What is an expert generalist? It sounds like an oxymoron, but expert generalists are real people that are desperately needed by every company. They are people who seek out depth of knowledge across departments, disciplines, and skill-sets in order to get a better macro perspective on all kinds of concepts and issues that affect them.
Because of their breadth of knowledge, the expert generalist is a driver of creativity, seeing unique connections between problems, and adapting solutions from one field into another. They understand the context of the entire situation, why certain details are important and why others are impossible. They are able to speak their team's language with ease, and as a result, solve problems faster and with ease.
Obviously these are great people to have around, and the good news is that you don't have to search these people out - you can cultivate the expert generalist approach in your existing teams. Here's how:
Ask “Why” - a LOT!
Is “why” an antagonistic question in your workplace? Sometimes? All the time? If you find yourself or your team asking “why” a lot, and the answer is a grumpy “because that’s how we’ve always done things” then you’re missing out on a world of opportunities to streamline procedures and improve your approach to everyday tasks. To foster an environment where the expert generalist thrives, you need to encourage and engage with the question “why?”
Why shows commitment, passion, and curiosity. Asking why shows that your are both humble enough to realize you may not know everything, and invested enough to care about your process.
Remove Obstacles to Collaboration
Are central tasks restricted to a particular team or individual? Are your team’s job descriptions restrictive, or open? Workflow challenges are unique to each business, and creative collaboration can make a big difference to opening up bottlenecks. Talk to your team and find their biggest frustration when it comes to collaboration and see if you can remove it.
Do team members sit in the same area so they can easily talk to each other? Do people involved in the early and late stages of the same project talk to each other throughout? Are changes in the requirements of a project communicated to the whole team? Do you have a simple, non-threatening means for people to express challenges they’ve come across, or potential problems that will affect the entire team, and ask for or offer help?
Promote Sharing of Knowledge
Once or twice a month, have different team members give informal talks over lunch or at your team meetings about something in their area of expertise. You can limit it to technical, work-related things, or open it up to hobbies and other interests. The benefits of this practice are twofold: your team will learn some cool new things, and they’ll know who to turn to when a problem comes up in that area.
You’ll have figured out by now that the key to all of this is simple - it’s all about communication and engagement. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Need some help? Bring us in for a custom team engagement workshop.