Cross-Functional Training for Succession Planning

Are You Doing All You Can To Develop Your Workforce?

Developing the skills and abilities of your workforce is key to retaining high potential employees and honing a competitive advantage for your company. However, organizations can find it difficult to provide the varied and challenging experiences that support growth and talent development. Cross-functional training helps you to tackle these problems by leveraging the unique roles and responsibilities in your organization as development opportunities.  

In this entry, we explain what cross-functional training is and why your company should invest in it to improve your succession planning process. You’ll also learn how to begin implementing it in a way that both benefits your organization’s succession readiness and provides additional benefits.

Cross-Functional Training: The What and Why

What is Cross-functional Training?

Cross-functional training is an approach to talent development that places employees in a position to learn skills and abilities that are not exercised in their current roles. Practically, it means “loaning” an employee out to another department or team, where they learn and perform the tasks of a position they don’t have any experience with.

Additionally, cross-functional training focuses on providing on-the-job experience to develop new skills and abilities. On the other hand, more traditional approaches rely on workshops or other classroom-adjacent techniques.

Why Invest in it?

Cross-functional training can be met with some resistance from managers and supervisors. After all, it’s often top performers that are given the opportunity to cross-train. Therefore, managers and supervisors of these employees might be reluctant to lose them, even temporarily. Cross-functional training can also pose logistical challenges for staffing, as it means removing an employee from their primary position to “double up” on another while they learn the ins and outs of a new role.

Benefits of Cross-Functional Training

The benefits of cross-functional training are many, and merit the extra effort from managers and team members alike. The primary advantages of cross functional training are:

  1. Application of new skills. Employees who undergo cross-training gain new skills that they would not have the chance to develop in their primary role. Once their training is complete, individuals returning to their role naturally seek ways to apply what they’ve learned. This can lead to both innovative approaches to their tasks, and improved performance.
  2. Gaining perspective. Employees selected for cross-functional training are usually high-potential succession candidates. Cross-functional training can provide these individuals with greater “perspective” on the business, making them better leaders in the future. After all, they’ve been in the shoes of more employees than most. They can therefore relate to challenges faced by others outside their role, their team, and their department.
  3. Flexible workforce. In the long run, cross-functional training results in a more flexible workforce. The company becomes more resilient to emergencies because there are more employees who can take on the essential duties of other roles as needed. This can be especially important during personnel shortages or when struggling to meet client/customer demands.

Getting Started With Cross-Functional Training for Succession Planning

So, once you have employees and leaders on board with cross-functional training, how can you set your company up for success? The most impactful benefits of cross-functional training are gained from wide-spread implementation of the initiative across your organization. However, a few components are necessary for any cross-functional training initiative to succeed:

Develop the right support structure

Remember that an individual who is cross-training can’t take on all the responsibilities of the new role. Take time to plan how all of a position’s duties will be filled during the training period so that the trainee isn’t overwhelmed. Also, ensure the trainee receives the support they need to focus on learning. For instance, you can reduce the workload for their primary position so they don’t feel they are being punished for cross-training.

Rely on your in-house expertise

Incumbents to the key position are your greatest asset when developing a plan for cross-functional training. Rely on their expertise to understand essential duties that should be the focus of talent development. Incumbents can also provide invaluable guidance, so arranging on-the-job shadowing is an important part of good cross-functional training.  

Focus on the right outcomes

Finally, the primary goal of cross-functional training should be to develop the skills and abilities of the trainee for succession. In other words, target the experience of the potential successor, not their performance in the new role. Did the trainee feel engaged while learning new responsibilities? Do they feel like they gained new skills and abilities that they couldn’t learn otherwise? Use this information to improve how you conduct cross-functional training in the future.

How SIGMA Can Help

At SIGMA, we want to help your company prepare for the future. Our experienced consultants can help you integrate cross-functional training into your organization to improve your succession readiness. Visit our Succession Planning Launch Series to discover how we can deliver your personalized Succession Plan in just 30 days. We also offer long-term consulting services to help you navigate on-going succession planning functions, such as performance management. Contact us for more information on our succession planning offerings.

About the Author

Sharon Van Duynhoven

Office Manager

Sharon brings our tests and assessments from the development stage to marketable product. She ensures quality control at every step of a project, edits technical documents and manuals, and artistically enhances reports and resources. She also manages contracts with clients across the globe and answers technical questions.