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Cross-training initiatives can get your whole organization in shape

  • Post published:June 20, 2024
  • Post category:Non Profits

Elite athletes train hard to perfect their performance in a particular discipline, but they also cross-train. For example, a sprinter might, in addition to running for hours, lift weights, swim and cycle. By strengthening all major muscle groups, athletes can reduce risk of injury and enhance performance in their primary sport.

Cross-training nonprofit employees generally promotes similar results. If you have staffers temporarily rotate jobs — or at least learn the responsibilities of other positions — they can build new skills and become prepared to fill in for other workers should it become necessary. That strengthens your entire organization, making it less vulnerable to chance occurrences, dramatic workload shifts and even fraud.

Nonprofits benefit

When you cross-train personnel, you teach staffers how to do one another’s jobs. Then, if one staffer is unavailable — say someone quits without notice, needs to go on disability leave or even just takes vacation time — another can usually jump in and do the job. Cross-training also can increase your organization’s productivity. If the workload temporarily becomes heavy in one area, you’ll be able to shift employees where they’re needed.

There’s also value in a fresh pair of eyes. A cross-training staffer can bring new perspective to daily tasks and may be able to come up with process improvements. What’s more, cross-training staff is central to strong internal controls. It’s always smart to “segregate,” or spread out, sensitive duties (such as accounting functions). This makes it harder for potential thieves to hide schemes, and it puts them on notice that their activities could come under review at any time.

Career enhancements

Employees can benefit, too. If the task a cross-training staffer learns is vertical, meaning it requires more responsibility or skill than that employee’s normal duties do, the employee may feel more valuable to your organization. If a task is lateral, with the same level of responsibility as the employee’s routine duties, the staffer still gains a greater understanding of the department or your nonprofit. Plus, the shared experience fosters mutual support.

For the best results, choose people who show an interest in particular areas of your operation and are open to change. For example, your program coordinator might want to learn more about fundraising and could be an appropriate person to back up your development team.

Be sure to build the idea of cross-training into your hiring process. Select job candidates who show flexibility and curiosity. Also let them know that, if hired, they may need to learn how to perform the duties of other employees.

Greater resilience

Cross-training isn’t a new idea. But if you’re looking for ways to make your organization more resilient, it can be a relatively easy and effective initiative.

Note one caveat: Not every job or staffer is a good candidate for cross-training. For example, some jobs may require certain skills, training or certification that can’t be filled by just anyone. For example, a nonprofit health clinic’s registered nurse positions could only cross-train other RNs.

© 2024