What Is Cross-Training and How Can It Benefit Your Company and Employees?

Cross-training is a best practice that every employer should leverage. Discover top tips for how to implement a successful cross-training program.

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What Is Cross-training and How Can It Benefit Your Company and Employees?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Cross-training benefits both staff members and organizations
  • Cross-training can entail shadowing a coworker who has time to explain what they do and why it’s being done, immersing in work that can be quickly trained, or project work
  • When you begin to plan for cross-training, consider starting with logical match-ups
  • Look at the departments in your company for ways you can build skills that correlate with the work being performed
  • Daily or weekly check-ins can ensure everyone is involved and engaged
  • Cross-train in all directions within the organization

Cross-training may be going on in your organization today in an informal way. Employees who need help may ask someone outside their usual work group for a temporary assist.

These short-term contributions may be basic tasks that need little or no training, or they can be complex. The helper not only provides relief for their colleague, they may also learn a bit about what others do for the company.

Cross-training purposefully should be the norm. Providing every employee with an opportunity to stretch their professional knowledge benefits them and the organization.

In addition to building skills, staffers may find a new area of interest; renewed commitment to the company; and build networks outside their work group. But the benefits of cross-training aren’t just for staff members.

Companies that actively cross-train workers see these same benefits and more. Employees who have a broader picture of how the company works may be better poised to do their own jobs or suggest innovations or efficiencies.

Their improved skill set and knowledge base makes them more valuable to the organization. The ability to grow professionally, even outside their standard role, may even impact employee retention and longevity on the job. Cross-training is a best practice that every employer should leverage.

What is cross-training in the workplace, exactly?

Cross-training can mean shadowing a coworker who has time to explain what they do and why it’s being done. This can last for a day or more, depending on how much time the trainer has, and how complicated the information they’re imparting is.

It may consist of immersing in work that can be quickly trained and easily overseen. These training experiences may be offered in short bursts and can be very eye-opening. Office staff can find learn what it takes to manage customers at the front line, providing insight into the challenges many employees face.

Project work is another opportunity to cross-train. When there is a large or long-range project being planned, consider including staff members who wouldn’t normally be on the roster. They will gain insight into processes they may never have been exposed to otherwise.

Initially, their role may be as an observer, but encourage members of the team to seek out their input and opinions. They may have some innovative ideas to share.

Cross-training gives employees knowledge beyond their desk or workstation. While it may not be top-of-mind for workers, data shows employees consider training and development an essential policy in the workplace.

LinkedIn Learning found 94% of workers would stay with their employer for a longer period of time if they were involved in learning and development. Another of their surveys found 68% of staffers want training on the job.

Employers are uniquely positioned to offer staff members the training they want, in the venue they prefer, to the company’s benefit.

How to get started and plan for cross-training

When you begin to plan for cross-training, consider starting with logical match-ups. Training accounts receivable staff members the ins and outs of billing is an easy leap. Developing employees who work in customer care may include training on how order fulfillment finalizes their work.

Look at the departments in your company for ways you can build skills that correlate with the work being performed. These provide the worker with a larger vision of how the company operates and how things work from the ground level.

Look for opportunities where employees can build their skills as well as their knowledge base.

As your program grows, look for less obvious ways to stretch employee knowledge and skill bases.

Marketing professionals may not understand what goes on in R&D. A larger view of what it takes to get a product developed may help boost their imagination. Accounting professionals may not seem like a good match for the creative team, but you never know what may pique their interest.

Look for opportunities where employees can build their skills as well as their knowledge base. If there is an interest in what they’ve learned during the cross-training, consider asking the staff member if they’d like to pursue additional training. You may suggest online courses or another internal opportunity when it arises.

If you can garner interest in professional growth, don’t let it pass. Harness that enthusiasm immediately to keep employee engagement high.

Tips for getting more employee participation

For most organizations, planned cross-training begins as a voluntary program. Look for volunteers from both sides of the process.

Begin with the most enthusiastic trainee and the best possible mentor/teacher to get the program off to a good start. When other staff members see how well it went, they’ll be inspired to participate.

Depending on the how you cross-train, look for trainers with the right skill set. Talk to managers to make sure a trainer is patient when it comes to others if your program allows for hands-on work.

Begin with the most enthusiastic trainee and the best possible mentor/teacher.

For job shadowing, a good teacher may not be the right fit. You may be looking for someone who has an extensive knowledge base and good communication skills for this experience.

When it comes to project work, look for projects that aren’t high-pressure. You don’t want the team to be held back with a trainee.

For less than stress-inducing projects, designate one person as the main contact for the process, but remind everyone on the team to help the trainee understand and participate.

How to monitor the cross-training process and trainees

Depending on how long the training will last, monitor it on an ongoing basis. Daily or weekly check-ins can ensure everyone is involved and engaged.

As the cross-training continues, check-ins may be unnecessary: the process may run itself. Ask the trainer and trainee how often they need to connect going forward, if at all.

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How to assess cross-training and follow up with participants

When the training is complete, talk to the participants to see how it went. You’ll want to know what the trainee thought of the process, what they learned, and whether they’d be interested in follow-up training. Ask for ways the process worked well, and ways it can be improved.

Have the same conversation with the trainer. Give them an opportunity to discuss the trainee at length, as well. You may gain insights about an employee who has more potential than you previously considered.

Your first endeavors into the process may be highly successful, or they may need a bit of tweaking. Don’t let minor setbacks or miscommunications derail the program. Look for ways to adapt.

Cross-train in all directions within the organization

You may already be teaching senior or skilled front-line workers to take on some assistant managerial responsibilities. That’s a great way to have coverage when needed and plan for succession.

But don’t consider cross-training as only a down/up process. Lateral training can be just as insightful and engaging as learning about what it takes to be a manager. A broader knowledge of how a company operates may not seem like it’s applicable on a daily basis, but it could lead to innovation and efficiencies.

You may even ask top-line managers to participate in cross-training at entry- or lower-level positions. This can provide them with an understanding of front-line employee experience. It sets an example that can encourage others to participate.

The message when upper management takes a few steps down the corporate ladder for cross-training is, “we’re excited to see what it’s like to learn your job.” Have fun with it — make sure managers are ready to take a bit of ribbing from their new ‘coworkers’ and have a good laugh when they don’t get things exactly right.

Cross-training is an important tool for business. It gives staff a chance to stretch and grow their skill set, making them more valuable to the company.

It also provides businesses with workers who can fill in when needed. If you’ve haven’t considered a formal cross-training program in the past, plan for one in the coming year.

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