Cross-functional training means teaching employees to do jobs they currently do not do and were not originally hired for. That means employees could replace or do other functions in the absence of another employee.
As part of a corporate learning strategy, cross-functional training nurtures existing employees and provides them with internal growth opportunities to retain and enable them to step into roles they might otherwise not conceived for themselves. It’s also a good way to realign corporate learning to suit the current skills demands.
Cross-functional training has many benefits for organizations as well as employees:
- It helps safeguard the organization against widening skills gaps. Organizations can train more people across a range of functions, so they can step in and fill up positions where there is greater demand.
- It allows employees to explore and assess their interests and abilities. It also enables managers to identify and nurture employees who show exceptional talent in a particular function. They could provide growth opportunities, thereby reducing employee turnover due to a lack thereof.
- It can engage employees and instill a sense of pride and achievement. Employees develop additional skills and knowledge that increases their employability and enables them to stay relevant. Even when certain roles become redundant, they can quickly move on to other roles based on their skill set.
- Organizations can mitigate risks associated with down time and loss of production hours because of unexpected employee absences, because others can easily step up and fill in. Jobs will not suffer, thereby ensuring timely delivery of outcomes.
- Employees will develop mutual understanding about each other’s jobs, eschewing siloed work habits and building appreciation and respect for other’s roles. Allowing them to work in other functions enables them to realize and understand how interdependent their functions are and how critical each is for the other’s survival and efficiency.
Cross-training can be implemented in most organizations. How it’s structured depends on the organization and its functions. Based on ability, capability and the available infrastructure, here are a few ways it can be executed.
Have a plan based on feasibility within or across departments: As in any training, cross-training needs to be planned as a part of larger corporate learning strategy. Determine what functions will participate, what are the tasks shortlisted, who should be involved and to what extent — these are some of the decisions learning leaders need to make. Once these answers are available, the learning function can finalize the methodology: online training or blended learning based on the organization’s needs.
E-learning or online training: Employees can take e-learning or online modules that give them an overview of a particular function or department within the organization. This is an excellent form of training particularly during employee onboarding when employees need an overview of the organization’s different departments. The modules and curriculum have to be carefully structured to engage the learner and provide adequate knowledge about the department or function that they may not be currently recruited for.
Blended learning:In certain sectors such as manufacturing, online training may have to be coupled with blended learning that may involve shadow training, where an employee observes another for a fixed duration to pick up nuances of a job, or on-the-job training, where employees learn by doing the tasks on the job. The employees can be given online modules to go through before the on-the-job tasks, or the on-the-job training can be followed up with online assessments to test their knowledge levels.
Organizations should seriously consider cross-training if they want to ensure they continue to attract and retain skilled manpower. It is also essential to nurture and prepare existing manpower to face future requirements in terms of skills and knowledge. It is one of the ways that organizations can safeguard themselves against a skilled manpower shortage.
RK Prasad is the founder-CEO of CommLab India, a global e-learning company based in India. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.