Cross Skilling


Got a DeLorean? Flux Capacitor? 1.21 Gigawatts?

No? ….nevermind, you won’t need them. This is not that sort of paradox. You only need a healthy approach to cross-skilling in your organization to create this.

No-one is indispensable, and Everyone is indispensable.


Organizational focus on specialist expertise in the workforce has been growing for some time. It’s easy to understand why. Experts have a high level of practiced skill in performing a particular function. When an organization has a requirement to perform that particular function, naturally they want it done by someone that knows how to do it well. The result of this practice is that an organization ends up with a highly specialized and expert workforce.

There is value in a highly specialized and expert workforce, where everyone has a function and knows how to do it well. Organizations with this profile generally achieve high efficiency and high quality.

In the light of Digital Transformation, there are however some major issues with this workforce profile:

  • experts are less likely to innovate
  • insular thinking
  • reinforces organizational silos
  • tendency to create indispensable people - single points of failure

As we touched on in an earlier topic, recruitment of talented people with broad experience is one way to change the workforce profile. Adopting the practice of cross-skilling in your organization is another.

A structured employee to employee training program is an effective way to cross-skill your people and is beneficial in ways that include, and go beyond solving the issues mentioned already.

  • removes single points of failure - indispensable people
  • improves organizational responsiveness
  • supports employee development
  • breaks down organizational barriers
  • reduces the impact of industry skill gaps
  • increases opportunities for internal hiring
  • forces expert trainers to examine their own skills and processes
  • broadens individual views of customer experience and interactions

There is no denying the fact that such a program requires an investment in both time and planning. For it be successful, the structures put in place around it should include at a minimum:

  • identifying and training your expert facilitators
  • establishing clear learning goals
  • incentives for both trainers and learners

Successful cross-skilling makes each person more indispensable to the organization in a positive way, and at the same time ensures that no-one is irreplaceable.

insights & further reading

“employees from multiple departments and ranks who are trained together in various areas feel more unified as a larger team” 1

“As they learn new skills, employees are able to perform a wider variety of tasks, thus avoiding job boredom”1

The “culture of expertise has had an increasingly negative effect on the inventive capacity of our economy”2


Assess your organization’s ability to implement an employee to employee cross-skills program. Build the required structure and obtain strong internal sponsors to support it.

If you are not able to implement a full cross-skills program then establish a smaller program with at least one goal: Require everyone to train their own second.

Beyond requiring everyone to identify and train their second, cross-skilling should be encouraged and incentivized, but not compulsory.

Include cross-skilling when goal setting, and measure & reward it’s success for both learners and facilitators.

Standardize your approach to cross-skilling via the use of:

  • standardized training for expert facilitators
  • clear learning goals

Identify opportunities for cross-skilling across functional boundaries and organizational units.

There are many things to be gained via employee to employee training, however you will not be able to meet all your training needs via this method. This is not meant as a complete replacement for the need to use external trainers.

Perform occasional people loss drills or short term role rotations to keep skills fresh and test the durability of your teams.

You can access templates, examples, and training guides to help build your cross-skills structure in our methods & tools section.

methods & tools

Contact us to discuss your requirements and access this practical content and further in depth analysis.


  1. Journal of workplace learning, workforce cross training… [return]
  2. The Conversation, expert culture has killed… [return]