By Brad Ball
Big Buzz Idea Group
As a leader, you’ve likely spent plenty of time and money hiring just the right person for each role on your team. Here at Big Buzz Idea Group, we have a quote we frequently reference from author Rudyard Kipling:
“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Successful teams (the pack) are built from each individual team member (the wolf) bringing their best effort to the company and to the job every day. We count on each other for individual excellence and in the end, the total work effort is greater than the sum of its parts.
One technique we use to help our team do their best every day is through cross-training.
What is Cross-Training
Career development and job opportunity website Indeed.com, defines cross-training this way:
Cross-training is the practice of training employees to perform more skills or responsibilities outside of their usual role, allowing them to complete the tasks of another job within their department. Usually, they receive training from a coworker who currently holds that job or has experience in it. Businesses use this practice to increase staff effectiveness, flexibility and efficiency.
There are many reasons to cross-train the members of your team, but we’ll explore four useful outcomes here that can be dramatically beneficial for your organization.
If there is only one member on your team who knows how to perform any particular set of tasks, your organization is at risk. If that person gets sick, leaves, or takes a vacation, then certain work within the organization will come to a grinding halt. Losing a key player, especially in a time of need (like at an event or during a fundraising campaign), could be devastating to your expected outcomes.
Spreading out the knowledge and responsibility of projects and workload alleviates risk if one of these situations comes to pass. Other people on the team can step in to pick up the work and continue moving forward. While you may still notice that the key player is missing – and have to adjust accordingly – everything does not have to come to a full stop.
At any given time of year, it’s likely that the individual workloads of your team ebbs and flows.
For example, a Development Manager may be exceptionally busy at year-end and slower during the spring and summer, while an Events Coordinator experiences the opposite.
Cross-training these two positions can help to even out the workload during their respective busier and slower seasons. Perhaps the Development Manager can assist with sponsorship calls and outreach during the spring and summer, and your Events Coordinator can help with direct mail campaigns during the year-end campaign.
Whichever tasks are appropriate for each role to cross-train on will be unique to each organization. The key responsibility for you as a leader is to think about and execute a plan for which tasks can (and should) be cross-trained and how to make that happen.
When more people on the team know how to complete a certain task or project, they are empowered to work together to create better outcomes.
Training on software, like your organization’s website, is a practical example of where this is true. Often there are complicated or technical procedures that must be completed to perform certain updates such as posting new articles and photos, reorganizing menus, or increasing functionality by adding apps and widgets.
With a cross-trained team working together on the website, each one of them can execute their part of the process to finish the work. This becomes especially useful when they need to troubleshoot any issues.
Brainstorming solutions to problems of course isn’t limited to just your company’s website. Cross-trained teams can work together to solve nearly any type of problem you run into as each person’s idea can build upon the last until there is an answer for the issue at hand.
When your team is given the opportunity to make meaningful progress on important work, it’s likely that they’ll enjoy their work more.
Remember we mentioned the time and money you spent bringing in just the right people to your organization for each role? Well, high morale can lead to better job satisfaction that will keep them at the table. People don’t often leave jobs they like; and while that’s good for the individuals who work at your organization, it’s even better for your bottom line.
Shared knowledge may end up simply satisfying a curiosity among coworkers who wish to expand their skillsets, or it may not result in much more than a teambuilding exercise that improves competencies and increases self-confidence and morale. But for your purposes, at the very least, it’s an insurance policy against a potential work stoppage crisis. While there may be challenges associated with cross-training your team, these obvious benefits are well worth the effort.