The Pan Am games are about to kick off here in Toronto, and the media is starting to speculate on whose team is poised to win a medal in which sport, who’s healthy and which players are injured. At the same time, as we get into the thick of summer, employees are booking time off and planning vacations. As offices empty and stadiums fill up, both Pan Am coaches and workplace managers have similar challenges: how can I ensure my team succeeds no matter who’s available?
The answer: Teach your people the skills needed to temporarily hold their colleagues’ positions.
Perhaps no sport in the Pan Am Games is more effective at cross functional training than rugby sevens. It features seven players, playing two seven minute halves and up to seven games in a day. Regular rugby has 15 players and many different positions. Rugby sevens players must do the work of these positions with half the people. What’s more remarkable is that at any second one can transition from being a supporting team member to the leader in charge of the ball. Taking a lesson from these adaptive players, it’s clear that careful and deliberate cross-training can result in high performing teams on the field and in the boardroom.
The Role of Temperament in Cross-Functional Training
Just as it’s effective to determine temperament and fit for a new hire it’s also important to determine fit for a person to be cross-trained on a team. If someone isn’t suited for the position they’re covering, it could mean high stress, low performance and a disrupted vacation for the regular position holder. By using a behavioral assessment tool like The McQuaig System to benchmark what it takes to succeed in each role on your team, you can identify other team members who possess the right temperament to step in.
It’s important to consider the nature of the work you’re giving to the cross-trained employee in relation to their temperament. For example, if you have a team lead taking vacation and you know that, while their role requires independence and decisiveness, they also have a lot of analysis and routine work. Someone who’s driving, goal oriented and decisive won’t adapt well to taking on more the detail-oriented, routine work. You’d be better off to identify someone who is more analytical, but still independent and persistent because they’ll be better able to adapt to the work.
Quick Tips for Cross-Functional Training
Once you determine the best fit for cross-functional training there’s still much to do in order to prepare your employee for success. You have to be able to communicate why they should be cross-trained and what’s in it for them.
Pinpoint Motivation: If your employee is cross-trained to cover the vacation or sick time of another employee, they’ll definitely need some motivation. You’re likely asking them to take on extra work with little or no increase in their pay. You can use a tool like The McQuaig System to pinpoint what exactly motivates your employee. If the will to win is their main motivating factor, challenge them by setting stimulating goals.
Team Dynamics: On our blog here and here we discussed strategies to build an effective team. Many of our clients use the McQuaig Team Approach report when building and improving teams. The report details how your employees will behave in a team environment. Keeping team dynamics in mind when cross-training will allow you to anticipate any potential issues that may occur. In a large organization your cross-functional team may span across different departments or even different locations.
Prioritize: Assuming your cross-trained employee is covering for a vacationing employee while still holding their own day-to-day responsibilities you’ll want to provide an understanding of what kind of work should take priority. Any stakeholder relationships should be explained with as much context as possible to prevent any miscommunications or confusion.
Recognize Achievements: Regardless of temperament, research has found that everyone wants some kind of recognition for a job well done. An understanding of employee and team temperament can help in determining the best way to recognize these hardworking employees.
What kind of cross-functional training do you do at your workplace?
Image courtesy of Flickr CC and BruceK
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