6 Steps for Managers to Cross-Train Employees Effectively

Ever heard the phrase, "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong?" There are countless ways to experience stress in the office. The most common stress-inducing situations are usually a result of delays, vacations or illness. When even one employee is absent, other team members can feel overworked or resentful and productivity will suffer.

The secret to avoiding this chain reaction of anguish is to require cross-training. If managers educate their employees and encourage them to learn multiple skills sets, the team will become stronger and more resilient. Start thinking proactively and follow these steps for effective cross-training.

Step 1: Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

First, evaluate your team members' current skill levels. You won't know where to go if you don't know where you are first. Analyze each individual and determine who specializes in certain areas.

  • What are the responsibilities of each employee? 
  • Who can complete each of these responsibilities and who can't?
  • How can a new skill relate or expand on existing knowledge?
  • What is each employee's Communication Style?
  • If multiple people have the same skill set, who performs better on a regular basis?
  • If only one employee is capable of completing certain tasks, what happens if he or she is gone? 
  • What are the consequences if those tasks are neglected? Financially?Physically? Emotionally?

It may be helpful to map out employees vs skills vs tasks in a list or chart. Make sure you evaluate your team objectively. Use data to quantify talent based on measurable results.

Step 2: Create a Plan

Once you identify skill levels, decide who is the best fit for being a trainer or a trainee. Take time to consider how employees relate to each other and what they have in common. If you know certain employees don't mesh well, it might be better to train certain employees yourself. It is your responsibility to create a positive learning environment.

Don't forget to factor in scheduling. If some employees are always coming and going, find a time that is beneficial for both. The goal is minimal sacrifice.

  • Which employees could benefit the most from learning from each other? 
  • Which employee has more leadership qualities? 
  • Who has a more flexible schedule?
  • When should employees meet to train and for how long?
  • What specific topics do you want each employee to teach/learn?
  • When is the deadline for training?
  • How will employees prioritize cross-training with their workload?

Step 3: Communicate Cross-Training Benefits

After you've crafted an execution plan, share your plan with your staff. Explain why learning new skills will help strengthen your team and duplication isn't necessarily redundancy. Be honest and encouraging.

  • Learning new skills can lead to potential career growth for each individual. 
  • Cross-training reduces stress and evenly distributes workload during times of crisis.
  • Employee training is an excellent exercise in team building and improving relationships.
  • Teaching others helps strengthen existing skills and builds confidence.
  • Preparation makes it easier for employees to miss work without fear or guilt.

Step 4: Invite Feedback

After you've presented your plan to your employees, ask them for feedback. Someone might have a better understanding of the situation than you do, so it's important to consider everyone's perspective. You may have overlooked a scheduling conflict or outside factor that would interfere with training. 

If an employee is resistant to change, access his or her motivation. Use Emotional Intelligence to drill down to the true source of the problem. Make sure your employee is aware you are willing to compromise. In the end, you have the final say, but you should always be open to respectful debate.

  • Did any employees raise legitimate concerns?
  • Which components of your plan are flexible and which parts are non-negotiable?
  • How can you make adjustments so that the majority of your employees are motivated?

Step 5: Cross-Train Employees

Once all of the preliminary steps are taken care of, you can start the actual education process. Double-check if everyone has the resources they need and all policies are up to date. Encourage your employees to teach processes as they are presented in your company handbook, if one exists. 

Remember that different people absorb information in different ways. Ask your employees to communicate their learning styles and help trainers adapt. Also, keep in mind that your staff still has their own work to do. Be mindful of this and setup guidelines to prioritize lessons vs work.

If you need to personally cross-train someone, make sure he or she feels comfortable. Be patient and keep in mind that sometimes the way you do something might not necessarily be the best way for someone else. 

In all training sessions, encourage trainees to repeat tasks to reinforce them. Remind everyone the importance of asking questions. Create a positive, judgement-free learning experience.

  • What are the basics necessary for each skill?
  • What new resources are required to learn the skill?
  • How will you confirm your employees have been sufficiently trained?
  • Will you ask each person to perform the skill in front of you? Will there be a test?

Step 6: Establish Plan-B

Once your employees feel comfortable with their new skill sets, create a contingency plan. If one person is out of the office, who exactly is responsible for taking on that person's work? Create a strategy for every scenario and every combination of absence. Write down the plan and give it to your staff so they have a reference. Verify that each employee knows his or her responsibilities in times of crisis.

If there are still neglected areas or weak spots, develop a policy for hiring temporary staff. Establish a strategy for getting assistance from other departments.

  • What is the responsibility chain-of-command?
  • What steps are necessary to transfer work from one person to another?
  • What is the official policy to notify you about an absence? 
  • What steps must be taken when an employee returns from being out of office?


Preparation is the key to success. If you equip your staff with the knowledge ahead of time, your employees will be much more productive in the long-run. Cross-training is a powerful method to avoid stress and keep your team on track, no matter what.


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