A few weeks ago Mark left a comment with a link to video game maker Valve’s company handbook. That triggered my memory of a NY Times piece profiling them back in September that had garnered quite a bit of attention because of Valve’s “flat” organization (there are no managers) and 100% time (employees can work on whatever they want, kind of like Google’s 20% time…except all the time).
Curious to learn more, I then sat down with my iPad and read the whole employee handbook. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, but there was one section within hiring that really stuck out to me:
We value “T-shaped” people.
That is, people who are both generalists (highly skilled at a broad set of valuable things—the top of the T) and also experts (among the best in their field within a narrow discipline—the vertical leg of the T). This recipe is important for success at Valve. We often have to pass on people who are very strong generalists without expertise, or vice versa. An expert who is too narrow has difficulty collaborating. A generalist who doesn’t go deep enough in a single area ends up on the margins, not really contributing as an individual.
This!!! In my head I’ve never quite been able to quantify the diverse-yet-narrow skillset needed to start/run a small-but-growing web company like ours, or to work at a company like ours, but that says it all. 100%. When we were hiring we tried to convey this in our job posting, and overall I think we did a good job. But being able to use the T-shape model as a guide for us, and as a way to explain to employees what we’re looking for, will be incredibly helpful to us in the future.