Cross-Training Employees: 7 Effective Tips To Get Started

Updated February 3, 2023

Managers often aim to prepare their employees with skills and knowledge to perform other job duties, ensuring more than one person understands the needs of a position. This concept, called cross-training, helps prepare companies for busier times or unexpected situations. Learning about this method of training can help you learn if the company for which you work might benefit from using it.

In this article, we share what cross-training employees means, explain its benefits and offer steps you can take to provide effective cross-training to employees.

What does cross-training employees mean?

Cross-training employees is a process where managers teach employees to perform some of the tasks of a different role. With cross-training, you identify key skills required for another role and train other employees in that skill.

The purpose of cross-training is to ensure that employees can perform tasks outside of their regular roles whenever needed. Businesses use this practice to increase staff effectiveness, flexibility and efficiency.

For example, a toy store may be especially busy during the holiday season so employees that typically work in the stock room might receive cross-training on cashiering to help move customers through the lines quickly.

Related: 7 Ways To Effectively Train Employees

Benefits of cross-training employees

Cross-training employees can aid in their professional development while also helping your business meet its overall goals. Here are some benefits of cross-training in the workplace. Cross-training:

Enables flexibility

Cross-training your employees ensures that you are not solely reliant on certain individuals to perform specific tasks. By training others to perform those duties, it gives your team or department more flexibility when one of the usual responsibility-holders is not at work. If someone is out sick, on vacation or takes maternity leave, you have someone ready to fill their role without interrupting productivity.

Related: Employee Training and Development: How To Do It Effectively

Motivates employees

By providing employees with opportunities to learn new skills, you can highlight your investment in their professional development which can make team members feel more valued, self-confident and enthusiastic at work. This can also keep them engaged and focused, which can increase motivation.

Promotes internal hiring

Employees who receive cross-training learn a wide variety of skills and responsibilities which can expand their career opportunities within the organization. By overseeing this training, you can better match individuals' strengths and skills to specific projects, departments or new job opportunities. Managers can often see which employees are most eager and talented to take on new responsibilities that can lead to leadership positions.

Helps employees develop new skills

Through cross-training, employees not only, learn new skills; but also, how to implement them. Therefore, when they're called upon to use these skills, they'll feel confident that they can contribute in a positive way to meeting department goals. For example, outside sales employees that receive training on inside sales can learn and apply new tactics that they can use for their current roles.

Improves teamwork

Implementing peer-to-peer cross-training can foster a stronger team mentality within your business. Having employees train one another helps create a collaborative environment where individuals are more willing to work together. It also provides some relief to employees because it increases the number of people they can ask for assistance.

Cross-training can also encourage empathy, as people can better understand the requirements of other roles and understand key components, like how long tasks take and what tools they need.

Related: 7 Examples of Important Teamwork Skills

Disadvantages of cross-training

Though it has many positives, there are some disadvantages of cross-training, including:

  • Added responsibilities: Some team members may feel like they're taking additional responsibilities with extra pay. Consider adding incentives for those learning new roles or sharing how this opportunity can lead to career growth.

  • More general knowledge: Rather than having people specialized in certain areas, cross-training can create more people with broader knowledge. Consider leveraging the specific skills and knowledge of each team member to help keep specific knowledge on different tools and processes.

  • Difficult to balance: Some employees may find the additional knowledge difficult to balance with their current responsibilities, which can affect their focus. Consider specifying particular times where they might cross-train or perform certain duties and continue to develop them in their current roles.

7 tips when cross-training employees

Here are seven tips to help you create an effective cross-training program for your employees:

1. Set the goals of your program

When developing a cross-training program for your organization or team, you first need to establish your objectives. Identifying your goals helps you more clearly define the program so that you can tailor it to meet your needs.

Once you have set your program goals, share them with your employees. Employees who understand the purpose of the training know how to keep themselves on track to accomplish the greater goal.

Some examples of goals include:

  • Adjusting to changes in industry standards or regulations

  • Improving the flexibility of the team or organization in preparation for a busy season

  • Preparing for organizational change, such as growth or restructuring

Related: Training Objectives: Definition and Examples

2. Determine a structure for your cross-training

There are two types of structures you can use when cross-training employees. Your decision may depend on the size of your business or the type of employees you oversee. Choose the one that makes the most sense for achieving your goals and is most realistic in terms of the training process. Your choices include:

  • Job enlargement: Job enlargement expands individuals' jobs by training them on tasks at the same skill level as their current role. While this training does not increase the employees' level of responsibility or authority, the additional duties can add variety to their job.

  • Job enrichment: Job enrichment expands individuals' jobs by training them on tasks that give them more responsibility or authority. A company that runs warehouses might teach its shelf stockers how to process incoming deliveries and complete order forms.

Related: Q&A: What Is Job Enrichment?

3. Identify employees to cross-train

Your first criteria should be areas of the business that most need cross-training, whether they are currently understaffed or will be in the future, or if they have less experienced employees.

By implementing cross-training, you can help resolve some of those issues and improve productivity. You can also identify participants based on individual employee interest levels. Those who are eager to learn new skills will be enthusiastic about participating and ensuring the program's success.

4. Motivate your employees to participate

Some employees may see cross-training as additional work, so get them to embrace the process by sharing its benefits. Aside from helping the whole team or organization achieve its objectives, discuss how it can help each employee reach their professional goals, such as career advancement.

You can also increase interest by allowing individuals to choose which roles or responsibilities they are most interested in as opportunities for growth. By doing this, you give them a sense of ownership within the program.

Employees who feel like they have a choice in which additional tasks they assume are likely to feel more motivated than if they received an assignment for a new responsibility to learn.

5. Use the most experienced teachers

Cross-training works best when the most seasoned employees are involved in the training. These are employees who are most familiar with the company's processes so they can offer specific advice to their trainees and provide a positive training experience.

Set time aside to assess your more experienced employees and determine who you believe could best train others. You may base this decision on their level of experience or whether you think their personality and style of work enables them to be an effective trainer.

6. Follow up with participants

After your employees have participated in cross-training, set up one-on-one meetings to gather their feedback. At the meeting, ask them what they enjoyed about the program, where they saw issues and if they have any suggestions on how to improve the training program. You may also learn about any other cross-training opportunities they would be interested in trying.

Related: Job Rotation Benefits and Examples

7. Implement a job rotation program

Typically, managers and large organizations use job rotation programs to foster future managers, focusing on individuals with potential for specific career development. These individuals receive an assignment to different departments or functions to develop their understanding of the company and how it runs.

Understanding how a variety of departments within the organization function can help these employees make better, more strategic decisions, prioritize projects and goals and treat their employees with more empathy and understanding.

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