Summer can be a great time to cross train. We’re not talking sports, but workplaces. Creating a plan to train staff to do the jobs of others at the beginning of summer can help cover off holidays and keep an organization running smoothly.
Cross training provides staff with an opportunity to network in the organization. Meeting others and learning their functions can offer people a deeper understanding of the business as a whole, while letting them walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Learning how to carry out different responsibilities makes it easier for staff to appreciate what others contend with daily. This kind of empathy helps answer the perennial organizational question, “Why do they do that and why do they do it that way?”
Organizationally, cross training helps get work done when the person who usually performs the task is away. Learning new duties can provide staff with skills that could help them advance in the organization or just change positions.
Many find cross training provides a welcome opportunity to try something new and reduce a sense of stagnation. At the same time, by cross training, organizations can increase the pool from which talented staff can be drawn to fill positions in the company.
With all these benefits, you’d think that companies would make cross training routine. This is not the case. There are five barriers to cross training that prevent companies from embracing cross training.
Many staff asked to cross train others in their function are reluctant as they enjoy feeling irreplaceable. These people typically hoard work and have trouble delegating tasks. They believe that by keeping the job to themselves, they will be more important to the company, be rewarded for being such an integral player, will matter more and thus be more appreciated by the company.
Management must be clear that cross training is an important function of the job and will not jeopardize the cross trainer’s position in the company. Finding ways to convey that the staff member matters and is appreciated is also helpful.
2. Cross Training Takes Too Much Time
Cross training takes time and can be difficult for the trainer. Most of us have established and personal ways of doing things. Explaining how we do our jobs to others slows us down. And many times, rather than delegate or cross train another, it seems easier just to do it ourselves. This becomes a vicious cycle when staff would rather do it themselves for efficiency sake but end up having less time because no one knows how to help. No one can pick up absent staff members’ work, so it piles up in their absence. Recognizing that taking some time to cross train will alleviate one’s workload in the end is important.
3. No Cross Training Plan
Helping staff organize cross training time is important. In our practice, we often see managers make an attempt to promote cross training by simply directing subordinates to cross train each other. However, without proper guidelines, this approach falls short. Sit down with the trainer and trainees and discuss what duties should be cross trained and how they may organize their time to accomplish this task. Ask for suggestions about timelines involved in cross training and what functions are best shared. Discuss any barriers that may arise and come up with strategies to deal with each one. Instead of just asking staff to train each other, give them a road map to accomplish this important task.
4. Not Everyone is a Natural Born Teacher
When asked to cross train a colleague, some staff may say they aren’t good teachers. They may indicate that if the trainee doesn’t understand the “lesson” the first time, they’ll give up. Some people don’t like playing teacher or may fear they won’t explain things properly.
If this is the case, look at the scope of training needed. You may require a training course. Cross training is best reserved for situations in which people are at similar skill and knowledge level. It is most useful for training specific skills. For example, cross training would probably not be a suitable model for teaching someone how to use Excel. A comprehensive training course is a better choice.
5. Trainee Reluctance
Trainees may be reluctant to go through this process. They may be comfortable in their roles and with their familiar tasks and not want to learn something new. They may not want what they perceive to be the added responsibility for other people’s work. They fear that learning other tasks will mean their workload will increase. If trainees are afraid they’ll end up doing someone else’s job as well as their own, they need to remember that by cross training other staff, they are not replacing them. They are learning some, not all of their functions and the purpose is to be familiar with each other’s work. Cross training, if done, can give staff flexibility and can let them pinch hit for each other. If staff do off-load their work onto other, this should be addressed as a team issue.
Cross training requires time to plan the task, deal with the barriers and provide support to staff. Being aware of what can be cross trained and what needs more formal training programs is also key.
Being part of a team that can fill in for others in times of stress or during holidays and absences can be a tremendous relief for staff and the organization.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.