The Advantages and Disadvantages of T-Shaped and V-Shaped Employees in the Workplace

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People often talk about the need for “T-shaped” employees. While the concept is valuable, it is time for a new type: the “V-shaped” employee.

Introduced in the early 1980s, the concept of the T-shaped employee stands for someone who is both specialist and a generalist at the same time. They have deep knowledge of one area (the vertical bar of the T) and shallow knowledge about a broad range of other areas (the horizontal bar). The first is needed to do one’s own work, and the second is to collaborate and communicate with others.

While it sounds intuitive and contributes to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work, there is an even better type, which I’d like to call the V-shaped employee.

Like the T-shaped employee, a V-shaped employee has deep knowledge in one area. And along the same line, they also have shallow knowledge about a broad range of other domains.

The key difference is the part in between. What is needed to effectively work in organizations today, I believe, is “adjacent knowledge,” knowledge that is related to the employee’s core expertise. It is not deep, nor shallow, but in between—hence the V-shape.

Being a specialist is great, but both from an individual’s career perspective and from an organizational perspective, we need people who are versatile and agile. Who can do more than just their primary job? Who can switch roles and grow? This requires them to have adjacent expertise in areas close to their core area.

This adjacent knowledge is the expertise that is not as deep as their core knowledge, but also not as shallow to simply enable collaboration. It is medium-deep, and medium-broad, enabling them to be versatile and agile.

Let me take myself as an example to illustrate. I have deep knowledge of strategy and leadership and broad knowledge of economics, sociology, and psychology. Both are important, but the reason I can do my work as a consultant and mentor is just as much the part in between my medium-deep, medium-broad knowledge about organizational development, change management, and entrepreneurship.

It is this adjacent knowledge that allows me to create a rich understanding of an organization and of strategy’s place within it. It also allows me to move beyond the simplistic or dogmatic application of strategy tools and methods and to tailor my approach to the particular situation and needs of a client.

The same applies to you and your people. The more V-shaped they are, the better they can flourish and contribute to your organization.

How V-shaped are you and your people? And how will you let them grow as V-shaped employees?

T-shaped employees

T-shaped employees are a concept in the workplace that refers to individuals who possess a unique combination of skills and knowledge. The “T” shape represents the depth and breadth of an individual’s expertise. The vertical bar of the T represents the employee’s deep expertise in a specific area or skill set, while the horizontal bar of the T represents their broad knowledge across a range of other areas or skills.

In other words, T-shaped employees are those who have a strong foundation in one field, but also have a general understanding and knowledge of a variety of other fields. This combination of expertise allows them to effectively communicate and collaborate with others, as they understand the broader context and can connect the dots between their area of expertise and others.

T-shaped employees are valued by organizations as they bring a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving and can work effectively in teams with individuals who have different skill sets. This type of employee is especially important in today’s rapidly changing business environment, where the ability to adapt and work across multiple areas is becoming increasingly necessary.

V-shaped employees

V-shaped employees are a variation of the concept of T-shaped employees. Like T-shaped employees, V-shaped employees have a deep understanding of one specific area and broad knowledge across a range of other areas. However, the key difference between T-shaped and V-shaped employees is in the level of expertise in areas related to their core area of expertise.

V-shaped employees have what is referred to as “adjacent knowledge”, which is the expertise that is related to their core area but is not as deep as their core expertise, nor as shallow as their broad knowledge. This adjacent knowledge is medium-deep and medium-broad, allowing V-shaped employees to be versatile and agile, as they are able to switch roles and grow beyond their primary job.

This adjacent knowledge provides V-shaped employees with a rich understanding of an organization and its place within it, and allows them to tailor their approach to the specific needs of a client. In this way, V-shaped employees are even more versatile and effective than T-shaped employees, as they are able to bring a more holistic and tailored approach to problem-solving.

In conclusion, V-shaped employees are highly valued by organizations as they bring a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving and can work effectively in teams with individuals who have different skill sets. They are versatile, agile, and able to adapt to the rapidly changing business environment.

Which employee is better T-Shaped Employees or V-Shaped Employees?

It’s not necessarily a matter of which one is better, as both T-shaped and V-shaped employees bring unique and valuable skills to the workplace.

T-shaped employees are valued for their deep expertise in one area and broad knowledge across a range of other areas. This combination of skills allows them to effectively communicate and collaborate with others and bring a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving.

V-shaped employees, on the other hand, take the T-shaped concept a step further by also having adjacent knowledge in areas related to their core area of expertise. This medium-deep, medium-broad knowledge allows them to be even more versatile and agile, and to bring a tailored and holistic approach to problem-solving.

Ultimately, the best type of employee depends on the specific needs and goals of the organization. Some organizations may benefit more from having a team of T-shaped employees, while others may benefit from a team of V-shaped employees. It’s also possible for an organization to have a mix of both types, as each brings its own unique strengths and skills to the table.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of both for a company?

Advantages of T-Shaped Employees for a company:

  • Multidisciplinary skills: T-shaped employees have deep expertise in one area and broad knowledge across a range of other areas, allowing them to bring a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving.
  • Effective collaboration: T-shaped employees have the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with individuals who have different skill sets, which can lead to more creative and innovative solutions.
  • Adaptability: T-shaped employees are able to adapt to new challenges and changing circumstances, which can be beneficial for organizations in rapidly changing environments.

Disadvantages of T-Shaped Employees for a company:

  • Limited depth of expertise: While T-shaped employees have broad knowledge across a range of areas, they may not have the same level of depth of expertise as individuals who have specialized in a specific area.
  • Overloading: T-shaped employees may struggle with trying to balance their deep expertise and broad knowledge, which can lead to burnout or decreased productivity.

Advantages of V-Shaped Employees for a company:

  • Versatility: V-shaped employees have adjacent knowledge in areas related to their core area of expertise, which allows them to be versatile and agile in their approach to problem-solving.
  • Tailored approach: V-shaped employees bring a tailored and holistic approach to problem-solving, which can be particularly beneficial in complex and challenging situations.
  • Improved adaptability: V-shaped employees are even more adaptable than T-shaped employees, as they are able to switch roles and grow beyond their primary job.

Disadvantages of V-Shaped Employees for a company:

  • Narrower depth of expertise: While V-shaped employees have adjacent knowledge, their depth of expertise may not be as deep as individuals who have specialized in a specific area.
  • Increased workload: V-shaped employees are expected to have a greater workload, as they are expected to have more diverse skills and knowledge compared to T-shaped employees.
  • In conclusion, both T-shaped and V-shaped employees bring unique and valuable skills to the workplace, and the best type of employee for a company will depend on the specific needs and goals of the organization.

In conclusion, both T-shaped and V-shaped employees bring valuable skills and attribute to the workplace. T-shaped employees have deep expertise in one area and broad knowledge across a range of other areas, which allows them to bring a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving and effectively collaborate with others. On the other hand, V-shaped employees have adjacent knowledge in areas related to their core area of expertise, which enables them to be versatile and agile in their approach to problem-solving and bring a tailored and holistic approach. The best type of employee for a company will depend on its specific needs and goals, but both T-shaped and V-shaped employees have the potential to contribute positively to an organization.

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