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A newsletter header image with an image of Dan Bollman behind the title 'The Details with Dan Bollman'

T-shaped employees help IPF live up to mission

May 9, 2016

Last week, I received a letter from Tom Palazzolo in the Physics-Astronomy department. The floor repair in their machine shop had just been completed, and he was so impressed with the work our people had done, he just had to let me know. He said he felt like he’d been treated as a valued customer. As I read the letter, words and phrases jumped out at me: professional, constant contact, responsive, saved the day, positive attitude, communication, fantastic job, real concern and fountain of knowledge. In all, Tom singled out 16 IPF employees by name for praise, finishing the letter with, “You have a whole lot of talented, positive, customer oriented people, please let them know what they do is greatly appreciated.”

It was a terrific letter, with a capital “T.” As in T-shaped. This project and Tom’s letter showed me what great progress we’re already making toward achieving one of our strategic objectives: Strengthen employee development by creating a comprehensive pipeline of T-shaped individuals.

T-shaped. It’s a current term for an old idea—what we used to call being “well-rounded” or “wearing lots of hats.” It means you have an area of expertise or deep skill-based knowledge (the strong base of your T)—wiring, drafting, training, welding, engineering, etc. But you also have skills that go beyond that, skills that make you a good team player and a better all-around employee.

In Tom’s letter, I saw a number of things that are on “the arms” of the T. People had to think on their feet and exhibited a willingness to shift strategies (creative innovation and problem solving). The customer always felt that he knew what was happening because of the communication he received (collaborative communication). He said he felt like a valued customer (empathy) and praised crew members for their breadth of knowledge (system knowledge). They all worked together to get the job done on schedule, which was extremely important to Tom (teamwork).

There’s a nice resource on the Hub called the T-shaped Employee Worksheet that helps you learn and understand the traits along the arms of the T. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, reading through the lists of ways to exhibit each of the eight traits. I’m making it less overwhelming for myself by focusing on just one or two things to start with, like being a more collaborative communicator and a life-long learner. If I want to work on my presentation skills, for instance, I can make a plan for doing that, such as getting some training or practicing more.

I know that you may have a colleague that thinks this T-shaped stuff is for the birds. They’re thinking that if they just put their head down and do their job, all this stuff will go away. It won’t. Being T-shaped is part of the job. We can’t be the most high-performing, innovative, leading-edge facilities organization in the nation without employees who see themselves as more than electricians or architects or power workers. We need employees who rise to the occasion, just as everyone working on Tom’s shop floor did and as so many IPF employees like you already do every day.

So identify a T-shaped competency that you’d like to work on, and talk to your supervisor about options and resources. You can also contact HR to get their ideas. The point is, start somewhere. As for me, I’m off to practice my next PowerPoint presentation!

Until next time,


P.S. The Workforce Engagement subcommittee put together a short video about T-shaped employees. Please take a few minutes to watch it. And as always, if you have something you want to share, suggest or complain about, send it to