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The future is T-shaped: How cohesive teams increase performance and agility

In Part 2 of our new blog series, we look at how T-shaped profiles help build fast-paced, cohesive innovation teams that understand each other.

min read

Over the past 18 months, we’ve gone from helping our clients adapt and respond to disruptive forces, to being thrust head-on into that disruption ourselves. Navigating change and uncertainty is always challenging, but this period of intense, accelerated learning revealed some key success factors to driving innovation in fast-paced times.

As any company knows, putting together a group of people with all the skills needed doesn’t necessarily make them a team, and certainly not a fast-paced team. Too many generalists, and the team lacks crucial skills and expertise to drive results fast. Too many specialists who are experts on a single area, and the knowledge gaps mean a team literally doesn’t speak the same language. 

When you’re choosing a digital innovation partner, you want to be sure that their teams are efficient and effective, and are poised for success. So what do you need to look out for?

Building teams with T-shaped profiles

Creating fast-paced impact or dealing with unexpected challenges is impossible if a team can’t collaborate well. And one common blocking factor is simply a lack of understanding, where individual team members have little knowledge of areas outside their own expertise. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Developing T-shaped profiles is an effective way to elevate a team’s collective understanding, and at the same time boost both professional and personal development. 

So what is a T-shaped profile? A person with a T-shaped profile is a subject-matter expert in at least one core area and performs a broad set of other skills effectively – the vertical bar of the letter T represents the depth of their skills and expertise, while the horizontal bar represents the breadth of the areas they are knowledgeable about, including essential skills that all employees need to know.

T-shaped profiles are as unique as the person themself, and can evolve in both directions, e.g. by developing even more mastery of core areas or deepening knowledge of areas related to their role, or by acquiring a basic level of new skills and thereby broadening their overall knowledge. And the benefits they bring to a team’s overall functioning are not to be underestimated.

Enhanced cohesion, performance and agility

By ensuring team members have a wide breadth of skills, teams not only have the core expertise needed but are able to speak a common language. This makes decision-making more efficient, problem-solving more creative, and collaboration more productive – all of which are crucial for fast-paced digital innovation. 

Add nimbleness and a culture that fosters strong and durable interpersonal connections, and teams will proactively leverage their broad skills to rise beyond the call of duty for each other. Innovation is never smooth sailing, understanding of and commitment to each other are essential to ride the waves of uncertainty and ambiguity it brings.

Having T-shaped profiles also increases operational agility: with team members being more proficient in a broad range of areas, they can more easily take on tasks where specialist knowledge isn’t needed.

Key take-away

Strategising, defining and building digital solutions takes a wide range of skills and expertise, and if teams are to collaborate effectively and deliver measurable results, they need to be able to speak each other’s language. 

T-shaped profiles, as well as a culture that fosters strong interpersonal connections, are both key to building powerful, cohesive innovation teams that excel at what they do, and that have the speed and agility to deliver in today’s fast paced and uncertain world.

Looking for a partner that speaks your language?
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About Fast Company’s ‘Best Workplace for Innovators’

Every year, Fast Company joins forces with consulting firm Accenture to compose a list of the 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators out of thousands of companies from around the globe. It’s a recognition that celebrates company cultures that empower employees at all levels to improve processes, create new products, or invent new ways of doing business. In other words, it recognises workplace cultures that foster innovation.

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Written by

Brecht Spileers


Director Strategy & Growth