How to Cross-Train Employees in 7 Easy-to-Follow Steps

Updated November 30, 2022

Cross-training is a great way to help employees learn new skills so they can complete different tasks when necessary. This helps businesses consistently run smoothly, even when they're busy. Learning more about cross-training and how to implement it can help you improve productivity at work. In this article, we explain what cross-training is, tell you how to cross-train employees, and discuss the benefits of this practice.

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What is cross-training?

Cross-training involves training employees to perform some of the tasks of a different role. The purpose of cross-training is to ensure that employees can perform tasks outside of their regular roles whenever needed. Businesses use this practice to increase staff effectiveness, flexibility, and efficiency. For example, a restaurant owner may decide to cross-train line cooks to serve food. If the line cooks are free and they notice there's food that needs to go to a customer, they can do so efficiently, helping servers focus on more technical tasks.

Related: How to Develop Cross-Functional Teams for Your Company

How to cross-train employees

If you're interested in learning about how to cross-train employees, here are some steps you can follow:

1. Set the goals of your program

When developing a cross-training program for an organization or your team, start by establishing your objectives. Identifying your goals helps you more clearly define the program so that you can tailor it to meet your needs. Once you have set your program goals, share them with employees. Employees who understand the purpose of the training know how to work towards the greater goal. Some examples of goals include:

  • Adjusting to changes in industry standards or regulations

  • Improving the flexibility of the team or organization to prepare for a busy season

  • Preparing for organizational change, such as growth or restructuring

Related: How to Train Employees More Effectively (With Tips)

2. Determine a structure for your cross-training

There are two types of structures you can use when cross-training employees. Your decision may depend on the size of the business or the type of employees you oversee. Choose the one that can help you reach your goals and is most realistic in terms of the training process. Your choices include:

Job enlargement

Job enlargement expands individuals' jobs by training them on tasks at the same skill level as their current role. While this training doesn't increase the employees' level of responsibility or authority, the additional duties can add variety to their job. For example, employees who conduct online or telephone customer service duties can learn how to manage walk-in customers at a store. In terms of cross-training, this aids a business' flexibility because if staffing for in-person customer service representatives is low, then supervisors can ask trained telephone representatives to fill the positions as needed.

Job enrichment

Job enrichment expands individuals' jobs by training them on tasks that give them more responsibility or authority. For example, a company that runs warehouses might teach its shelf stockers how to process incoming deliveries and complete order forms. In terms of cross-training, this can help a business streamline its processes and promote internal career advancement.

3. Identify employees to cross-train

Once you know your goals for cross-training, choose employees to participate by considering what parts of the business can benefit from cross-training the most. For example, if the sales department is understaffed or you know it may be in the future, cross-training employees to complete sales-related tasks may be the first step you take to help that department.

You can also cross-train individual employees based on their interests. For example, if you know an administrative assistant who wants to learn more about sales, you can train them to cold call to onboard new customers. Cross-training employees helps them feel more satisfied at work as they're learning new skills and knowledge, and it can improve productivity.

4. Motivate employees to participate

Some employees may see cross-training as additional work, so get them to embrace the process by sharing its benefits. Besides helping the whole team or organization achieve its objectives, discuss how cross-training can help each employee reach their professional goals, such as career advancement.

You can also increase interest by allowing individuals to choose which roles or responsibilities they're most interested in as opportunities for growth. By doing this, you give them control over their own learning. Employees who feel like they have a choice in which additional tasks they perform may feel more motivated than if you assigned them a new responsibility to learn without their input.

Related: How to Motivate Employees

5. Use the most experienced teachers

Cross-training works best when employees who are most familiar with the company's processes are involved in the training so they can offer specific advice to their trainees and provide a positive training experience. Assess your more experienced employees and determine who you believe can best train others. You may make this decision by determining their level of experience or whether you think the employee's personality and style of work enable them to be effective trainers.

6. Follow up with participants

After cross-training employees, talk to them one-on-one to gather feedback on the program. You can ask them what they liked and disliked about the training and ask for suggestions to improve the program. This helps you create curated training that meets employee needs and teaches them skills they can actually use.

7. Implement a job rotation program

Typically, managers and large organizations use job rotation programs to foster future managers, focusing on individuals with potential for specific career development. The best way to identify these individuals is by asking your team what their professional goals are. You can do this during review periods when you're offering feedback to your team. Then, you may assign these individuals to different departments or functions to develop their understanding of the company and how it runs.

This process can help these employees make better, more strategic decisions, prioritize projects and goals, and treat their team members with more empathy and understanding.

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Benefits of cross-training employees

There are plenty of benefits of cross-training employees, such as the following:

Improves teamwork

Peer-to-peer cross-training, which is when one employee trains another, is a great way to improve teamwork. It helps employees who may not interact much get to know one another in a collaborative environment. Employees may also be more willing to learn from one another than from the management team, improving their learning experience. If any future projects require team members to work together, those who have cross-trained together may be able to complete these projects more successfully as they're familiar with one another's work styles and personalities.

Related: What Makes a Team Successful (With Tips and Examples)

Helps employees apply their skills

Cross-training employees teaches them new hard and soft skills that they can apply in different situations. Receiving the opportunity to apply these new skills can help employees feel more confident and proud of their contributions. Teaching employees certain skills also allows you to assign work more efficiently. For example, if you have a project that requires someone who knows how to use a specific type of software, you may have multiple employees you can choose.

Promotes internal hiring

If employees want a promotion, you can offer cross-training to help prepare them for the position. For example, if a sales representative wants to become a supervisor, offer leadership training. When a new position becomes available at the company, you can hire internally by promoting a cross-trained employee, saving the company time and money it may have spent on recruitment.

Motivates employees

Listening to employees discuss the skills they want to learn and the knowledge they want to develop shows them you care about their interests. This can help motivate them to work harder and happily participate in cross-training programs. As a result, employee satisfaction and employee retention rates may increase.

Keeps employees engaged

Cross-training employees can help them feel more engaged with their work because it challenges them to learn new skills and techniques. It also allows them to take on additional responsibilities, which can be helpful for employees who feel like their normal work is repetitive or those who just want to try something new. Keeping employees engaged also helps with employee satisfaction and lowers turnover.

Enables flexibility

If there are only one or two employees with specific skills they use to complete their work, the company is solely relying on them. This can cause challenges because if the employees are on vacation, sick, or busy with other work, the company may have no one else who can complete their tasks. Cross-training more employees to perform these tasks can lower the pressure the original employees may have felt.

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