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Growth & Development - Develop Cross-Training Programs

In today’s workforce, employees crave opportunities to learn, grow, and develop. While many like learning for learning’s sake, most are doing so to take on greater responsibilities at work and prepare for career advancement.


Provide employees with the opportunity to develop new skills and increase flexibility in the workplace.

What is cross-training?
Cross-training is the practice of training an employee to perform tasks or roles other than their own. It is a great way to help employees become professionally well-rounded, as it teaches them new skills and allows them to gain a better understanding of the company as a whole. For organizations, cross-training across departments provides more versatility and enhances organizational effectiveness. Learn more about cross-training here.

How does cross-training improve employee engagement and culture?
Cross-training programs are excellent drivers of employee engagement. They benefit the employee's desire to learn and grow; give them more exposure to other functions and aspects of the organization; and allow them to become greater assets to their company. Most importantly, implementing cross-training programs demonstrates to employees that your organization cares about their professional development and wants to provide them with opportunities for career growth. It’s also a great tool to add to your employees’ career development plans.

What are the benefits?
Along with improving employee engagement, cross-training offers more flexibility in the workplace. For example, if an employee calls in sick, someone who’s been cross-trained can temporarily step in. This solves an organizational need while meeting an employee’s need for professional development. Cross-training can also help boost employee morale, improve teamwork, increase productivity, reduce turnover; and save money on recruiting new talent. Discover more benefits of cross-training programs here.

How do you implement a cross-training program in the workplace?
Implementing an effective cross-training program takes careful planning and preparation. First, determine the objectives of the program. What are you trying to achieve? Are you looking to train an employee to perform a new task? Expose them to a different part of the business? Do a bit of both? Choose clear and measurable objectives. Then, consider how the program will benefit both employees and the organization. Depending on the size of your teams and organization, it may be a good idea to start with a pilot program. This will help determine what works before rolling it out organization-wide.

Before launching the pilot, we recommend and encourage you to read’s How to Teach Anything and Harvard Business Review’s How to Get Your Team to Coach Each Other to help prepare those conducting the training programs.


Develop A Cross-Training Program

Identify tasks - Select 3-5 specific tasks in each department that are cross-trainable.

Choose employees to be cross-trained - Determine which employees have the right competencies and/or educational background to perform the cross-trainable tasks. For example, someone in accounting would not be capable of learning and performing graphic design functions.

Seek employee participation - After identifying which employees have the competencies to be cross-trained, ask them if they would like to participate in the program. Explain to them the reasoning for cross-training and how it can benefit their personal growth and career development. Provide them with a list of cross-trainable tasks (at least 2–3) that align with their skill set and ask them what they want to learn.

Choose employees to conduct training - Select employees capable of conducting cross-training activities. Ask them if they would like to take part as trainers. Like step 3, explain to them the reasoning for and benefits of cross-training. Remove any suspicions that their job is at risk by articulating how cross-training aims to build the skills and versatility of everyone throughout the company.

Develop training methods - Work with trainers to determine the best and most effective method(s) for carrying out cross-training activities. Methods will vary by team and/or department, A popular method is job shadowing, which involves following or “shadowing” another employee throughout their workday and performing cross-trainable tasks when appropriate. Another approach is having trainers host a seminar/workshop to teach other employees about their job function and what it takes to succeed in their role. Regardless of the method, ensure participants respect safety policies and procedures at all times, specifically with regards to key competencies required to perform certain tasks.

Apply coaching skills to the process - Crossing-training can be challenging because it often involves teaching someone to perform an entire job function, rather than a single task. To make this process easier, provide trainers with detailed instructions on what and how to teach. (This can be found in the how-to section under implementing cross-training programs in the workplace.)

Reduce workloads - Reduce the workload for employees participating in the program. Otherwise, they may feel resentful about the process. Do not ‘off-load’ or delegate less desirable tasks to trainees. Ensure the duties of all participants are covered by another employee while they prepare for and/or take part in cross-training.

Recognize and reward employees - Give recognition to employees who have gained new skills and/or are willing to take on extra responsibilities. Don’t forget to recognize their trainers too! Recognition can take a wide variety of forms. Choose the type of recognition that fits best with your organization’s culture. In some cases, it may be a monetary reward such as a higher salary or bonus; but in others, a thank-you or “shout-out” will do the trick.

Incorporate into career development initiatives - Include the cross-training process in career development plans going forward. This will give you an understanding of the impact cross-training had on their performance and help you match them to future programs that align with their career goals.

Reference Material
How to run an employee cross-training program
15 Tips to Launch a Cross Training Program In Your Company

Updated on: 08/31/2023

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