“T” is for Tiger and Teams

In Leadership, Policy on 2010/02/12 at 10:48 pm

Arguably, one of the most common reference for the alphabet “T” is Tiger. Ask any 3-year old.  “T for Tiger” will get a boost this year because, come 14 Februrary 2010, it will be this Lunar New Year’s Chinese zodiac sign. Happy Tiger Year!

The issue of this post, however, is not the tiger. I digressed to highlight the prominence of T for Tiger in many alphabet books. And to wish everyone a happy Year of the Tiger!

The issue is “T for Teams”. The context is last week’s (2 February 2010) Singapore ESC (Economic Strategies Committee) Report (see my post) which called for “T-Shaped” persons.

Without beating about the bush, let me admit upfront that I have some issues with the “T-shaped” person. To be sure it served McKinsey, the management consultants who coined the term in 1971, very well. They figured that they needed — in their business consulting teams — “T-shaped” consultants (note: specifically consultants, and not every person). They had found that their consultants then were too ‘vertical’, ie they knew a lot about a specific aspect of business, eg marketing or finance, and very little about the verticals of others. They did not have the broad ‘horizontal’ dimension to enable them to connect (sideways) to other consultants. Hence the T-shape. Got it? As far as I know, the T-shaped consultant, let alone the T-shaped person, is no longer in vogue in Mckinsey today (correct me if I am wrong). In 1987, McKinsey realised that “specialists” are needed in their consulting teams and not just bunches of T-shaped consultants running around with their ‘horizontal’ hooks.

The central issue then and now — for McKinsey, the ESC and for Singapore — is the team. Not the peculiar T-shaped person. We need teams of all kinds and sizes, depending on the complexity of tasks and industry concerned. Teams can be scalable, flexible and customisable. The concept of the team (note: not “groups” — go figure the difference) is that no one person can cover all bases. No football (or soccer) team can be made up one type of player, strikers, say, no matter how best they are in (only) scoring goals.  So the argument for T-shaped persons is in danger of going that same way. The success of teams typically lie outside the ‘active’ or ‘front line’ team members. Trainers, mangers and coaches for the team are critical; and are in fact often an integral part of the team. The equivalent of these team integrators in the movie industry is the producer — the one who pulls everyone and puts everything together.  In the construction industry, it is the architect. (The term architect is often used to refer to a person of remarkable vision and ability to bring people and processes together for a good cause.)

It then becomes a bit of a no-brainer that the leader and integrator of teams needs to be especially well-rounded individuals; persons with “360” vision, strong conceptual abilities and drive, both ends and means driven, skilled, knowlegeable and well connected. They are persons of character, commitment, connections and capability. In that order, I believe.

T is for Teams. Led by well-rounded, universal, renaissance persons.

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