Employee Experience

Unlocking the Power of T-Shaped Employees:

Why Are They the Future of Work?

3 key insights from this blog:

  • What is the meaning behind “T-shaped”
  • How to become a T-shaped employee
  • How to create T-shaped teams

Let’s face it: the traditional or classic career pathways are becoming less relevant in today’s rapidly changing job market. With the rise of technology, globalization, and automation, many industries and professions are being disrupted and transformed, leading to new and emerging career paths. In this context, individuals need to be adaptable, continuous learners who can evolve and pivot their skills and expertise to meet the changing demands of the job market. The traditional career ladder is no longer the only or even the most viable path to career success. A modern career is about adaptability and flexibility. We are talking about career progression beyond any hierarchy. You can see your career as an agile adventure, where you continuously build skills through iterations and mini-life projects. 

As an individual, you can adopt a T-shaped mindset and strive to develop both deep expertise in a particular field, as well as a broad range of skills and knowledge across multiple disciplines. Being T-shaped means that you have a breadth of general capabilities (horizontal) coupled with one or two or a few specialisms (vertical). The horizontal line means that you have solid, good working knowledge and that you can apply that skill across multiple business scenarios or projects. You are not an expert, but you can talk about the topic. The vertical line means that you have deep expertise and can offer advice and direction. You can contribute to projects as a subject matter expert or a leader in your field. 

Over time the goal is to build up a proficient level of general capabilities, and then based on your career preferences and the needs of your organization pursue specific specialisms. T-shape will continually evolve, and it will reflect different career opportunities that come up, targeted development, as well as skills demanded by the business context in which you operate.

Why would you want to become T-shaped? If you are only a generalist, you can do many different tasks, but you can never offer that deep expertise to influence business decisions. On the other side, if you are only a specialist, you’re limited to one single niche, and you are less able to flex and adapt across different business scenarios. If you are T-shaped you become much more capable and agile, and you can work across multiple teams, projects, industries, and business situations. 


  1. Map your current T-shape. 

Write it down, what is your specialty, and where do you see yourself as a generalist? 

  1. Get feedback on the current shape. 

Ask your peers, mentors, coworkers, friends, and coaches. Find blind spots.

  1. Compare the current T-shape role.

 Suitability for your T-shape for the business environment in which you operate. 

  1. What is your next skill level? 

What do you want to develop next, how will you develop your skills, and where can you gain the knowledge?

  1. Build a career development backlog.

Make it visual- on a board. It will help you to break big topics down into smaller chunks or increments that are much easier to commit to and get done. Based on the capabilities that you want to develop or strengthen, create a development backlog of items based on learning actions. 


Employing T-shaped individuals is widely understood as being very beneficial not only on an individual level (perhaps as a manager) but also company-wide. Core skills and the ability to learn quickly are just a few reasons why T-shaped employees excel in their main responsibilities, but they also perform other tasks throughout the business effectively. Consequently, they contribute to the growth of the business.

Business agility demands a more fluid movement of people that better reflects customer needs and your capability requirements. This means rather than building teams based on pre-set and static jobs and functions we want to seek out skills and group them based on the problem to solve or a product to deliver. The aim is to scale teams up or down based on what is needed by the business, as opposed to what jobs or functions people are in. The skills-based or T-shaped approach to workforce planning is quickly becoming the basis of all modern talent strategies. 

Here are a few advantages of T-shaped people:

Core skills. The deep expertise that a T-shaped employee will display to push the discussion forward and encourage movement is undoubtedly a huge benefit to the organization.

Better communication. Due to their interpersonal skills, they can empathize with people and understand their needs – across the company.

Better collaboration skills. This goes hand in hand with an ability to communicate well across the company, as one can discuss matters and work well over the entire organization.

Flexibility. T-shaped employees are flexible enough to take on new tasks alongside their workload without compromising on the quality of work – achieving their immediate goals whilst helping around the company.

They see the whole picture. Those who possess a very specific skill set (I-shaped employees) are of great value. However, they can often fall into a habit of tunnel vision – drilling down on their own subject area and neglecting other areas of importance. T-shaped employees, on the other hand, can apply their specialized knowledge and desire to learn to other areas of the business and projects they may be working on.


As an HR person, you can help build T-shaped teams in the following ways:

  • Try to understand what employee types you do have and their given skills. Utilize the positives that you currently have within your team and build on weaker areas

  • Self-assessments can be key here; you could ask your employees to rate themselves on how confident they feel in certain topics. After employees undergo this, you must then determine:
  • Where you want staff to improve their knowledge and/or ability.
  • What level of skill should be maintained?
  • What do you want to add to the team by increasing the breadth of knowledge?
  • Any areas you feel would benefit from specialist expertise?

  • Encourage your employees to develop a mix of both soft and hard skills; these are invaluable and allow for greater transferable talents. You should regularly evaluate progress and ensure regular communications and 1-on-1 with staff to maintain momentum and be available to assist where you can.
  • Encouraging growth in breadth and depth of knowledge will be hugely beneficial for your employees on an individual level in their own personal development, but it will also be of great value to the wider company. 

By having a team with a range of skills and expertise, you can solve bigger problems for the business and ultimately create more value for the end customer. This is because when you solve a problem for an employee, it can have a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line and improve the overall customer experience. By fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous learning within the organization, you can develop T-shaped teams that are adaptable, innovative, and customer-focused.


Author: Tjasa Bogataj

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