Cross-training can be defined as the practice of training people across multiple products or technologies, skills, or processes. As managers, cross-training members of our team provide greater flexibility, scalability, and other benefits.
In a highly specialized team, the absence or withdrawal of any member can create a bottleneck. Also, changing needs and demands for different types of work done by the team can produce over or under capacity —impacting the overall productivity and responsiveness of the team. However, in a team where each person is trained in several types of work, team member absences and demand fluctuations can be handled smoothly. Having a well-cross-trained team that handles both product development and operations will help to streamline activities and provide optimum utilization of team resources, illustrated with the following example:
Consider a small team of three engineers that handles three products and provides both product development and business operations support. Each team member specializes in a single product. The specialists can work on their products comprehensively and quickly.
If new products are continuously added to the mix, specialists will also need to be constantly added, and there will be limited opportunities for scale (as well as low flexibility). Alternatively, if team members are trained on some or all products, adding products without necessarily increasing the team size becomes possible.
As cross-training allows team members to learn new skills, do different types of work, and gain a better understanding of larger processes and goals, it also significantly helps to increase motivation and engagement on the team.
Effective cross-training requires managers to do the following:
The sheet above can be used to map the current skill set of your team. Skill level is defined as:
This sheet will provide high visibility on the areas each team member needs to focus their cross-training on.
For the purposes of collecting data:
Discuss the results with each team member individually and use that information in creating the training plan. Make sure to explain what each level means for each skill to ensure a standardized approach.
For the purposes of planning cross-training:
The sheet above identifies the required number of hours for each training area and the current status.
The sheet above provides a weekly training plan for each team member.
Ensure you also capture the necessary resources required for facilitating training, such as tools, licenses, dedicated time from intermediates and experts, etc. A well-planned and executed cross-training exercise will have two key results for the team:
Ensure complete buy-in from all the team members in training and address any concerns/reservations as quickly as possible. Now let’s look at a practical cross-training example.
A 5-team member BR team needs to support ten different products. Each team member is fully trained on two unique products. In the next month, this team needs to support three more products. The team manager decides to cross-train all 5 team members because:
The manager updates the Skills Matrix for each team and creates a cross-training plan which ensures that by the end of the current quarter, each team member will be trained on three unique products. The expectations for training are clearly listed objectively with target dates. Training results are analyzed weekly, and corrective actions are taken.
Therefore, an effective manager will ensure positive buy-in from all team members participating in cross-training and should work proactively to address any concerns as quickly as possible. Promoting and instilling a culture of long-term team success over short-term individual success is also crucial.
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