Last week, I shared some of the most common reasons well-intentioned managers aren’t able to make cross-training happen. Toward the end of that article, I suggested that, instead of shutting the business down in order to schedule this one-on-one time, it’s better to take advantage of naturally occurring opportunities to cross-train. Use the bits and pieces of time that pop up to help your staff acquire new skills.
For instance, even the busiest location or department encounters periods of down-time. When there’s a lull in customer traffic, or a break between projects, this is a good time to engage in some cross-training. There’s a saying in the restaurant business: “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.” I’m not saying that people don’t deserve a rest, or that every second needs to be devoted to a specific agenda. But if you find yourself needing to cross-train someone on the team, take advantage of the opportunity when it’s presented. You may get interrupted, but that’s ok. Just pick back up when the next opening comes along.
Another useful place for some cross-training is during your team meetings. If you already have time set aside for team discussion, focus one of your agenda items on a skill that needs to be shared. Have the resident expert lead a mini class. It might take several meetings to get through, but there’s some dedicated time you can use to grow the team.
Team-ups is essentially a mentoring relationship. Take someone who needs to learn a skill and pair them with someone who’s an expert. Set a time frame, provide the necessary resources, and communicate your expectation that a successful team-up results in the newbie demonstrating a mastery of the new skill.
Finally, look for drive-by training opportunities. These are spur-of-the-moment chances to share knowledge and skill. I’m reminded of an old friend of mine named Daniel. He and I were both team leaders in the same company and had to generate a number of sales reports each month. Neither of us had any formal education with Microsoft Excel, so most of our knowledge came from trial and error. But as we looked for new ways to slice and dice the data, we developed a habit of sharing things with each other. I’d walk by and see Daniel working on a spreadsheet and ask him to show me what he was doing. Sometimes I’d discover a handy formula and would call him over to see it in action.
Train your team to share with each other like this “in the moment.” Create a culture where people naturally involve others as they work on projects so that skills spread around. Foster an environment where people ask each other “How did you do that?” because they know their teammate will respond by teaching them. When you do that, you create a coaching culture.
We tend to think of training in terms of specific events. A skill is introduced and explained, beginning to end, all in the same session. But mastering a skill doesn’t work that way. It takes practice, over time and ideally with an appropriate level of oversight to ensure success. Rethink your approach to developing the members of your team. Train yourself to see cross-training as a routine part of the job rather than a one-time event.
How do you approach cross-training with your team? I’d love to learn about any practices you’ve found particularly useful.
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