TEE-Shaped Learning – The gift that keeps giving

This post is based on an article I wrote for the Q3 edition of the Institute of Water magazine


Over the last ten years I’ve done a fair bit of interim management, doing nominally full-time roles on a three-day a week contract. And, yes, I had days off, worked on other projects and had sensible work-life balance. So, the question for me is: what are the full-time post holders now doing on Thursdays and Friday?

The gift that keeps giving

I think the key is that I know and can make use of a lot about a lot, where others seemed more specialist. That made me think how I built a wide skills base over the years, one that enables me to do full time roles to at least the required standard in three days a week. This in turn lead me to the idea of “Tee-Shaped learning: the gift the keeps giving“.

TEE-Shaped Learning

I know this from painful experience if an individual lacks the education and experience to deliver the task, and the self-awareness to recognise this and ask for help, the bit of the task outside the individual’s expertise will get done badly, if at all. Figure 2 shows this.

I argue that increasing an individual’s self-awareness is more important than developing this experience and experience, because with good self-awareness the individual can at least recognise that they need to ask for help. Welcome to Figure 3.

Clearly the best answer is to develop more Education and Experience (EE), in my case adding financial and people EE to my scientific EE, so that tasks get delivered well. Figure 4 show this.

Making the problem worse

The longer-term result is senior managers with limited experience having to react to new and unfamiliar challenges, and staff having difficulty transferring between roles, limiting flexibility and progression opportunities.

Clearly, if your most talented staff do not see the opportunities they want within your organisation, they will go elsewhere. And remember, the water industry is already forecast to have a 50% staff turnover rate in the next five years. Let’s not make it worse.

What to do about it

For individuals it’s about looking for opportunities to improve your knowledge and experience. Volunteering for new tasks or taking on secondments helps, as does taking on any training that is going. With training, it’s not just about what you need today, but what you need to prepare yourself for future roles.

As an example, if you are currently in a technical or scientific role, think about doing leadership and management courses. And don’t be frightened of starting at a lower qualification level just because you currently have a first or second degree.

What I did

In my case I had a very technical MSC in water treatment, which was great in scientific water industry roles but pretty much useless outside that industry. Recognising that I want to progress into management I did the Level 3 Certificate in Management Studies followed by a level 5 Diploma in Management Studies. A couple of years later I used these as Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) to allow me to upgrade to an MBA with just (!) one more year of study.

To further broaden my skills I undertook a 12 month secondment onto a major IT refresh project, leading on business continuity. During this project I did my Prince2 Practitioner qualification, something that stand me in good stead today, as well as learning lots about the wider business. A brilliant experience all round.

The downside? Living in a hotel 150 miles from home for thick end of 12 months. Not great, but it was the price of the benefits I wanted.

But I’m too busy…..

Yes i know you are already busy, but you need to bite this particular bullet. I am reminded of the phrase “if you want something doing, ask a busy person“. The more you do the more you learn to do. Yes, it’s tough at first, but you will find ways to get tasks done quickly and efficiently.

My only question to you is this: What’s stopping you?


I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post. If you have thoughts on what I have written so far please leave a comment.

Also if you have an idea for another business topic let me know and I’ll be delighted to find a space for it.

Thanks again

Bob windmill


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