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The Pros and Cons of Cross-Training (in the support center, not the gym)

It seems like businesses like to yo-yo back and forth with the idea of cross-training.  Awhile back everyone was cross-trained and some short-comings were discovered about the idea. So, everyone went back to supporting one thing. Then the idea to cross train comes around again.

It may come up due to chronical short staffing, it can be mentioned when it seems that one area is not busy when another one is. It may just seem like a nifty way to keep the business "agile".

And always the view of the bottom line: Are we paying people to sit around doing nothing? Are we losing business because these others are too busy? Why is X always understaffed while Y is OK.

Hey! Let's cross-train!

The idea being that anyone should be able to do anyone else's job (within a particular area such as, oh, say, customer support). And it can be done, but care must be taken.

Now it sounds like I dislike the idea but I don't. I just think some thought needs to go into an initiative like this.

First of all, are the skill sets closely enough aligned that it makes sense to cross-train? If one area supports software while another supports hardware, there may be a problem with that.

Second, are you sure that those people over there who look like they are just sitting there are not working? They may be taking the slow time to catch up on screenwork and letting their brain cells rest for a bit before the next onslaught.

Third, how much resistance is there going to be? As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't get him to pump it for someone else if he doesn't want to." In other words, someone being cross-trained may decide to sabotage the whole effort.

I'm sure there is a third, fourth, and fifth, but you get the idea. But all is not bad with cross-training.


  • May be able to transfer ideas between two products.
  • Keeps you fresh.
  • May keep you from being laid off.
  • If management is in your future, knowing more than one area or product could be useful.

Nor is all good:


  • Jack of all Trades is master of none. A limit of 2 different products to support is probably best.
  • Burn-out may occur if you are asked to switch back and forth too often or too quickly.
  • No down time to catch up on screenwork or paperwork.
  • More stressful due to the first bullet point.

Would cross-training work for your support group? Is your group already cross-trained?


TOPICS: customer support cross-training


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