‘Cross-training’ is a familiar term for athletes, but in the realm of sports business it's taking on a subtly different meaning.

GlobalSportsJobs takes a look at the growing trend for employees to take on multiple roles in an organisation, for which they're being ‘cross-trained’ to become knowledgeable and proficient in more than one area of the business.

It’s happening at all levels from the boardroom to administrative staff, to the extent that some employers now expect prospective new employees to be multi-skilled, with cross-department training and experience under their belt.

Asking staff to cover more than one role may appear at first to be a transparent cost-cutting exercise, but it can actually be beneficial to all parties involved, not just the employer.

Cross-training and experience across multiple roles clearly broadens a person’s skillset, making them a more rounded worker, and giving them more empathy and appreciation for the responsibilities, pressures and skills of their colleagues. Employees working in a new area can bring a fresh perspective which can streamline and improve existing processes.

By contrast, we’ve all encountered businesses that work in silos, with each department focusing only on its individual tasks. This ‘tunnel vision’ distracts them from the bigger picture and disrupts cohesion.

Cross-training can lead to a healthier, more collaborative business and eradicate a culture in which employees might be overheard saying, “That’s not my responsibility.”

On a very practical level, cross-training is useful when employees take holiday, get ill, have a heavy workload and need to delegate, or if people leave. Multi-skilled staff also give organisations more options when restructuring as people will be trained and experienced enough to cover many different areas.

One organisation from within the sports industry that has recognized the importance of training in  multiple roles is London-based sports management and promotion company Limelight Sports through its Limelight Sports Academy programme.

Limelight’s Head of Corporate Services, Sue Courtney heads up the programme and commented, “We have been delighted with the response to the launch of our Academy from Limelight personnel.  As Limelight’s offering has evolved to provide clients with the full range of services essential to delivering mass participation sports experiences – marketing, content, technology and data, event delivery - it is essential that we encourage more people to develop a greater and more diverse range of skills and this is what our Academy has been able to deliver.”

Ideally, there should be some element of overlap between the different roles undertaken by any one employee, lest he or she is pulled in two totally disparate directions on a daily basis.

Steve Dews, the company’s Head of Technology added, “The Limelight Sports Academy programme was devised to give junior members of the team a rounded understanding of our business, which subsequently should help them understand where they want to progress their career, and also give them the confidence to speak to clients about our complete offering as they become more exposed to them. It’s helped them understand the links between each department and reinforces Limelight’s belief that mass participation sport is a journey with an event as a highlight.”

Studies have shown that multi-tasking workers are more efficient, productive and motivated. Their jobs are more varied and vibrant, and less mundane. However, there can be drawbacks to multiple roles.

Some employees find an array of responsibilities at best distracting and at worst overwhelming, preferring to immerse themselves in a single task and give it their full, immersive attention. They may find it distracting or stressful to keep refocusing from one task to another.

That’s why it’s important for employers to diligently select the right people for cross-training and dual roles, and to consult with them throughout so it’s not something they’re landed with unexpectedly.

Multiple-role working tends to suit those with a growth mindset, who enjoy learning and problem-solving, want to progress and ascend the hierarchy. Conversely those with a fixed mindset, who are content to mono-task, may be unsuitable.

Sam Carter, one of the first Limelighters to complete the Academy programme said, “The Academy has provided me with a brilliant opportunity to take me out of my working comfort zone and work in sectors of our business which I knew little about but which I now understand and appreciate much more. I feel much more confident in my ability to take on multiple responsibilities across projects following the training.”

If being in a multiple role suits the employee’s personality and ambition, it can be hugely beneficial in expanding their skillset and spreading their experience over more than one area of the organisation, helping to mould a more rounded and cohesive unit. Although it won’t suit everyone, it’s a trend which looks set to become more widespread.

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