LinkedIn Article: How Can We Increase Cross Training to Better Serve Customers?


tagsHere is an article I posted yesterday to LinkedIn: An Airline Worker's Lament: “They Won't Let Me Help You.

On LinkedIn, I'm writing for a more general business audience than I am here on In the situation at the ticket counter, it seemed like a situation where a worker wanted to help the customers (the passengers), but wasn't allowed to. She said she wanted to help but said “They [management] won't let me help you. It's not my job. They only give us this one little job and we can just tag bags.”

I don't blame the woman for staying within her job boundaries. But, there's such waste that comes from not cross-training people to their full ability (and full interest).

The old Taylorist system aimed to break down jobs into small, easily-trainable chunks of work, thereby making the workers easily replaceable. This feeds into the mindset of a command-and-control manager in that they are the boss and they are powerful. Do as I say, or you'll be fired!

In comparison, a Lean culture cross trains people… building their skills (and their value to the organization) and often increasing their pay accordingly (instead of chasing cheap labor, as many big companies do).

What cross training opportunities do you have in your organization? What can you do in 2014 to break down silos between jobs so that your employees can work as a team for the benefit of patients or customers?

Feel free to add your comments at LinkedIn or comment below on this post.

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Photo at top of post used and modified under Creative Commons license via Flickr — Some rights reserved byLaurel Fan

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  1. Robert Drescher says

    Hi Mark

    I fully agree with you about the importance of cross training, but with it comes one other need, you actually have to allow them to do the other jobs when needed. I have seen it happen often that people know what needs to be done, yet no one allows them to actually step in and help out were required.

  2. Andrew Bishop says

    We do pretty well cross training our front line workers. They learn a variety of jobs and get to practice them out of necessity in a business where different tasks have different seasonal workload peaks. If you only know one job, you might not have any work for a few months. The business benefits from lower employee turnover and more committed, engaged employees. Employees benefit from more diverse work and work environment, and continuity of employment.

    My challenge is supervisors and team leaders. With the greater depth of knowledge and experience required at this level, I find (generally) a greater rigidity and reluctance to consider change and improvement than among front line workers. I’m looking at cross-training at this level for the purpose of promoting creative thinking and mutual support among peers, vs. the usual goals of cross training at the front line. Not just silos to break down but rigid perspectives and habits. Any thoughts on the matter?

    1. Mark Graban says

      Good question, Andrew. How do we cross train managers? Rotate them through different departments (every six months?) instead of letting them get too fixated on one particular silo? Are there other ways of promoting value stream thinking or cooperation across departments?

      Some of this has to do with incentives… I’ve heard hospital department managers admit they KNEW they were doing suboptimizing things, but they were only doing what their budget and annual review process was driving them to do.

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