Beth Braccio Hering

In the back of his mind, Joel always feared this day would come. Gina, one of his best employees, submitted her letter of resignation. With a low unemployment rate and two elderly parents in need of care, she decided the time was right to live and work closer to them. While Joel wished her well, he wondered how her absence would affect operations.

Joel knew he could not possibly replace her very quickly, so he asked Gina to spend the two weeks leading up to her last day teaching other team members about her duties. She did what she could, but nobody felt incredibly confident at the end of the time period. Colleagues especially struggled with the data management system. While Gina was a pro at using this software, others possessed a cursory understanding at best.

Joel regretted the mess on his hands. He always meant to institute a cross-training program, but other tasks got in the way of dedicating time to employees mastering new skills. He vowed to prioritize employee cross-training initiatives going forth.

What is cross-training employees?

New employees come to a company possessing specific skill sets. New hires use these competencies to fulfill the job description for which they were hired. Through training opportunities, however, people can add to their arsenal of abilities.

Cross-training involves teaching individuals what they need to know to perform different roles beyond the position for which they were hired. Means to this end include job shadowing, e-learning and other types of online training, classes, seminars, and direct instruction from mentors and fellow team members.


The benefits of cross-training

At busy work environments like Joel’s in the opening, cross-training plans often get pushed aside since keeping up with day-to-day activities alone proves difficult. Smart organizations, though, make time. They realize their bottom line has much to gain by boosting employees’ skill sets.

Let’s look at how successful cross-training programs benefit companies and workers alike,


How prepared are you for potential productivity disruptions should a current team member retire, quit, or go on maternity leave? When an employee is out sick, can anyone else in the office perform his tasks? During particularly busy seasons, are there employees with the versatility to put aside their usual job roles and lend a hand where most needed?

Whether as part of succession planning or general staffing issues, cross-training provides peace of mind. Internal mobility keeps workflow on track. Ultimately, a more permanent solution such as filling staff shortages or hiring a replacement for a role may be necessary. Cross-trained employees stepping in bides time while ensuring necessary tasks get done.

Employee engagement

Learning new things combats stagnation and improves job satisfaction. Workers value employers who show an interest in their career growth because it shows commitment to a long-term relationship. Development opportunities build confidence and challenge learners to expand their horizons. Happy workers tend to stay put, leading to better retention rates.


Learning different job roles fosters an appreciation of how the company operates. Employees better understand what different departments and people do that contributes to the organization’s success.

Workers also connect during the training process when colleagues learn from one another. These enhanced relationships may result in improved teamwork overall. Employees build confidence and pride when they share their knowledge with others. They also improve communication skills, which is always a plus.

Expanded talent

New hires walk through the door with a specific set of abilities. Through cross-training, they develop additional skills and can take on new roles. This greater knowledge base makes them more valuable to the organization. You gain a more highly qualified employee without needing to go out and hire one. And in the process of cross-training, some employees may discover new interests or a natural penchant for certain tasks.

Better attitude toward upskilling

Workers accustomed to cross-training understand that modern businesses demand flexibility. Job roles change in response to new or different needs. What someone was hired to do may morph over time. As organizations identify skills gaps at the company, they can call on staff to upgrade their abilities. This professional development allows workers in danger of being phased out to stay employed and saves human resources the trouble of trying to bring in candidates with specific skills.

Considerations about cross-training

Train intentionally

While cross-training employees offers many benefits, the process cannot be willy-nilly. Trying to make everyone good at everything does not make sense. Rather, cross-training is a type of employee development that requires deliberate thought.

Start with a critical look at operations to figure out essential duties. Examine who currently performs these responsibilities and who would step in should the need arise. If lacking a suitable substitute, identify good candidates for cross-training. Approach them to judge interest.

Get people on board

Realize that employees do not always jump at the chance to cross-train. They may feel what you are presenting is your problem rather than theirs and want to stick with what they already know and do. Explaining cross-training benefits, especially in terms of their own career, may help.

Leaders also may want to convey that the purpose of cross-training is not to put more on someone’s plate. The last thing anyone wants is burnout. Commit to appropriately altering workloads to allow for training and doing new tasks. If skills learned in cross-training do result in additional responsibilities, perhaps during a crunch time or while waiting for a role to be filled permanently, compensate appropriately. Resentment builds when employees equate cross-training with them being asked to do more for free.

Find the right depth of knowledge

As you figure out where cross-training would be most beneficial, watch out for creating too many generalists. A bunch of people knowing a little about something may seem productive, but ponder if they could really step up to the plate if called upon. Aim for competency and comfort with in-depth performance. Develop standards for judging mastery.

Keep new skills fresh

Finally, remember that cross-trained employees require chances to put their newfound abilities into practice. If not, they will forget what they learned and struggle when the time comes that you truly need them to perform. Build opportunities into their schedule on a regular basis. Not only will this keep the knowledge fresh, but it offers a change of pace that employees often welcome.