Friday, October 22, 2010

Tetris-shaped people

I am unsure who coined the term T-shaped people, but Tim Brown of Ideo gives the gist:
We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they're willing to try to do what you do. We call them "T-shaped people." They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T -- they're mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior...
T-shaped people tend to have the right stuff for cross-functional, self-organizing teams so prized in Agile organizations: we need individuals with some deep special skills, plus at least some broad general skills, and play well with others.

Tetris people!
Going further, I would like to generalize the from T-shaped people to Tetris-piece-shaped people, or Tetris-shaped people (for short).  Remember Tetris, the addictive game of falling blocks?   If you don't, go play it now, and come back when you're done.

Since individuals come with a mix of skills, we need different shapes that fit well together to assemble a great team -- just like the blocks in Tetris.

Also, remember how in Tetris you can rotate the blocks as they fall?  This corresponds to encouraging people to deploy their skills in different ways to help the team achieve its goals.

Take home messages:
  1. Recruit T-shaped -- or, better,  Tetris-piece-shaped -- people to your Agile team(s).
  2. People as cogs in a giant machine are out; people as Tetris-pieces are in.
  3. All that time playing Tetris was not wasted!

Finally, on a highly entertaining tangent, check out this hypnotic performance of Human Tetris from Project GAME OVER:


  1. Thanks for a great post - I love the concept of a Tetris team, all fitting together well and adjusting their shape to the needs of the moment.

    I'd say we have a great Tetris team at Software Education which has been made even more effective with your joining us!

  2. Thanks Shane

    Glad you like it!