What is T-shaped talent – and is it important?

T-shaped talent is a term used to define a person’s skill set. If a person has T-shaped talent, they are well-versed in a particular area of expertise (represented by the vertical bar in the T) along with possessing the ability to collaborate with experts across disciplines other than their own and apply that knowledge (represented by the horizontal bar in the T).

One can argue T-shaped talent is the perfect skill set  A person who is an expert in one field can be counted on to flawlessly complete tasks in his or her area of expertise. Additionally,  they know just enough about other fields to work intelligently and productively with experts in other specialized fields. This saves a company time and money because less time need be spent explaining things and more time will be spent accomplishing things.

In the advertising agency world, T-Shaped talent can be very valuable. Clients can come from any number of different industries and it can greatly benefit the client/agency relationship when agency personnel have T-shaped talent and can intelligently collaborate.

But T-shaped talent isn’t the end-all, be-all solution according to some. There are those who feel specialization is still equally important. For example, RAPP Global Chief of Client Operations Anne Marie Schiller believes specialized talent is still valuable inside the agency.

At this year’s Collabosphere, Schiller said she agrees with the notion of T-shaped talent but argues “the vertical deep specialist is why clients come to agencies a lot of time.”

Having said that, in terms of attracting and retaining T-shaped talent, Schiller advises agencies to find out what motivates candidates and/or employees and to make some exceptions in the workplace for those motivational needs. In addition, agencies should encourage their T-shaped talent to tackle work outside of their job description so they can continue to feed and exercise the horizontal part of their skill set.

The need to hire T-shaped talent should be determined on a case by case basis. If all you need for a particular job is a certain vertical skill set and you don’t envision a need for the candidate to ever do anything outside the parameters of the job description,  then, perhaps, there isn’t a need for T-shaped talent.

On the other hand, if the job description crosses several skill sets, as do many of today’s senior management roles and, conversely, many junior level social media-related jobs, then there is an absolute need for T-shaped talent.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, Monster.com and Marshmallow Fluff.