Learning & Development

The Importance of Cross-Training

Companies want their employees to be effective at and knowledgeable about their jobs, and many managers try to remove ancillary activities from employees’ plates to allow them to focus on their core job functions. For example, companies hire administrative staff so their managers, accountants, lawyers, etc., don’t need to spend time scheduling meetings or routing documents.


Considering Cross-Training

Although focusing on core responsibilities is a sound HR strategy, companies should also consider some level of cross-training for their teams—training their staff to perform other team members’ basic job functions.

For example, a manager might train a customer service representative assigned to Account A on the basics of managing Account B. Or, a manager might train his or her contracts administration staff how to process the monthly invoices typically handled by the accounting team.

Cross-Training Can Be an Important Investment

Cross-training can be thought of as diversifying investments in a team. If a manager knows that Bob’s work will remain steady for years to come and that Bob will continue working for the company for years to come, it might make sense to put all the eggs in one basket and train only Bob to perform his role. But the real world doesn’t work like that.

Bob might leave for another job or get sick, and he will ultimately someday retire. By investing some time and effort in training others on Bob’s job, the company will be in a far better position if and when Bob leaves.

Cross-training is especially important for small companies or groups in which an entire job function might rest with a single person. Consider a one-person accounting team, for example. What happens if that accountant leaves and nobody else knows how to invoice customers or pay suppliers?

Big Benefits from Cross-Training

Cross-training also helps employees put their own work into the broader context of the organization as a whole. An employee may be frustrated with a coworker’s performance until he or she learns more about the coworker’s challenges by stepping into his or her shoes. And how useful might it be for a production manager to understand the work done by the sales and marketing teams?

He or she will be able to, in turn, get a better understanding of the key goals and concerns of customers. Cross-training can help make those connections while serving as a vehicle for valuable internal networking.

Cross-training might seem counterintuitive for companies and managers looking to squeeze every drop of efficiency out of a team through specialization, but that type of organization is unrealistic in an uncertain and ever-changing business environment.

Cross-training allows managers to hedge against unforeseen staffing needs while helping employees and teams develop a more wholistic understanding of the company they work for and their role within it.

How could a strategic cross-training initiative help you protect the interests of your company while expanding employees’ development opportunities?