What is employee cross-training and how to do it right

Ieva Sipola 11.04.2024
Employee cross-training

Employee cross-training—the practice of training your staff to do tasks that lie outside their normal responsibilities—is not a new concept. But what are employee cross-training benefits, and why should you try it in your company? 

Studies show that 6 out of 10 American workers are open to changing careers. At the same time, 74% of workers feel that insufficient employee development opportunities are hindering them from reaching their full potential, and 91% of employees express a desire for personalized training to enhance their skills.

These findings demonstrate that workers are willing to hone their knowledge and skills – an opportunity managers and business owners shouldn’t miss. Even more so if 93% of employees are willing to stay with a company if it invests into their careers.

The best part about employee cross-training? You can help your staff grow professionally without allocating huge resources to courses or training programs – you can use the talent, knowledge, and resources already available in your organization. 

In short, there aren’t many downsides to employee cross-training – as long as you do it right.

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What are employee cross-training benefits?

Employee cross-training or cross-functional training can include mastering various job functions within a department or acquiring skills across different departments. Some examples of staff cross-training may include training customer service representatives in sales, marketing specialists learning to perform HR functions, mixing up different IT roles, etc. 

There are many benefits of employee cross-training, both for individuals and the organization, for example:

Enhanced productivity

When employees step into different roles, they gain a better understanding of the company’s operation as a whole, not just their specific role. Employee cross-training improves collaboration and unites the team to work together toward the company’s goals instead of each department focusing on its differences.

Ensures work continuity

Employee cross-training mitigates risks associated with staff shortages, absences, and turnover by ensuring that critical tasks can be performed even when specific employees are unavailable.

Improved employee engagement 

Employees are almost 20% more likely to stay in a company where they’ve made an internal advancement. Opportunities for career development and a sense of belonging strengthened by employee cross-training leads to a lower turnover and higher performance.

Potential cost savings

Employee cross-training helps to make the most of your existing workforce by reducing the need for external hires or temporary staff during peak periods or emergencies.

what are employee cross training benefits

How to implement an employee cross-training program?

It’s clear that staff cross-training offers numerous benefits for both employees and business owners. Once you’ve decided to do it, the next step is understanding how to cross-train employees – where to start and what to pay attention to.

1. Evaluate employee skills

Begin by thoroughly assessing your employees’ existing skills and competencies. Then, conduct a job analysis to identify the critical tasks you need to cross-train for in any given role. You can do this by breaking down one job into smaller components and describing the tasks and skills involved in the role.

2. Match trainees with mentors

Match each position with the right potential cross-trainee. Try to pair roles that require similar skills and strengths, at the same time – not too similar. Ideally, involve your employees in the decision-making process – ask them what they’d be interested in learning and what excites them. Be sure to explain the employee cross-training benefits and the purpose of cross-training in your organization. 

This is also a good time to share cross-training goal examples. Urge your employees to set personal goals for what they want to learn in the training process.  

Remember that not all employees may be a natural fit for staff cross-training. Some are eager to learn new skills, while others are happy where they are and may be anxious about having new tasks on their workload. And, of course, not all people are natural-born mentors, so make sure you don’t force anyone into being a mentor – the outcome won’t be beneficial for anyone.

3. Develop an employee cross-training plan

Based on the identified skill gaps and employee strengths, develop customized employee cross-training plans. These plans should outline the specific skills and tasks that employees will be trained on, along with the methods and resources needed for training.

Then, create a schedule for staff cross-training, taking into account your employees’ current workload and respectfully incorporating the training into it. Don’t go overboard with the intensity of employee cross-training – even an hour of learning each week can amount to a lot over a few months.

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4. Provide hands-on training

Offer hands-on team cross-training opportunities that allow employees to learn through practical experience. This can include:

  • Job shadowing – an employee observing and learning from another employee as they perform their daily tasks. This process involves asking questions or explaining actions along the way. 
  • Mentoring – a more structured and long-term relationship between a more experienced employee (the mentor) and a less experienced employee (the mentee). The mentor provides guidance and support to the mentee, sharing their knowledge and insights to help the mentee develop professionally and achieve their career goals.
  • On-the-job training – learning and acquiring new skills while performing actual tasks and responsibilities within the workplace. It typically involves hands-on experience under the guidance of a supervisor or trainer, allowing employees to learn in a practical setting, apply new knowledge immediately, and receive real-time feedback.
  • Workshops – interactive training sessions conducted in a group setting, focusing on a specific topic, skill, or area of expertise. Workshops involve presentations, discussions, exercises, and practical activities designed to engage participants and facilitate skill development.
  • Simulations – immersive and interactive learning experiences that replicate real-world scenarios or environments and allow participants to practice skills and make decisions in a risk-free setting. Simulations can range from virtual reality (VR) simulations to tabletop exercises and role-playing scenarios.

Whichever learning option you choose for your organization, always encourage open communication and feedback throughout the training process to address any challenges or concerns.

develop employee cross training plan

5. Monitor progress and performance

Regularly monitor employees’ progress and performance as they undergo staff cross-training. Provide constructive feedback and support to help them overcome obstacles and refine their skills. Don’t forget to ask the mentors’ opinions as well and make sure they don’t feel overburdened or frustrated from teaching. 

Finally, evaluate the effectiveness of the employee cross-training program on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to make necessary adjustments to ensure the program’s success.

6. Introduce incentives for completed courses

If you manage a large organization or a department that can potentially offer many employee cross-training opportunities, consider offering benefits to employees to encourage their career development. Incentives can take the form of bonuses (conditioned upon the training course being completed), extra holidays or other benefits.

7. Consider starting a job rotation program

People lose skills if they don’t practice them. Once your employees have gone through staff cross-training, consider implementing a job rotation plan. The plan could entail, for example, encouraging your team members to spend a day every month or every few months working in the role they’ve cross-trained for.

You can go further and periodically move employees between roles within your organization. Setting a specific period for employees to spend in different roles is a great way to expand their knowledge and competencies, reduce boredom, and foster a collaborative mindset. 

How to cross-train employees remotely?

Employee cross-training in a remote team presents unique challenges, but it can be successful – with the right strategies and tools. Luckily, numerous virtual collaboration tools allow for screen sharing and other forms of interactive communication in training sessions. 

Here are specific tips for cross-training in a remote team:

Create detailed training materials

Develop comprehensive training resources, including manuals, video tutorials, and interactive presentations, that employees can access remotely anytime. Ensure these materials are well-organized in a centralized location, such as a shared drive or a learning management system (LMS).

Conduct shorter, more frequent sessions 

Plan regular, shorter sessions to accommodate remote work schedules and maintain engagement. Encourage participation by allowing employees to choose convenient time slots and offering flexibility in training execution.

Assign virtual mentors

Pair employees with experienced mentors who can provide guidance, support, and feedback throughout the remote staff cross-training process. Virtual mentors can offer one-on-one coaching sessions, answer questions, and provide insights based on their own skills and experiences. 

Encourage regular check-ins between mentors and trainees to track progress and address challenges.

Incorporate interactive learning activities

Video calls, screen sharing, and collaborative tools are great for simulating face-to-face interactions and creating a supportive learning environment. In addition to these everyday collaboration tools, consider incorporating quizzes, role-playing exercises, and group discussions to facilitate training in a remote setting. 

Engaging activities help reinforce learning, promote active engagement, and facilitate knowledge retention in a virtual environment. As an added benefit, they are also great for enhancing motivation and remote team building.

remote employee cross training

Encourage self-directed learning

Empower employees to take ownership of their learning and pursue self-directed development opportunities. Provide access to online courses, workshops, and educational resources that align with their professional development goals. Encourage employees to set learning objectives, track their progress, and seek additional training as needed.

Employee cross-training – a win-win move for your organization

Team cross-training is a proactive initiative that empowers organizations to maximize their agility and adapt to changing business needs. On the other hand, it offers professional growth opportunities to employees, all the while increasing engagement and reducing boredom. 

The result?

Better skilled and more satisfied employees and lower turnover for your organization. So, all excuses aside, follow the tips we’ve provided to start your employee cross-training program today!

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