Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup

Cross-training facilitates teamwork!


Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.

There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.

In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.

In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.

We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:

1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.

As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.

Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.

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About Tim DeWitt

An experience business executive, speaker and writer with a background in marketing, product management, professional services and software engineering.

2 responses to “Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup”

  1. Timothy Smothers says :

    Good Advice, Tim. The challenge I have found in some of my wanderings is the herding of cats within a team environment – the willingness of all members to actually engage in the process and not “empower” themselves via a course of hoarding information. Knowledge is power – and some feel that giving up this knowledge is a loss of power – and detrimental to their respective position in the organization. As a boss, mentor, coach, whatever – it has been my mission to ensure we have some idea of “TEAM” and instill this concept in all staff – so if one stumbles, another can pick up the task and move it forward with confidence they can (and will) succeed.

    I enjoy your musings – they make me think (which can be scary at times).

  2. Tim DeWitt says :

    Tim S. – It is unfortunate that individuals you work with believe in a mis-guided philosophy about hoarding information. I have found that in spite of all the information hoarded, all that knowledge does not necessarily equate to job security. Instead, I have always found amazing results with the philosophy of TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More. It’s very cliche but very true.

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