-shaped people.

What do we mean by t-shaped people?

We are fundamentally talking about people that look like a ‘T’. So if you were to hold out your arms in a span and think and think of yourself as what you bring to the table and what skills and capabilities you bring to the table. Your body would represent your core skillset that you’re fundamentally strong at and really excel at whist each of your arms would represent some of the additional things you would be willing to shoulder and bring to the team that may not necessarily be part of your core skillset but certainly would be of value to the team.

So whether that’s putting yourself beyond your comfort zone and seeing a task that needs to be done and seeing a teammate that needs help with something and reaching your arm out and extending that offer of support. This is fundamentally what we’re referring to when we talk about t-shaped people.

Quite fittingly, ‘T’ as part of a ‘team’, embodies the team ethos.

Annie-Mei: And do you consider yourself a t-shaped person?

Steve: I do, actually! It’s a really interesting question. So prior to hearing this term, I would’ve considered myself someone who naturally fills the gaps and tries to morph into different skillsets and tries to help bring a team together. So try to identify where the shortfalls are in a team and then try to fill those shortfalls. So from my own perspective, once I heard this term it really resonated with the way that I try to operate when I am in a team.

Annie-Mei: What about you, Adam? Do you consider yourself a t-shaped person?

Adam: I think I aspire to be a t-shaped person. I do very much identify with the image. In my mind, t-shaped people are quite literally the shape capital ‘T’s make. If you think about it, it’s quite an iconic set of images that you can bring out in people and express.

When you think about sporting fields, notably a rugby scrum or celebrations after a goal is scored in the AFL, where people who have contributed to the success of that team are literally standing there, each individually very good at what they do but embracing their teammates and celebrating that success.

I think it’s also in other social rituals: weddings, birthdays, family gatherings, funerals. It’s such a common imagery. Partly because as humans we stand on two feet but around all of these important and socially inspirational events it’s people that are embracing each other and I very much consider myself a t-shaped person and I aspire to be a t-shaped person and I work on that. I think, therefore, I’m attracted to other t-shaped people and teams that are built on that idea.

Annie-Mei: We spoke in a past episode about how Anywise looks for t-shaped people when it comes to hiring consultants. So what are some of the essential skills someone needs to be considered t-shaped. Adam?

Adam: Well, in a work setting it’s a demonstratable commitment to teamwork. So not so much ‘skilled team player’ written on a CV but in a semi-informal and subsequently formal conversations with people, exploring what teamwork actually means to them and understanding that people are not only driven to demonstrate teamwork but they get a real sense of satisfaction from the success of the team.

So I think definitely a drive towards teamwork and with that I think comes empathy, true empathy in being able to understand another person’s point of view, even if that point of view is vastly different from your own. And almost a relentless commitment to build people up rather than undermine or press people down. You know, this constant encouragement and energy is something that I look for in people. As well as, obviously a deep technical expertise that they can bring because that ideally brings the diversity that we want in our team.

So I guess if I had to list them it would be:

- Teamwork

- Empathy

- Encouragement

- Technical expertise

Annie-Mei: Ok, and Steve from your own personal experience, what do you think t-shaped people bring to an organisation?

Steve: One of the things I’ve noticed the most with t-shaped people is this willingness to do things that they don’t necessarily like doing but put an extra effort towards doing that. What I find most t-shaped people do with these things is they turn these things that they don’t like and they’ll really focus on them. So they’ll focus on them to the point where it becomes second nature and they’re doing that, fundamentally for the team. It may not be part of their own core skillset but there’s a realisation that by not doing that they are letting their fellow team members down.

By doing that it actually has a large impact. So by spending more time on those broader skillsets that you may not necessarily enjoy or consider yourself to be super strong at, saying no to that or simply not doing that has a far more negative consequence. I find t-shaped people, you never really find them saying no to these tasks. They’ll always jump on them and be willing to reach out.

Annie-Mei: So do you think t-shaped people are more committed to self-improvement than people that are specialists in their field?

Steve: Good question. I’m not quite sure I could pinpoint the exact answer to it, other than to say a t-shaped person versus someone who might be more inward and working for their own specialisation would be more willing to pursue continuous improvement for the sake of other people’s benefit, as opposed to their own self-fulfilling benefit. And that is a key differentiator.

So looking at how self-improvement will affect others and the greater good as opposed to continuous self-improvement where only one individual might benefit. That’s the key differentiator.

Annie-Mei: Yeah so more committed to teamwork and team improvement rather than self-improvement. Ok Adam, so when it comes to hiring would you hire someone who was t-shaped over a specialist, even if that specialist was an expert in their field?

Adam: Thanks for the question, Annie-Mei. It’s a difficult one to answer. All of the things being equal, I would certainly tend towards hiring somebody that I considered to fit that mould of a t-shaped person. Now that said, there are business requirements on occasion that demand a level of expertise.

We might find the perfect fit for a specialist. Although they are not the kind of person or kind of personality pre-disposed to behaviours that will break the sky, might actually be a perfect fit for that role. Those roles are much more likely to be individual, probably shorter duration or limited scope roles. So I certainly wouldn’t rule it out but all of the things being considered, yes.

That’s not to say that people who are not of the mould that we’ve described, can’t be encouraged, fashioned and develop into those kinds of roles. But as Steve suggested earlier, one of the real values of this approach has been in rapidly mobilising multi-disciplinary teams. In that regard, absolutely the answer would be a t-shaped person with some shallower depth, potentially in specialist expertise. If one of the minimum professional standard of that skillset could be met, it would get the job over somebody who doesn’t naturally exhibit the commitment to team, empathy and encouragement.

I’ll pick up on Steve’s point about commitment to self-improvement. That’s a really big part of this. What we aim to do here at Anywise, and in fact, within the teams that we form for our clients and throughout our supply chain in our network is creating an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work.

So that means you don’t come to work as a system engineer. You don’t come to work as a technical author or a design specialist, you come to work as part of a team that we’ve put together to solve this complex challenge. It is a subtle difference but it’s a really important one.

I think we’ve only ever had one conflict over whose job it was to do a particular task and that was a real anomaly. Instead of arguing over whose job it is to get a particular job done, our teams are much more often asking themselves what more they need in order to achieve the solution.

Annie-Mei: In regards to that, when you talked about the certain skills that t-shaped people have in terms of team mobilisation, do you think in future work forces that people will have to be more adaptable, will have to be more t-shaped in order to survive?

Adam: Absolutely. Without a doubt. Even now, if there are companies that are not actively seeking out the best fit, high-quality people for their company. Attracting the absolute best talent, I am meaning t-shaped people that bring a specialist expertise and a deep self-motivated commitment to the success of the team, my belief is that they will fail.

The world is being increasingly connected. It’s becoming remote. Digitally enabled. Requiring a rate of change of job type, of career, of workplace, of situational awareness and of effects that companies can have on the world. Unless the workforce globally or certainly in the work that we are involved in, adapts and becomes more agile, it’ll fail.

So certainly where Anywise is headed, it will be the standard that will attract and retain t-shaped people.

Annie-Mei: Steve, did you have anything to add?

Steve: I guess I would like to harp on that point as well. So just because we’re talking about t-shaped people it doesn’t detract from deep specialisation and skillsets. So there’s certainly places for specialised individuals and by describing someone as t-shaped it’s not necessarily the contrary to having a specialisation.

I think when we describe someone with t-shape it’s more of an attitude and a mindset. So it’s the conditional behaviours put on top of that and specialisation still plays a strong role in skillsets required to deliver outcomes for whatever that may be.

Annie-Mei: Ok great, well I think that’s a good point to end on. So thanks Adam and Steve for talking to me about t-shaped people.

Steve: Thank you.

Adam: My pleasure.

Annie-Mei: That’s all from us today. Thank you for listening and make sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, or check out our website at Until next time, I’m Annie-Mei Forster and this is Any.Talk.


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