The Opportunities and Challenges Facing T-Shaped Employees in Today’s Enterprises

375-initial-letter-t-with-dragons-q90-500x495Do you have Google Envy? With Google shares soaring past $1000, you may be looking at your own company and wondering what their secret sauce is.

For one thing, Google employees really like working there.

In workplace satisfaction surveys for the last four years, Google has consistently been near the top of all high tech companies. In 2012, Google managed an enormous jump in employee satisfaction, up almost 40 percent and moving in front of Facebook employee satisfaction.

Is this because Google employees are getting rich off of their stock options? Actually, those high stock values and salaries are relatively low considerations in employee satisfaction. The Huffington Post has reported that only 9 percent of Google employees and 10 percent of Facebook workers considered salary as their top incentive.

Identifying T-Shaped Hiring Prospects

One key to Google’s high employee satisfaction is likely due to Google’s prowess at using data analysis to hire the right kind of T-shaped employees in the first place. T-shaped employees, as you may be aware, have a specific area of deep knowledge (the vertical line of the T) along with a broader understanding of a range of areas, as well as “soft skills” like emotional intelligence (the horizontal line) that they can connect to their specialty. This model enables employees to collaborate in ways that spur creativity and innovation that a more traditional “siloed” organization structure does not.

Google’s interview process is so unique (and in my opinion, successful) because it is self-consciously data-driven to precisely identify the essence of T-shaped skills. Even the Washington Post has taken note, praising the way employees from across the Google workforce are used to interview prospective teammates, even though they may never actually work with the person again.

Developing Employees Through T-Shaped Training

When T-shaped training was first proposed in 1991, it was on the basis of a psychological study suggesting it would increase job satisfaction. A more recent study mentioned last year in Psychology Today suggests that T-shaped employees are also more productive and able to “hit the ground running.”

In an increasing number of workplaces, the concept of T-structured training is becoming more widely adopted for employee development. One company places enough value on the idea to say it in their employee handbook. Valve, Inc., a Bellevue-based software company, states they “believe” in T-shaped employees, but discourage any “formalized” employee development, opting instead for a more informal, collaborative model.

Once a company decides to hire T-shaped employees, those employees often have their own creative, individualistic ideas about what their particular shapes means. Adria Saracino, for one, cautions about falling into what she says may turn out to be a “T-shaped Black hole.”

Put another way, T-shaped employees aren’t going to work very well in cookie cutter positions.

As T-shaped training becomes more a part of an employer’s expectations, employees also develop their own expectations for becoming T-shaped. One question is whether T-shaped teams are making it easier, or harder, to get work done.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control called overwork a virtual US epidemic, with almost a third of workers getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately for T-shaped employees, creative collaboration does not tend to thrive in the midst of perpetual workplace stress. Not only that, what happens when some team members don’t pull their weight?

The only answer here is probably to expect more from universities, who need to train students about team responsibility and successful collaborative skills that are essential to being T-shaped. One study of college students, done by North Carolina Sate University, shows great benefits in the idea of T-shaped teams, but also suggested that if the T-shaped teams are dysfunctional or ineffective, they may even cause more harm than good.

Bill Gates was a pioneer in taking time to just think, taking what he called two “think weeks” each and every year of his tenure at Microsoft. Employees who are given some time “off the grid” to think and talk about their t-shaped role and how it fits into the larger organizational framework are more likely to be productive for the company and fulfilled as individuals.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The Opportunities and Challenges Facing T-Shaped Employees in Today’s Enterprises

  1. Pingback: Moving the Employment Line: How State Job Centers May Fuel T-Shaped Skills | Trish Cotter

  2. Pingback: 10 Ways T-Shaped Training Is Affecting American Industry Right Now | Trish Cotter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s