Is Versatility Overrated?

January 23, 2014

In the latest edition of Professional Manager magazine there is a piece called “Is versatility overrated?” The wider question was whether the fashion for employing people with adaptability and versatility was wrong and that we should instead employ less flexible, but more knowledgeable ‘experts’? One manager argued yes and one no!

For me this article represented one of those business meetings where we spend hours and hours arguing for and against a particular subject. The debate is long and tedious and the best orator, or the most senior person usually gets their own way.

Here is my answer! Both approaches are right and they are both wrong, in our businesses we need some people with adaptability and we also need less flexible experts as well. The leadership skill is to get the right people in the right jobs and then orchestrate them all to create effective harmony. It’s exactly the same thing as the debate about personality styles and having the right mix of those in a business.

The easiest analogy for me to reinforce this point is a professional football team. In an ideal situation you would want an absolute specialist in every single position on the pitch. With the wealth of some Premiership teams they can afford to do this, so what stops them?

Even the wealthiest of football teams will have an overall squad that is limited to circa 30 players. Within the squad will be specialist ‘position’ players and from the 30 the manager will pick a team of 11 plus substitutes for each match they play.

There are 11 positions on the pitch and therefore you would expect the team to have at least two specialists per position. So that should be easy shouldn’t it? Well it isn’t because players get injured (employees get sick). Players move about the pitch depending on whether they are attacking or defending. If a player is out of position another player will attempt to cover for them. In business we often have to move people to different projects depending on workload or to cover sickness.

So here’s the deal, in football and in business you need a blend of both experts and also adaptable ‘versatility’ people. The best teams (in sports and business) are made up of adaptable experts! Jack of all trades master of none is no good, master of all trades is the ideal (but unlikely), master of one trade and pretty decent in lots of others is what is needed.

What are your thoughts, is your business suffering as a result of this expert versus versatility conundrum? Join the debate below or drop me a line, it would be great to discuss.

Many thanks

Scott Rumsey

Trainer & Consultant at MTD Training

(Image by Stuart Miles at

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