Plus-shaped people close the gap between strategic and operational agility

Getting Started

More and more companies are trying to become more agile to deal with an ever faster changing world. Plus-shaped people are key to becoming an agile company, because they bring the willingness to develop as a person and empathy for development needs of others. These individuals form together the source for the transformation and growth of the company.

In particular the possibilities of digital require companies to faster adapt to their customer needs as well as competition to safeguard themselves from digital disruption. For a company to become an agile company it needs to master strategic agility in combination with operational agility, to be more precise its employees (Digital is all about people) need to combine the two and that’s where the plus-shape comes into play.

The concept of plus-shaped people extends the notion of T-shaped people. T-shaped people have been mentioned already long ago, but have become more popular lately through the wider spread of agile software development. They combine the I-shaped specialist with the dash-shaped generalist to form a T, which makes them more flexible and better fits for cross-functional teams. However as agility moves beyond the team-level to the whole organization, T-shaped is not enough anymore.  

The five elements of plus-shaped skills

Strategic thinking, Cross discipline, Deep expertise, Broad experience and a Heart combined in the form of a plus

That’s why we introduce the concept of plus-shaped people, which combines five elements. The deep expertise in a specific area, where they bring their specialist strength to a team. The ability to understand cross discipline tasks and support on those. The broad experience coming from working in various positions as well as in changing environments. And the ability for strategic thinking to understand the ambition and purpose of their doing so they can contribute towards the best possible outcome. But all this is still not enough, as the heart provides the pulse to nurture the other skills and therefore is a prerequisite. The heart skills comprise of the willingness to develop as a person and empathy. These give you the adaptability (further reading on adaptability) which is essential to work in a collaborative, competitive and fast changing environment.

Example: Peter's struggles with digital transformation

Let’s look at a practical example: Peter the CEO of a mid-sized company in the middle of a digital transformation contacted us after he noticed a lack of decision making in his cross-functional teams. After making sure the teams have the right competencies, the objectives are clearly defined and fear was ruled out as a cause, he wanted to understand what was missing. After a system analysis, we concluded that the CEO and team members didn’t have a shared understanding of their strategic goals. In a moderated iterative process they practiced to ask better questions and give better answers through reciprocal feedback which let to improved strategic thinking. After three months Peter observed increasingly independent decision making of his teams.

Aligning agile strategy and execution

You see plus-shaped people are better suited for agile work environments than pure specialists or generalists or even T-shaped people. Plus-shaped people close the empowerment gap between leadership and delivery to align strategy and execution. Not everybody is already plus-shaped, but if you have the heart skills you can take the first step—self and peer reflection—relatively easily.

Arms reach together to a blue plus with an orange heart

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Portrait Stefan Malär

Stefan Malär

I’m passionate about getting the right people together, finding beautiful solutions for complex problems, and promoting a human centric approach. When I don’t make sure marketing and technology get along, I spend quality time with my wife and daughters, play soccer with my friends and travel the world with all of them.