Cross-training isn’t just adding a little yoga to your daily running routine. In business, cross-training employees can provide a major boost to your workforce's productivity (and your bottom line!). Here are the major benefits of cross-training employees, and some tips on cross-training in the workplace.
🔍 What you’ll find in this post
Why is cross-training important in the workplace?
Cross-training employees goes beyond showing everyone how the copier works in case your administrative assistant is out for the day. It starts by identifying the major tasks and skills in a specific area of your organization and then training each employee on these skills so that they can step in for support when needed.
Think of a small accounting firm. Right around tax time, things get hectic, and the more hands on deck, the better. If everyone in the office can be trained in certain intake procedures, then the accountants can focus on their highly specialized and complicated jobs.
Cross-training employees in healthcare is also common and valuable. It may be something as simple as training the office manager to prioritize (triage) certain types of cases that come into the office. Or, it could be giving physician's assistants training on common insurance questions so they can help patients during their consultations.
As you'll notice, neither of these examples requires weeks spent in boardrooms with training manuals and assessments.
Cross-training simply aims to build the skills of everyone in the company so everyone better understands exactly what it takes to run the business. The idea is to empower employees to provide support from within the company instead of outsourcing or overloading one group of employees during hectic times.
What are the benefits of cross-training employees?
The value of cross-training in the workplace ranges from increased flexibility and adaptability to improved collaboration and employee satisfaction. By implementing cross-training programs, you can develop a more versatile workforce that is better prepared to meet evolving business needs and drive success.
These are the major benefits of cross-training employees:
- Greater return on investment
- Greater productivity
- Better collaboration and teamwork
- Increased employee motivation
- Increased workforce sustainability
- Improved operational efficiency
- Improved employee engagement
- Greater employee retention
- An agile and future-ready company
Let’s look at each of the benefits of cross-training employees in more detail.
1. Greater return on investment
It is important to hire employees that can do their jobs well, but looking at the talent you already have on staff can really boost your bottom line.
For example, if you are in education and need a curriculum developer, who knows the content and curriculum better than the teacher with the Master’s degree in curriculum design who is already on staff? Done well, cross-training empowers employees to share their knowledge without bringing in additional employees. This saves employee onboarding costs (and time!).
2. Greater productivity
Cross-training employees offers substantial benefits when it comes to productivity.
Employees can develop a diverse set of skills, enabling them to take on a wider range of tasks and responsibilities. This versatility reduces dependence on a specific individual or department for certain tasks, ensuring that work can continue smoothly even in the absence of key team members.
By having employees who can step in and fill different roles, organizations can maintain productivity levels and minimize disruptions caused by staffing gaps or absences. These cross-trained employees are also better equipped to handle unexpected situations and avoid bottlenecks in workflows.
👉Learn more: A high-quality training needs analysis can help you figure out what employees already know, and what they need to learn to grow.
3. Better collaboration and teamwork
Cross-training encourages collaboration and teamwork among employees. When individuals are trained in multiple areas, they can work together more effectively, share knowledge, and support each other in accomplishing tasks.
Tim Brown, the CEO of award-winning design firm IDEO, focuses on creating “T” shaped individuals in his companies. “T” shaped employees are experts in one particular aspect of the company (this makes up the leg of the letter) while still having a broad, working knowledge of other aspects of the company (the arms of the “T”).
In contrast, “I” type employees have extensive expertise in one area but, because they are hyper-focused within their own role, lack the ability to really collaborate with other people in the company.
4. Increased employee motivation
Nothing stops employee initiative faster than the perception of a dead-end job. If your medical receptionist can’t see any place for movement within your medical practice, they may start looking elsewhere.
If employees know there are opportunities within the company for growth, their motivation to seek out those training opportunities (and the corresponding increase in pay) grows. More motivated employees will gravitate towards additional opportunities for career growth and mobility.
👉Learn more: Read our full guide on how to get employees excited about training!
5. Increased workforce sustainability
Imagine the three legs of a stool. If one leg falls off, the stool is useless. Now imagine a company in which only one employee knows anything about a process or a procedure. What happens if that person takes maternity leave or becomes ill and needs time off?
Cross-training employees holds up the seat of your business, even when your resident expert steps away. This makes your business more sustainable, even in times of transition. When employees are cross-trained, they can step into different roles or functions, minimizing disruptions and maintaining productivity until new hires are onboarded or your expert returns to work.
6. Improved operational efficiency
If each department has to identify valuable skills to add to a cross-training program for employees, they will be forced to look closely at what’s important and how best to pass that knowledge along.
This activity in and of itself increases efficiency, especially in small businesses where each employee already has multiple layers of responsibility. Honing the skills needed and figuring out how to efficiently and effectively transmit them can help streamline every aspect of your business.
7. Improved employee engagement
Employee engagement is a significant benefit of cross-training in the workplace. By acquiring new skills and knowledge, employees feel a sense of personal and professional growth, leading to increased job satisfaction and motivation. They are more likely to feel invested in their work and committed to achieving their goals.
When it comes to engagement, cross-training also often involves collaborating with colleagues from different teams or departments. This collaborative aspect of cross-training can foster a greater sense of camaraderie and engagement with the company as a whole.
As employees work together on cross-functional projects or tasks, they develop a better understanding and appreciation for the contributions of their colleagues. This collaboration not only strengthens relationships among employees but also promotes a positive work environment where teamwork and support are valued.
👉Discover more: How engaged are your employees currently? Learn how to actually measure employee engagement here!
8. Greater employee retention
When employees have the chance to learn new skills and expand their knowledge through cross-training, they are more likely to feel challenged and engaged in their work. This sense of continuous learning and personal development can increase their job satisfaction overall, improving retention.
Employees who see a clear path for advancement and growth are more inclined to stay with the company for the long term.
9. An agile and future-ready company
Cross-training prepares your workforce to tackle future challenges and seize opportunities.
Employees with diverse skills are better equipped to adapt to changing demands and contribute to the organization's agility and innovation. Cross-training employees may also entail on-the-job training that can help reveal hidden talents, increase skillsets, and provide a springboard for advancing the goals and objectives of your company.
This makes your company more agile and responsive, no matter the size or industry. It also makes you more flexible with scheduling and filling last-minute vacancies.
Are there any disadvantages of cross-training employees?
Yes, but they can be avoided with some advanced preparation.
To start, some employees may view cross-training as an added responsibility with no added pay. It’s important to make sure that while leveraging each employee’s strengths you balance their workload as much as possible.
Sure, you want to get the highest level of productivity out of your employees while still protecting your bottom line, but the risk of burnout is high when you add too much, too fast. You want employees to know that you value their abilities, not that you think of them as beasts of burden.
Another potential risk is building a company filled with generalists. These are employees that know a little bit about a lot of things, but not too much about one.
While this can be very helpful to fill in gaps when an employee is out sick (especially in a small company), you run the risk of appearing to be a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of expertise in your field.
Imagine if a doctor in your medical practice was also responsible for checking in patients and dealing with the complexities of filing insurance claims. While it’s important for doctors to have a working understanding of the ever-changing landscape of insurance, having an expert in the office is crucial – both for the doctoring and for dealing with insurance companies. Let your specialists be specialists, even as they dip a toe into other aspects of the company.
👉Learn more: Find the major signs of burnout in your employees (and how to help manage it!)
How to cross-train employees
Cross-training employees is a great way to enhance skills and versatility within your organization. Ready to get started? This is how to cross-train employees effectively, while avoiding some of the disadvantages and challenges of cross-training.
Start small: To make it more manageable to roll out your program, pick one single skill you wish everyone at the company knew that would benefit the team as a whole. Remember, you don't have to train everyone on everything all at once.
Set clear goals and objectives: Before implementing a cross-training program, establish the specific goals and objectives you want to achieve. This will help guide the entire process, define how much you’ll be asking employees to take on, and ensure that the program aligns with your company’s needs.
Identify suitable tasks and skills: Determine which tasks or skills are most suitable for cross-training by considering which tasks would most benefit your employees being trained and the overall efficiency of your company.
Consider your methods: Cross-training can be conducted via on-the-job training or eLearning courses. Choose which approach will work best for your employees by reviewing our post on the top types of employee training.
Clearly communicate expectations: It is essential to communicate expectations to make sure employees understand their new responsibilities. Provide a place for them to offer feedback on their experiences as well, and incorporate these learnings into your future training.
Monitor progress and provide support: Regularly monitor the progress of your cross-training program and offer guidance, resources, and constructive feedback to help employees succeed in their new roles or tasks.
By following these steps, you can successfully implement a cross-training program that enhances employees' skills, fosters collaboration, and increases the overall versatility of your workforce. But, there is a fine line between overloading your employees and reaping the benefits of cross-training employees.
With our expertise in instructional design and eLearning, EdgePoint Learning can help you review all of your options to find the right balance to support company goals and your employees.