Friday 6 May 2016

The T-shaped expert

Te concept of the T-shaped manager is well known. What about the T-shaped expert?

I blogged about the concept of the T-shaped manager, an idea introduced by Hansen and von Oetringer which describes the value of managers being both accountable for the success of their own department, and for the shared success of their peers. There are many cases of value delivered through this approach, and it drives, and relies upon, excellent Knowledge Management.

We can take a similar approach when it comes to the role of the company experts.  

I will contrast two approaches to the use of experts, the I-shaped approach, and the T-shaped approach. 

The I-shaped expert.

Companies with I-shaped experts put them onto the toughest projects, where their skills are most needed. The expert is fully engaged with this tough project, their focus is blinkered, they look only downward at their work like the blue I in the picture. Their pay and their satisfaction come from making the project a success. If other people need to learn from the expert, the expert is usually too busy to help them. 

I know many organisations that take this approach. This is a pre-KM approach, where the company assumes that knowledge is only available to a project when the knowledgeable person is on the team; an approach which does not decouple the knowledge and the person. 

The T-shaped expert

Companies with T-shaped experts give them wider roles. They call them "global consultants", "technical authorities" or "practice owners". The expert still helps solve the big problems on the big projects, but as an advisor rather than a full-time project member. Therefore they still look "downward" to project work.  This is the vertical shaft of the red T in the picture.

However the wider accountability is for developing, building and protecting the knowledge and capability of the organisation in their area of practice. They do this by

  • Acting as owner or sponsor for the knowledge base; maintaining guidelines and best practices, and validating company knowledge and lessons 
  • Building effective learning communities; either as community leader or community sponsor.
Here they look across the whole company, which is represented by the horizontal arms of the T.

The T-shaped expert is a cornerstone of Knowledge Management. And of course they need T-shaped incentives to match their T-shaped accountability. 

1 comment:

Andy Blunden said...

Can someone please explain this concept to the recruitment industry that continuously focus on I shaped executives and simply cannot deal with a CV from a T shaped applicant. Just saying..........

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