5 benefits of cross-training your employees

Do your employees work in a silo? No, not the silo you find at a barn in upstate Vermont (although we do have a lot of those). I’m talking about the silo of knowledge. The silo that blinds your team from other company operations.

Employees who operate in silos know one thing: marketing, accounting, product management, accounting – whatever their skill may be.

And that’s a challenge.

It’s tough to find time to get your team trained up on more than what they’re good at. You’ve got to invest time, money, and resources into something you’re not sure will pan out or benefit your company.

So, why try?

Here’s five reasons you should send your marketer to the programming side, and your HR guy over to finance:

1. Improve your employee’s skill set

Having a hand in several skills is almost always better than being amazing at one thing. That way, Mary in business development doesn’t have to get help from Mark in accounting on how to print QuickBooks reports. When skills are improved, and the company pays for it, it’s likely to increase employee retention and morale (two things that aren’t exactly easy).

2. Meet new people in the company

One of of the drawbacks of a large company is you only end up knowing coworkers in your immediate area. This means you’re talking to human resources (or whatever department) all the time. But, what if someone in marketing has a great idea to recruit new team members? By cross-training, your team meets people on the “other side of the building” or forges new relationships with the developers (It’s always a great idea to make friends with the programming team! You get a lot done).

3. Discover your employee’s strengths

Did you know Tim from accounting has an eye for interface design? Or that Jessica, the CEO’s assistant, can dress teddy bears faster than half the production staff? When you let your employees learn about other sections of the company – and possibly improve them – you find hidden talents suddenly surface. That really means during busy season, Jessica can increase production of teddy bear dressing by a significant amount. Get her on the floor!

4. Save money by hiring less people

You really don’t want to add someone else to the payroll for a 5 hour/week job, do you? Cross-training allows you to fit the job into another employee’s job description without increasing headcount. What that really means is keeping your health insurance premiums down and your team motivated to get work done.

5. Recover after losing an employee

Let’s say you had an employee leave. This employee was crucial to the company. They knew the whole team, how the company worked, and their work was top-notch. What would you do if that particular employee quit? Would you panic and wonder how you’re going to fill the position? Or, would you be confident in your team’s ability to pick up where he left off? This is the beauty of cross-training. You can fill the gaps with other team members while you work to find a full-time replacement.

Are you convinced cross-training is the way to go? I hope these reasons have led you to believe it’s a valuable initiative for your company your staff, and overall morale.

After deciding whether or not to move forward, there’s one big elephant in the room: making it happen.

It’s easy to make a decision. However, implementing a cross-training initiative at your company can be tough. It’s time consuming, and it’s an investment in human capital. Not to mention it’s unchartered territory – you’ve never done it before.

That’s why I wanted to jam-pack more value into this post and let you know a couple tips to get your cross-training program started:

How to start a cross-training program:

Cross-training takes on many different meanings. For construction, it could mean the forklift operator learning how to pour concrete. Or for a retail business, it could mean the stock boy learning how to use the register.

Regardless of it’s many facets, there are certain steps to follow to make sure your cross-training initiative is a success.

Let’s take a look at step 1:

Step 1. What are your cross-training goals?

A cross-training program is useless if you’re not achieving your goals. Write down what you want the program to accomplish? Is it every employee gaining a new skill? Is it certain departments? Do you have a budget? When you have goals in mind it helps you make better decisions that align with those goals.

Step 2. Pick two departments to work with

In order to cross-train, you need two different departments. These should be polar opposites so everyone is learning something brand-new. That way, it keeps interest levels high.

Step 3. Pick a couple of employees to test the concept on

Not everyone in your chosen departments is going to participate. That’s why you need to test this concept with team members who want to learn. They want to gain a new skill.

Step 4. Do the training

Can’t forget the most important step! Arrange a day for each department’s employees to shadow each other and get trained on how the other department works. Make sure to pair like-minded people up so you’re whole experiment doesn’t end up in flames.

Step 5: Gain feedback

Now, your cross-training has happened. Hopefully it went well. It’s time to get feedback. How did your employees like the training? Did they learn something? How would they improve the program? This feedback is super valuable for your program. It not only gets the kinks out, but it creates the foundation for a stellar program.

Step 6. Roll the program out to the company

When you’ve gotten some feedback and had the “beta” launch of your cross-training program out of the way, it’s time to roll the program out to the whole company. But, with one word of advice: make it optional.

And now it’s your turn. Have you been able to implement a cross-training program at your company? How is the team liking it? Let’s get a conversation going in the comments below!


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