The phrase T-shape people was coined with good intentions, used with good intentions and those same good intentions have been responsible for agency designs, blog posts, consultancy white papers and insight.
The problem with good intentions, though, is where they take you.
The premise of T-shaped people is that brands need the help of cross digital experts. It’s awkward and less effective to have a whole gang of people trying to coordinate a brand’s digital marketing efforts. The SEO needs to be run to assist PPC. PPC needs to be coordinated with Display. Display needs to be used in conjunction with Performance Marketing. All of this is social. T-shaped people are those who have mastered not one digital service but many and can now run point for that coordination.
I-shaped people make sense. The bottom of the “I” represents new starts, rookies and people with basic skills. The better the digital marketer gets in their service then the higher up the “I” they climb until they master the service and reside at the top.
The myth of T-shaped people begin with the strange assumption that by giving someone who has mastered one digital service a new job title or added responsibilities that they’re somehow at expert level at adjacent digital services.
How does this happen? Just because someone’s mastered SEO does not mean they’ve any talent for PPC.
In fact, if you’re running a team and you’ve an expert SEO and some PPC staff too it makes no sense to put that SEO on the PPC account for them to pick up experience while the PPC trained staff take a stab at the SEO. No sense, dangerous, silly.
So how is the expert going to become T-shaped? The only way up to the expert layers is through the I-shape. You can’t skip the bottom layers.
There is an argument, I’ll admit, that there is room for some osmosis. That’s to say that an SEO expert who goes to all the PPC meetings, listens in, joins in and discusses will pick up plenty of PPC skills. You do learn from experts.
However, in order to even hope for skill osmosis you need to have digital service experts to learn from in the first place. The danger with chasing T-shaped people is that employees never reach the top of the “I” before they need to worry about other channels. You could end up with underscore-shaped people instead.
I don’t believe in T-shaped people. I don’t think it’s possible to skip the bottom of the learning curve.
I do believe in people who can effect change in more than one digital service. I spend as much time reading and engaging in performance marketing as I do in search engine optimisation, after all. I make the effort to learn from every PPC or display campaign I can get a look at whether that’s an enterprise level one or a pet project. I don’t consider myself T-shaped.
Do you agree? Do you chase the T-shaped vision?