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Team Member – An Expert or a Jack-of-all-Trades
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 04/14/2014


Looking back I remember having been called all kinds of names that ranged from idiot to dilettante and much more. I really don’t think I ever got credit for being adaptive or flexible when faced with a challenge but what really bothered me was the fact that I was never given credit for my abilities when it counted the most. Certainly I felt I was an asset as a teammate in many different sports and events but never did I quit or resign my will to overcome and win whenever possible.

The truth is I am good at a lot of things – but I am not an expert at any. Not sounding too positive it is in fact a good thing for more and more today businesses are looking for people who seem to be able to adapt and use their human resources as subject matter expertise but not necessarily focused in one specific area of concern. In fact, I will be so bold enough to say that companies are looking for both experts and generalists that can work together and get the job done right with maximum efficiency and cost effective means.

The key word we need to address is change – change dictates how we use our human resources as well as our materials and logistic needs. Change can be quick. It can leave you behind with a blink of the eye using today’s technology and requirements. Finding hybrids of experts and generalists is the key to keeping up with change. A well balanced approach is to never make one more important than the other.

Why is this kind of person considered to be an asset to the organization you must ask yourself? The truth is a generalist understands the context as well as the content – they have the basic knowledge to get around the existing environment and make the most of it. These individuals have a breadth of knowledge that helps bring new breakthroughs and technologies to existing ideas and provide a descriptive ability to identify the tree hidden deeply inside the forest.

Knowing how the forest exists brings the specialists or expert to the forefront to focus on what their domain does and how it does it. Together with the generalist they can provide feedback that includes visionary objectives and practical purposes together as a team. Hence together, they see the totality of the program or purpose and work together to keep it on track.

Last but not least are the elements that bonds these two types of people in a cohesive and well-mannered team. Bonding creates creativity and creativity leads to new technologies or ways to do the job better. It also creates competition. While one may focus on their own subject area the other spends time looking for better and deeper ways to get the job done. Connecting the dots on such strategy results in associative thinking that is hard to beat no matter what industry or what business you are engaged in today’s market.

Raising the stakes is what makes business successful in their endeavors. While individual knowledge is good, sharing their ideas to solve a problem creates a leverage for the greater good and often a successful solution to a complex problem. Sharing each other’s experience and knowledge balances the formula for success and helps them question each other to reiterate assumptions and build strategies to make work better.

Therefore it is fair to say that neither an expert nor a generalist is a most important member of the team. It appears that a well balanced approach to successful problem solving is to merge these two kinds of personalities, experience and subject matter experts together to form an awesome team ready to tackle the most difficult situations faced today in today’s market or industries.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

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