Cross-functional training is an approach to skill development that offers employees the opportunity to learn outside of their current roles. Research indicates that cross-functional teams may be a valuable tool for business success. A Deloitte-MIT survey shows that 73% of digitally maturing companies create an environment where cross-functional teams can succeed, versus only 48% of developing companies and 29% of early-stage companies.
How Do Cross-functional Teams Work?
A cross-functional team begins with people across different departments, who might answer to a project manager or a corporate innovation executive instead of their assigned manager. Working in such teams upskills employees while also giving them a more holistic view of the organisation, thus enhancing their knowledge, perspective, and productivity. It also encourages people to step out of their comfort zones within the system, allows vacancies to fill up quicker internally, and thus assures higher employee retention and quality.
However, there can be structural obstacles and skill limitations when implementing cross-functional learning programmes.
Navigating Challenges in Setting Up Cross-functional Teams
These require plenty of back-end planning, but ironing out structural difficulties makes the journey easier for employees and thus more enjoyable for everyone. It helps employees have faith in future programmes that may be rolled out too.
- Adequate training: Teams in-charge of a cross-functional training programme need to have a thorough training plan, schedule, and clear recommendations, to guide employees and prepare them for their new roles.
- Training material: There may be a lack of learning material or poorly designed content that does not match the required learning outcomes. Regularly updating resources is crucial for employees to be well-informed and also have some reference points for any future obstacles.
- Role confusion: Individual teams can have their own sets of goals to work towards. However, aligning the goals of different verticals in a cross-functional team to the organisational goal/ vision creates an easier working direction. Also, create and communicate systems of hierarchy within these teams to ensure smooth movement.
- Documentation and research: As you ideate and set up systems for training, ensure consistent documentation of processes and plans to have a future reference point for teams and the organisation at large. Conducting research or using these notes can also contribute to the knowledge pool across companies in the country.
Cross-functional training is not just an approach, but also an organisation-wide culture that needs to be created. Most often, problems with team alignment and an unsupportive culture are seen as the biggest barriers facing cross-functional teams.
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Skill Gaps and Organisation Culture
These require some planning but are more apparent once the programme is in place. Thus, working on skill-based challenges requires continuous observations and feedback loops. It helps employees feel confident that they will receive support for improvement through their journey.
- Creating a growth mindset: There can be hesitancy to adapt and learn new technical skills among team members, or among senior employees who feel unequipped to mentor newer trainees.
- Setting systems: Give teams goals but not elaborate instructions. Encourage them to set up their own systems of communications and coordination for harmonious functioning. Ensure they know their point of contact to reach out for additional support.
- Conflict resolution: Challenge teams to navigate inter- and intra-departmental conflict using problem solving skills, keeping in mind the goals of the company as a whole.
- Building a culture of innovation: Innovation occurs in stages. Before asking employees to be adaptive, the organisation needs to embody this by reinventing standard design and practices, experimenting and assessing different ways of working.
Cross-training is a multi-level approach and needs to be implemented as a methodological programme. This helps in making changes where needed, as well as evaluating its returns on investment.
Assessing the Effectiveness of Cross-functional Training Programmes
Track Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of employees before and after their training. You can also create individual profiles that show employee performances in their different teams to understand which role may have suited them the most. It can also help in tweaking training programmes.
Check for employee engagement and satisfaction pre- and post-training. This plays a significant role in determining cross-functional team productivity. It may not be a direct measure for a return on investment, but it indicates employee retention. Further, groups with high employee engagement “outperform those with lower scores on every type of performance metric: revenue, profitability, productivity, customer experience, safety, healthcare costs, etc.”
Assessment of team structure and skills before and after training on aspects like interpersonal relationships and trust; processes for decision-making and problem solving; and shared goals, indicate whether the structural and skill fundamentals set in place for success on the team were effective.
Periodically measure performance of cross-functional teams as people may join and leave the team, or employees may need to renew their training lessons.
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