The traditional siloed approach to business operations where everyone stays in their "lane" is giving way to a more cooperative, collaborative approach. Organizations have found that cross-training employees lead to a more innovative take on improvement and waste reduction. Not only does it offer the opportunity for employees to learn new skills, but it also gives everyone a more holistic view of the business.
The Benefits of Cross-Functional Training Employees
Many people think that the primary benefit of cross-functional training is having a backup person to perform a given task. That's undoubtedly an important goal of the approach, but the most significant benefits are even more systemic.
Aligned Goals and Priorities
When employees focus only on one primary task or role, it is easy for their self-interest to override the organization's strategic priorities. But when employees are given the opportunity to learn how other departments and teams operate, they gain greater insight into how everyone must work together to move the organization closer to its most important goals. In addition, they may learn that their processes can be improved to provide better inputs to the next team.
It is normal for close-knit teams to develop something of a language with shorthand ways of communicating information. Cross-functional training is an excellent way to steep everyone in the language and terminology used by each group. In addition, a shared way of talking about processes helps accelerate positive change.
It would be nice if every employee trusted that every other employee was competent and enthusiastic about doing their job. Unfortunately, for most organizations, this trust isn't there. Working with others outside one's department requires putting faith in the abilities and willingness of someone new. Trust between different parts of the organization can be established only through a series of promises kept, so it makes sense to start with a small project to generate a quick win and set expectations.
Cross-Functional Training Best Practices
When we talk to leaders about cross-functional training, they often wonder what works and what doesn't. Here is what our customers have learned.
It is not uncommon for different departments to rely on different technologies for collaboration and information management. This can impede the progress of cross-functional training and make working together unnecessarily tricky. Companies that are serious about cooperation across divisions and roles choose to leverage a single platform for the whole organization that supports team efforts and serves as a repository for tribal knowledge.
Be Consistent and Committed
Too often, managers look at cross-functional training as a one-and-done affair. Once they have multiple people trained on a given task, they think they are in the clear. This is why it is crucial to think about the benefits of cross-functional collaboration beyond just a backup for operations. To truly learn new skills, employees need regular opportunities to practice and improve them.
If you don't have a way to measure the impact of cross-functional training on business results, it isn't easy to justify the investment of resources or to get enthusiastic participation. So determine at the outset how impact can be measured. Possibilities include employee engagement scores, opportunities for improvement captured and implemented, retention, and cost savings.
Set Realistic Expectations
If learning a new process or skill is piled on already rigorous expectations for the employee's primary responsibility, you may damage engagement rather than increase it. If you will ask people to stretch beyond their current role, it is necessary to make the space for them to do it. It may help to relax the expectations for their day-to-day work, or better yet, to train someone from another team to take up the slack.
Every employee has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the success of the organization beyond their primary work. Successful organizations in today's competitive landscape are more concerned about generating value than sticking to traditional rigid management. Cross-functional training is a fantastic way to unlock that potential and increase every team member's value.