Beth Braccio Hering

Smart organizations realize that time spent cross-training employees yields a substantial return on investment. Benefits of cross-training – defined as teaching workers new skills so that they can perform different roles beyond the one for which they were hired — include:

  • Coverage of duties when another team member is absent.

  • Extra staffing for critical tasks during crunch times or peak seasons.

  • Succession planning in the event someone retires or quits.

  • Better retention rates due to higher employee engagement — professional development helps combat boredom and shows interest in the person’s career growth.

  • Greater understanding and appreciation of business needs, different departments, and other people’s job roles.

  • Improved future outlooks, as workers acquire the versatility to move into new roles within the company should their current position become obsolete and organizations develop the talent they need rather than relying on hiring new employees.

Successful cross-training, however, is not a random process where employees simply boost their skill sets. Rather, leaders need to consider who to train, what specific tasks to master, and how concepts can best be learned and retained.

Developing a cross-training program

Once your organization has committed to cross-training as an endeavor good for your bottom line, it is time to create an organized action plan. If your company has a standardized cross-training template, use it. (And if it doesn’t, push for creation of one.) The outline should prompt consideration of the “4Ws and an H.”


Identify potential candidates for employee cross-training initiatives. Explain to them the rationale behind cross-training and how it can help employees and the company. Be clear that cross-training does not mean piling on additional responsibilities. Workloads will be monitored and adjusted, as burnout is the last thing anybody desires.

Not all staff members will be interested in learning the specific skills that will allow them to take on new roles. They may see training opportunities as stressful or too disruptive to their current schedule and prefer to pass. Seek out individuals who seem genuinely excited, as they will be most likely to put in the effort and grow from the experience. Difficulty getting participants? Consider offering incentives, financial or otherwise.



It is impractical to train for everything, so identify essential tasks. Ask questions such as “If someone left tomorrow, what elements of that person’s job would a colleague need to take over immediately?” or “What workflow issues could benefit from additional talent ready to assist as needed?”

Think about what constitutes an acceptable level of competency for each targeted responsibility. Organizations often focus too much on teaching workers a little bit of everything, creating generalists unable to contribute appreciably when called upon. Define desired outcomes, especially with measurable standards if possible. What does mastery look like, and how do you judge it?

Where, when, and how

With a firm grasp of who you are going to cross-train and on which specific skills, finalize the nitty gritty. Training requires a place, a time, and a method. Write out a plan.

People acquire skills in a variety of ways. Possibilities include e-learning, online training tutorials, shadowing a current employee, direct instruction from a leader or colleague, classes, seminars, and independent reading. After selecting one or more delivery methods, block out time in the learner’s schedule to complete. Do the same for those serving as teachers or mentors. Secure places in which to meet or watch virtual material. Skills may take time to develop, so set a reasonable timeframe that allows for acquisition while still performing the job for which one was hired.

If people learn something new but do not get opportunities to practice, they quickly forget. Thus, cross-training plans must include regular engagement of the employee’s new skill set. If this does not happen naturally, create situations. Come up with concrete days and times for cross-trained employees to pitch in or temporarily take over a new role. Job rotation is another option, with two employees switching duties at designated intervals to both keep skills fresh.

Real-life examples of cross-training employees

What does the cross-training process look like when put into practice? It will, of course, differ by each organization’s resources, business needs, and desired outcomes. But looking at what a few companies are doing offers practical advice and inspiration:

“At, we have a comprehensive cross-training program in place for our employees,” says director Billy Parker. “We believe that cross-training not only helps in improving overall productivity and efficiency, but it also creates a sense of teamwork and collaboration among our employees. Our program includes cross-training in various roles such as customer service, order fulfillment, and inventory management. This allows our employees to have a well-rounded understanding of our business operations and enables them to step in and assist in any role if needed.”

Parker notes that participants acquire skills through a combination of on-the-job training and formal sessions. Experienced employees act as mentors and guide the new trainees while also providing hands-on training. This e-commerce company also conducts regular training sessions to ensure employees are up-to-date with the latest processes and techniques. This commitment fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth within the organization.

Website Rating

“Cross-training can be an essential training method in the workplace, especially if you have a smaller team that dabbles in various roles,” says Mathias Ahlgren, CEO and founder of this marketing and SEO business that specializes in assisting professionals with business visibility. “Because of this, we cross-train our marketers with sales training, because when they understand the fundamentals of sales, coupled with an understanding of who they’re selling to, they can create more effective marketing campaigns.”

Ahlgren notes that the company only started cross-training recently because of concern about overloading employees. However, it has proven quite the opposite.

“If anything, the additional knowledge and experience have implored them to look deeper into their marketing ideas and come up with creative solutions that wouldn’t have been thought of without an understanding of how the sales process works.

“For example, we recently created a marketing campaign for small business owners looking to utilize AI in SEO better. With our team’s understanding of how to market AI as a tool and their experience in selling clients a course or learning package, our conversion rate went from 15% on our last campaign to 30%! We work with many prospective and loyal clients, so this double brought us an incredible number of new clients and, in turn, profit.”

Maison Law

“If you run a business, particularly with a smaller staff, cross-training your employees is not just a good suggestion, it’s a must. In a law firm like mine, there will be a number of employees who are cross-trained in each other’s positions,” says owner and attorney Martin Gasparian.

He notes that cross-training is especially vital for clerical and support personnel. Records clerks at the firm are cross-trained so that they have a good understanding of the role of front desk staff and vice versa. Any of these individuals can step into another role easily. Similarly, another logical area for cross-training is between legal secretaries and paralegals. This versatility enables maintenance of office efficiency when someone calls in sick or has to be assigned to work on a particular case.

Character Counter

According to Sofia Perez, owner and content manager of this online platform, her startup demands that every staff member in the customer service and content departments acquire the skills to work in either place.

“Our training is done through the job rotation program that involves switching out staff between the two departments,” Perez says. “We usually set specific periods for our staff to spend in the customer service unit and the content department. That means that our staff usually grow their knowledge and competencies in the two units, enhancing their collaborative mindset. During the training, our senior executives coach all the staff about their roles and create an environment for peer-to-peer learning. Over time, our managers have become effective coaches and mentors for our staff. The job rotation training usually takes two months for all the staff involved. After the end of the training, we evaluate the performance of the staff in each of the teams to ensure they have the right skills to work in these two different roles and units.”

Prompt Vibes

“Cross-training is a cornerstone of our workforce strategy,” says Dhanvin Sriram, founder of this SaaS business. “We focus on cross-training employees in various roles, particularly in customer support and software development. This dynamic approach ensures that team members gain a comprehensive understanding of our product and its end-users. Customer support staff delve into basic coding principles, while developers gain insights into user interactions, fostering a holistic perspective.”

The company employs diverse training methods that include a blend of hands-on workshops, shadowing experiences, and online courses. According to Sriram, this approach suits different learning styles.

“We encourage all team members to participate in cross-training, fostering a collaborative culture where everyone comprehends the intricacies of our operations. The rationale behind this initiative is twofold: it enhances employee versatility, allowing us to adapt swiftly to changing demands, and it cultivates a shared sense of ownership in our collective success. It’s not just about filling skill gaps but creating a cohesive team that understands the entire product lifecycle. This approach not only boosts our efficiency but also creates a more engaged and empowered workforce.”


“At our music-focused content website, we prioritize cross-training our employees to ensure versatility and proficiency across various roles,” says music teacher and editor Kristi Dawn. “Our approach involves structured rotations where team members spend designated periods working in different departments such as editorial, social media management, graphic design, and video production. Additionally, we organize regular skill-sharing sessions where employees teach each other specific tasks or techniques relevant to their roles. Moreover, we encourage team members to attend workshops, webinars, and industry events to expand their knowledge and stay updated with the latest trends and technologies. This comprehensive approach fosters a dynamic and adaptable workforce capable of producing high-quality content across different mediums.”

The Energists

“We cross-train many members of our team, especially those in entry-level roles who are interested in advancement as a means of preparing them for their next role when it’s available,” says Jon Hill, CEO and chairman of this specialist recruiting and executive search firm operating exclusively in the energy industry. “The main tasks that we tend to focus on cross-training are skills like talent sourcing, recruitment marketing, and brand management. All of these are tasks primarily handled by dedicated roles within each office, but that we will often cross-train team members such as recruiters, recruitment coordinators, and recruitment consultants to handle, as well.”

Hill notes that cross-training limits disruption of business operations when a team member takes a vacation or is out sick. He also says it is very beneficial for succession planning. “Often, people who are hired into roles like recruitment coordinator are interested in growing a long-term career in talent acquisition. By cross-training these individuals in some of the tasks handled by other team members, these early-career team members can get a better sense of what aspect of recruitment they want to focus on as they advance. It also prepares them to step into these roles more smoothly since they already have the baseline skills they’ll need to thrive in them.”

As for methods, The Energist favors trainees shadowing a team member who performs that role on a daily basis to get a sense of the big-picture steps and tasks of the role. Once trainees feel they understand the task, the next step is usually to have them do the work under the supervision of the dedicated employee. Trainees also receive the same training materials and resources given to a new hire into that role.

Ai-Product Reviews

“At Ai-Product Reviews, cross-training is key to our operational strategy. It helps to develop employee skill sets while improving overall productivity. In our environment, we train across all functional areas, from software development to quality assurance to customer support. By taking this holistic approach, we ensure that team members have multifaceted skills and can seamlessly transition between roles and tasks as required,” says company co-owner Max Maybury.

Maybury notes that training methodologies are designed to fit each role’s specific needs and individual learning preferences. This often means combining hands-on training, mentorship, and online tools to deliver comprehensive skill development. Results show that cross-training works well within the organization.

“Recently, during high demand, our cross-trained customer service agents seamlessly transitioned to help with software testing, allowing us to deliver product releases on time without sacrificing quality,” Maybury says. “This flexibility improves our operational resilience and creates a sense of community and empowerment among our team members.”