Every so often, I come across a concept that really appeals to me because it’s simple yet powerful, universal in its application and – most importantly – memorable.
“I” and “T” people are a case in point.
“I” people work metaphorically with their arms by their sides. They may well be good at what they do but their focus is on their functional expertise. They ignore the connections and interrelationships with those on either side of them – their internal customers and suppliers.
In contrast, “T” people work with their arms out-stretched. They are just as competent as “I” people in what they do but unlike “I” people, they build connections and relationships with those on either side of their out-stretched arms. They seek to understand the needs of their suppliers and customers alike; their focus is on optimising the whole, not their individual part of it.
In effect, “I” stands for individual and “T” stands for Team. One of the key factors in optimising workgroup performance is the adoption by all members of a “T” shape mentality. With cross-functional workgroups, “T” shaped members are mandatory.
At the next level up, you can collectively apply the “I” and “T” concept to the workgroups themselves. Our Towards Ten Thousand Workgroup Performance Accelerator is specifically designed to measure, not only how effectively members of the same workgroup work together, but also how workgroups interact and connect with one another.
One of the major differences between organisational workgroups and sporting teams is that the former cannot afford not to adopt the “T” shape philosophy. And the feedback from companies using Towards Ten Thousand is that workgroups’ understanding of their impact on other workgroups in the same company is often lacking.
The problem is particularly acute when organisations are structured along functional lines. The outcome is usually referred to as “siloing” but I think the use of the “I” and “T” analogy is much more compelling. After all, it is individuals that represent the basic building block in any organisation and I, for one, would find it easier to relate to whether I work with my arms out-stretched or not rather than being likened to a silo.
There are also “I” and “T” shaped organisations. The former are closed, inward looking and reluctant to form collaborative relationships with either external suppliers or customers. Performance measurements are confined to the objective and quantitative.
“T” shaped organisations are open, outward looking and seek truly collaborative relationships with customers and suppliers. Subjective and qualitative measures of performance are added to the objective and quantitative. Success is measured in much more than defects per thousand, shareholder value or nurse to patient ratios.
Ask yourself – am I “I” or “T” shaped? Do I promote and reward “T” shaped people? Are we an “I” or a “T” shaped organisation? How do our customers or clients view us?
If the answer is “I”, that’s indefensible. If the answer is “T”, that’s terrific.