How To Encourage Cross Training On Your Team

New to an agency with little turn-over. Most have been there for three years or longer performing only one task. I've started trying to have people learn responsibilities of others in case an individual who performs a task no one else does is not at work. I've guaranteed that learning another's responsibilities did not warrant them to perform those tasks unless an individual who generally performed that task did not come in to work. I've met some resistance from 4 of 15 individuals. They want to be reimbursed for the additional responsibility if they are to perform the task, whether or not the responsible individual does not report to work. The majority of the individuals accepted my idea and are trying to help me in motivating the resisting individuals. I've planned to move forward, but continue to encourage the ones resisting to participate; I've explained the benefits for the individual and the department. How do I negotiate if the four individuals choose not to learn?

The Team Doc Says…

Assuming these tasks are interchangeable from person to person and no special education or skills are needed, I don't think you need to negotiate.

Unless your company is bound by a union agreement, most jobs include a statement identifying that the person will perform other tasks as required (or something like that). Which means you can just tell them to participate or face the consequences. That said, I wouldn't go the strong arm approach until you've tried other options. Not knowing for sure what you've tried, some of my advice may be repetitive. Here goes.

1. Make sure everyone “gets” the big picture. The main reason a company has employees is to accomplish a goal. Goals are broken into tasks with are typically spread around the company by some sort of logical grouping of jobs. I think it would be worthwhile to have this discussion with your entire team. Often team members have a tough time seeing how they fit into the big picture of the company and this will help them understand.

2. Explain the driver behind the cross training. I call this an explanation about the dump truck theory. In other words, if a team member got run over by a dump truck (yes, I know – morbid), the work of the team could not be completed. If the work of the team could not be completed, it could potentially sink the company. And who wants that to happen?

3. Cross training makes team members more valuable (and normally provides job security). Often people don't want to learn new skills because they're afraid. And they don't want to teach others their skills because they're afraid. You need to talk to each of these team members to determine the real issue. Most don't look past the end of their nose and discover that the more they know, the more valuable they are to the company (so it's tougher to be let go in a down turn). But to make this work, you need to have a plan — a method to the madness if you will. Make sure you identify the critical skills (not all skills are critical) that could stop the company cold and prepare cross trained team members.

If, after all of this, the team members refuse to cross train unless they are compensated, you can make the cross training a condition of their employment with the company and if they don't comply you'll have to let them go.

What do you think reader? Please leave your thoughts in a comment.