What are T-shaped skills? (And Why They Are Important)

published on 22 June 2023

The entire quote goes: "A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."

A T-shaped professional has deep and specialized skills in one or more technical areas and also has strong interpersonal and soft skills that allow them to work effectively in multidisciplinary teams and adapt to different situations and contexts. This combination of specialization and flexibility makes them very attractive profiles for current times, where companies need agility and adaptation to constant change.

Consider a familiar scenario. You've just received a promising resume from an offshore accountant. Their credentials are impressive, boasting a deep understanding of tax laws, financial forecasting, and data analysis. However, you're left wondering if their technical expertise will translate into effective communication with your onshore team or adaptability to your unique business requirements. The pain point here is the challenge of finding talent that combines deep specialized knowledge with a broad range of skills.

The answer to this lies in T-shaped skills.

What are T-shaped skills?

T-shaped skills are a blend of specialized knowledge in a specific field combined with a broad understanding across multiple areas. Just like this:

T-shaped Skills
T-shaped Skills

Understanding what T-shaped skills mean involves appreciating this interplay between depth and breadth. The depth component corresponds to a person's area of expertise where they bring a lot of value, while the breadth component represents the person's ability to collaborate across disciplines, communicate effectively, and apply their knowledge to different contexts.

T-shaped individuals, thus, bring the best of both worlds: they can dive deep when necessary, offering specialized insights and solutions, while also understanding the broader context, making them more adaptable and capable of fostering interdisciplinary collaboration.

In the context of offshore accountants with T-shaped skills, they would not only have deep knowledge of accounting principles and practices, but they would also have broader skills such as:

  • Effective communication
  • Understanding of business operations
  • Adaptability to different working environments and teams.

What are T-shaped skills examples in accounting?

T-shaped skills are not limited to a particular industry or profession; they can be developed and applied in virtually any field, including accounting. Now, when we think about deep discipline expertise skills in accounting or finance,  it’s easy to define and list each one of the areas we want our new hire to cover.

Cross-discipline skills, on the other hand, are more difficult to point out. These are usually soft skills, interpersonal or behavioral, that allow a person to interact and work effectively with others. For example:

  • Critical Thinking and Creativity
  • Problem-Solving and Decision Making
  • Effective Communication
  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
  • Negotiation and Persuasion Skills
  • Time Management and Organization
  • Ethical Behavior and Professionalism

Advantages of Hiring T-Shaped Individuals

Organizations reap many benefits when they choose to hire T-shaped individuals. Here are some:

1. Innovation

T-shaped individuals tend to be more innovative because they can see problems from multiple perspectives, not just from their area of expertise. They can pull ideas from various fields to come up with unique solutions.

2. Collaboration

T-shaped individuals excel in team settings because they can understand, communicate with, and appreciate the work of individuals across different disciplines. This ability to bridge gaps promotes better teamwork and collaboration.

3. Adaptability

With their broad knowledge across multiple areas, T-shaped individuals can easily adapt to new situations and challenges. They are often the ones who can navigate changes in the market or the organization more effectively.

How to Develop T-Shaped Skills in Your Accounting Team

You might not find your perfect T-shaped candidate on the first try, but that doesn’t mean you can adapt your team to foster cross-collaboration in the long run. How? Well, developing T-shaped skills within a team requires a strategic approach to professional development.

1. Identify Peoples' Verticals

First, it's crucial to identify the core competency or vertical skill that each team member brings to the table. This will be the area where they have or can develop a deep level of expertise.

2. Identify ways to develop the horizontal

This can be achieved through a variety of methods such as cross-training, job rotation programs, and providing opportunities for employees to work on diverse projects outside their area of expertise. Also, promoting a culture of continuous learning and encouraging curiosity and exploration can foster the development of a broad range of skills.

3. Provide resources and support for development

This might include offering online courses, holding regular workshops, and providing access to educational materials and resources. Equally important is the cultivation of soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, which are integral to the concept of T-shaped skills.

Leaders can also promote the development of T-shaped skills by encouraging a culture of collaboration and shared learning through multidisciplinary teams for projects, encouraging team members to share their knowledge, and rewarding both depth and breadth of skills.

4. Mentorship programs

By pairing team members with mentors from different disciplines, individuals can gain a broader perspective and learn new skills outside their main area of expertise.

5. Foster the right mindset

Encourage team members to be curious, to ask questions, and to always be open to learning. This mindset, along with the right opportunities and resources, can help individuals develop the breadth and depth of skills that define the T-shaped individual.

The Future of Hiring is T-shaped

More and more organizations are realizing the importance of T-shaped skills as they strive for agility, innovation, and resilience in an increasingly complex business landscape. The future of hiring is T-shaped because these individuals offer much more than just deep technical skills.

In today's fast-paced business environment, where projects often require cross-functional collaboration, T-shaped individuals are in high demand. They can easily navigate between different tasks, understand different perspectives, and contribute value in various contexts. They can effectively collaborate with diverse teams and lead projects that involve multiple disciplines.

For these reasons, forward-thinking organizations are actively seeking T-shaped individuals during their recruitment process. They're not just looking for someone who can do the job today, but someone who can adapt and continue to deliver value as the company and the market evolves.

Book a Meeting With Vintti.
Book a Meeting With Vintti.

Kevin Mitchell, CPA

Senior Manager and CPA with over 20 years of experience in accounting and financial services, specializing in risk management and regulatory compliance. Skilled in managing audits and leading teams to deliver exceptional services. Proud father of two.

🔗 Kevin Mitchell | LinkedIn


T-Shaped Skills. (n.d.). Corporate Finance Institute. https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/management/t-shaped-skills/

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