Running a business is like sailing through unpredictably turbulent seas. At one point things look placid and smooth, then in another the waves become massive and smash important parts of the ship. Will the captain allow the ship to sink, or are there spare items aboard to keep the vessel afloat?
This metaphor happens every day in the business world. Employees come and go for a variety of reasons, whether it is internal attrition, emergency situations or separation. This is why a function shouldn’t be handled by one person alone, as this could directly affect the flow of business should you part ways with that staff member. This is where cross-training becomes beneficial.
Cross-training involves teaching employees new sets of skills apart from the function (s)he was originally employed for. Similar to the shipwreck metaphor, this ensures there will always be someone to assume the role of a missing staff member, keeping everything steady. This type of training gives employees more skills, affording them with more opportunity in the business and giving the business owner a contingency plan.
There are many reasons why implementing cross-training practices is beneficial. Two points have already been mentioned above, namely sustainability of the business and creating more opportunities for existing personnel. Having multi-skilled employees gives the business less vulnerabilities and keeps you competitive in the marketplace.
Another point to consider is the flexibility of the team. Equipping everyone with various knowledge makes the team better prepared for unexpected events, because each will be covering for their colleagues. Cross trained staff can form part of your business continuity plan.
Considering that a business comprises of a group of people, cross-training fosters teamwork. It allows employees to understand the functions of one another and recognise what each function entails, creating mutual respect and being there to lend a hand when necessary.
So how does one efficiently implement a cross-training practice within the workplace? Here are a few ideas to kickstart such an endeavor.
Incentivizing specialists to teach others can also go a long way in the workplace. When a person who is adept with their particular function is given a reward for sharing this knowledge with others, it can foster motivation.
An good way to start the initiative is to start taking stock of existing expertise in the business then figuring out the best way to share those skills with the other employees. In this instance cross training staff with skills that are related to their own can help keep the learning curve minimal.
Take things little by little. Overloading employees is the last thing one would want to do, as it can cause burnout. Making sure knowledge is retained before moving to another is key and that can mean allowing staff to use their new skills in the workplace to keep them fresh.
By preparing the whole team, a business can better weather the storm and handle any disruption that comes its way.