A few years ago my father was in the hospital for an extended stay. It was serious. Although he was cared for by personable and professional staff, there was constant miscommunication. Instructions from the doctor weren’t carried out by the nursing staff, the pharmacist forgot to fill a prescription, and the doctors didn’t read the nurses notes. At one point, my father was moved from intensive care without the attending physician’s knowledge. They moved him back. How does this happen among highly trained professionals? Could it be because they don’t really know each other’s jobs?

Cross-training or Chaos? It’s Your Choice

Yes, of course, doctors know what the nurse’s job is and vice-versa. I’m certain any anesthesiologist can quote a radiologist job description and pharmacists know what housekeepers do. But do they understand the day-to-day challenges of each position? Does each department consider how what they do affects the other departments? Do they truly know and understand what the others jobs are? My guess is—probably not.

Not Everyone can learn Everyone’s Job

OK, I get it. If nurses were cross-trained as doctors, they’d be doctors, but that level of training isn’t required. Allowing a nurse to shadow a doctor for an hour, making it mandatory for doctors to spend an hour following the nursing staff, asking an anesthesiologist to observe housekeeping clean two rooms all leads to better understanding. It doesn’t have to be hours and days. It only takes minutes.

What about Your Business?

So far, I’ve talked about hospitals and health care professionals but what does that have to do with your organization? How would cross-training affect your business? Cross-training  improves organizations several ways.

  • It promotes camaraderie and understanding between departments which, improves morale, reduces turnover, and increases production.
  • It identifies and reduces bureaucratic waste, which helps the organization be more responsive to client needs.
  • Cross training can focus departmental teams on interdepartmental efficiency fostering the development of standardized systems and procedures.
  • It can be used to cover for absent employees moving team members where they’re most needed.
  • It reduces the exposure caused by over reliance of indispensable employees.

 Where do you Start?

It begins by accepting and supporting the importance of cross-training. Too often, management gives lip service to promoting cross-training but does little to implement it—there just isn’t enough time. But is there? In the long run cross-training saves time. The next step is to make cross-training part of new employee orientation. Take new hires on tours explaining how the departments interact. Have them spend an hour in each department that works directly with their department. Commit to ongoing interdepartmental team sharing and training.

An Example of Cross-training in Action

Here’s a great example from the video production company 12 Stars MediaPutting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes: Cross-Training at Work