If you work on a learning team, you know there’s no end to the list of incentives to do more with less. Everything from C-suite efficiency mandates to pressure from competitors encourages us to optimize every aspect of our learning operations. We have an idea that can help! Cross-training, or the practice of training employees for work in departments within your organization, is a powerful method to do more with less, while fostering a space of learning and continuous growth for your employees. 

What are the advantages of cross-training for my organization? 

The practice of cross-training employees across several of your company’s internal domains is incredibly beneficial beyond just the optimization of resources and efficiency. Here are a few more reasons: 

  1. It improves team resilience. Employees that aren’t merely thinking about their individual role, but their role as a part of a team, have a much better perspective on how they contribute to the company and its culture. 
  2. It increases job satisfaction. Cross-training means that your employees won’t feel siloed into a narrow job description—they’ll get the freedom to explore responsibilities and learn from departments they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. 
  3. It gives you operational flexibility. By cross-training employees across several disciplines, you have exponentially more freedom in how you craft teams for certain projects. 

To capitalize on these benefits, let’s look at two models of implementing cross-training: the Rotational Model and the Special Projects Model

What is the Rotational Model, and how can my organization use it? 

This model is particularly useful for larger organizations with several employees in each department. There are three larger stages to implementing this strategy in your workplace: 

Assessment and Planning

If employees within a certain department don’t have the same baseline level of experience and understanding (which they rarely will), you may encounter some bumps with a cross-training model. So, it’s crucial to assess your team members’ skills and interests as you identify opportunities for learning across different departments. 

We recommend creating a rotational schedule ranging from three to six months. Falling somewhere in this range helps to avoid either of two extremes: you want enough time for employees to dig their heels into the domain and solidify their skills, but you also don’t want them to feel as though they’ve taken on a new, permanent role. While this might seem like a lengthy time period, it’s ultimately reasonable in terms of industry benchmarks—particularly given its highly valuable results. It is, however, possible to adapt this model to a part-time timeline, which may better suit the needs of your organization. 

Preparation

Not all of your employees will be familiar with the concept of a rotational cross-training model, so it’s essential to take the time to familiarize your workplace with the concept before implementing it. You also want to familiarize your employees with an overview of the departments (and the roles within them) they may work alongside, but don’t understand in-depth. 

Like with all communication, ensuring clarity of expectations, both in terms of performance and of department-specific tools and processes, is vital. We recommend organizing meetings with both temporary department supervisors and team members to thoroughly discuss these expectations. Conducting training sessions on the tools and practices unique to each department is also essential to equip your employees with a solid baseline of knowledge before their rotation. 

Execution

It’s time to begin the rotation process. Once rotation is in full swing, it’s crucial to remember that this is an invaluable learning opportunity for your employees. With that in mind, be sure to encourage original, fresh perspectives and accommodate the often bumpy process of learning new skills. Your HR department will be incredibly helpful in this regard, so we advise scheduling regular check-ins with HR (or a rotation coordinator) to stay on top of employees and ease their transitions as they adapt and learn. 

What are the benefits of the Rotational Model? 

  • It promotes a comprehensive understanding of the organization. By offering exposure and training within all aspects of your organization, employees will have a much clearer and well-rounded picture of their role in a larger sense. 
  • It enhances flexibility and adaptability among team members. By learning on their feet from new departments and making mistakes along the way, employees will not only become more versatile workers, but will be better prepared to handle challenges and shifting workplace demands. 
  • It fosters a culture of empathy and collaboration. Employees will have the chance to see the inner workings of careers in all different departments, making them more aware of the unique challenges those in these departments might face. 

What is the Special Projects Model, and how can my organization implement it? 

We’re frequent users of the Special Projects Model at Jackrabbit. In fact, we just used it for a six-month, company-wide project specifically focused on developing our prototyping offering. We made sure to give the process the necessary parameters, establishing a timeline and budget and carefully tracking hours worked. We also established and maintained open-door access to leadership in order to continually provide support and guidance. This model is also usable for a single-employee cross-training process. The process of implementing the Special Projects Model falls into five steps. 

  1. Project selection: Align interests with strategic goals to pursue diverse learning opportunities.
  2. Team assembly: Mix both skills and experience levels for a broader, richer scope of perspectives. 
  3. Goals and support: Assign mentors, make sure to clearly establish objectives and expectations, and provide all necessary resources. 
  4. Progress monitoring: Schedule regular check-in meetings and continuously encourage reflection on the learning process. 
  5. Celebration of outcomes: Take the time to highlight employees’ achievements and share notable insights and successes across your organization. 

What are the benefits of implementing the Special Projects Model? 

  1. It enhances skill development. Employees both gain new skills and develop existing ones, which adds to their versatility and overall value to your organization.
  2. It bolsters engagement and innovation. Working with diverse, fresh projects invigorates employees, prompting creativity and vibrant discussion.
  3. It improves collaboration and agility. By breaking down silos with cross-functional teams, organizations promote collaboration and adapt easily to change. 

What are the risks of cross-training, and how can I mitigate them? 

As with any management strategy, you may encounter some adjustment challenges as your employees acclimate to the process. Employees might feel confused, stretched too thin, or find their workflow being disrupted by the perpetual need to re-acclimate. A larger risk could be employees no longer seeing the need or value of true specialization amidst this landscape of more generalized training. So how can we proactively tackle these potential challenges? 

  1. Time your rotational schedule and project assignments to fall during slower periods. Make sure to provide consistent, comprehensive support. 
  2. Maintain open communication with your employees regarding their experiences and workload. Ensure that you’re providing a safe place for feedback.
  3. Monitor employees’ stress levels and work engagement. 
  4. Switch employees into more advanced specialization training following their cross-training experience to maintain the value of specialized knowledge. 

What is a fractional learning team, and how can it help my organization?

Partnering with a fractional learning team like Jackrabbit LX can have transformative results on your organization’s internal communication, project management, and overall strategic planning. With our GPS offering (Guidance, People, and Systems), A group of our seasoned experts, who have worked with organizations across all industries and technologies, can provide an injection of perspective and innovation into your organization. We’re also extremely flexible and can adapt our team size based on your organization’s scale and needs. 

Though our team has been in the business for many years, we keep our finger on the pulse of the industry’s constantly changing technological landscape. Artificial intelligence is a transformative development in the industry that, despite its daunting capabilities, can hugely accelerate your team’s efficiency. 

How can my team use AI to maximize operational efficiency? 

The ever-increasing capabilities of AI are bound to change the day-to-day behaviors in every aspect of our lives—not excluding our careers. Though the knowledge that AI will vastly reshape our workplaces is unnerving to some, it is also an incredible opportunity for increased efficiency. More specifically, AI can be extremely helpful regarding workflow automation and resource optimization. We break this up into three categories: 

1. Automated project management. AI can automate comprehensive role assignments and progress tracking across every aspect of content development. Here are some relevant tools: 

2. Operational content management. Implement AI to maximize the efficiency of the creation and editing process. Try documenting your strategic conversations using recording and AI transcription. Here are some relevant tools: 

3. Communication and collaboration tools. AI-enhanced tools can streamline communication and collaboration within your team. By automatically synthesizing feedback and revisions, you can facilitate productive communication. Here are some relevant tools:

    What are the pitfalls of using AI in the workplace, and how can we address them? 

    Given the scale of AI’s capabilities, it’s no surprise that there are risks and drawbacks to implementing it in your workplace. Data privacy concerns, ethical dilemmas surrounding the use of AI to produce original content, and the danger of over-relying on AI are all very real risks with real consequences. We’ve come up with a few ways to mitigate these risks. 

    1. Prioritize data privacy by implementing thorough security measures. 
    2. Audit AI systems regularly to monitor for ethical concerns, adjusting algorithms and training data accordingly. 
    3. Maintain a balanced embrace of both AI capabilities and human expertise. 

    Adopting cross-training within your organization through either the Rotational Model or the Special Projects Model offers myriad benefits, from enhancing team resilience and job satisfaction to increasing operational flexibility. By implementing these strategies, companies can effectively do more with less, optimizing resource use and efficiency in learning operations. Embracing AI further maximizes operational efficiency, automating tasks and improving workflow. Ultimately, the integration of cross-training and AI technologies not only boosts the effectiveness of your learning team but also fosters a culture of continuous growth and innovation. By addressing potential challenges proactively and leveraging capacity-building offerings from Jackrabbit, organizations can navigate the complexities of today’s dynamic work environment, ensuring they remain competitive and resilient in the face of change.

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