Building a Dynamic Workplace with Cross-Training

What is cross-training? I use this term to describe a management approach I tried as a Project Control Manager for TRW. A project control manager is responsible for managing the financial books of a government contract. The number of staff in this type of office is often limited in order to keep total project costs down. They are typically delegated to specific business tasks, enabling each member of the staff to become very good at what they do.

I quickly learned that a three person office was like a three-legged stool, take one out and it falls over. So, I instituted a program in my project control office called cross-training. Basically, we took turns doing each others job while the other person was there to train and mentor. As the Manager, I over saw the process to ensure the training was happening efficiently while not interrupting the productivity of the office.

I participated as well. Each member of my staff got to be me as well. Of course I ran this by the Project Manager for approval and critical issues were handled by me directly while I briefed my staff on what it was I was doing. Each member of my staff was given the opportunity to brief the Project Manager as well as doing the analysis and planning tasks that were part of my routine. When they were doing my job, I had to do theirs. I was quickly reminded of the details associated with processing travel and procurement orders, for example.

The program got the attention of the Senior Business Manager, the manager responsible for all project business managers in his area. He quickly saw it as an opportunity to groom new project control managers. As for me, I saw it as enabling my office to run smoothly, even in the absence of a staff member.

The results of the program were positive. When one of us was absent, the others were able to adjust and get the most important tasks done, keeping the core functions operational. An unexpected, but nice, outcome was an appreciation for each other and the jobs we did. You know how it is, the grass is always greener on the other side. Well, we each had a chance to be on the other side.

Comments

We do something similar at Volacci, Cindy, although perhaps not quite as deliberate as you describe here. We do some training across all areas of the business and then keep really well documented processes up to date so that if someone else needs to step in, they know what needs to be done when. Then, periodically, people move to different functional areas of the business. It keeps things fresh and interesting.