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Three Keys to Effective Cross-Training for the Laboratory

Three Keys to Effective Cross-Training for the Laboratory

Cross-training is another activity that requires time, energy, and attention when most labs are already burdened with a “do more with less” environment

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Coverage is so important in the lab. Timelines and demands for data are constant around the calendar. Despite the specific knowledge required to conduct experiments and utilize instruments, our clients and customers often need data independent of the out-of-office schedules of key scientists. Cross-training can be an effective tool to alleviate the difficulties of staff availability and enable a coverage matrix to be built.

Effective cross-training is a challenge for most labs. Despite the benefits of cross-training, it is another activity that requires time, energy, and attention when most labs are already burdened with a “do more with less” environment. Even with these challenges, cross-training can still be accomplished. Here are three tips that will help your cross-training efforts be more successful.

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#1 – Include in objectives

If you think that the cross-training is important for the lab, then include cross-training in the performance objectives for both the student and the teacher. Including cross-training in objectives clearly communicates the importance of the activity, and provides a basis to prioritize cross-training against all other important activities. Including both the student and the teacher ensures both make such training a priority for the year.

#2 – Use effective training tools

We have used a variety of training tools to help the student learn what, how, and why around the new skills. Using these tools helps improve the transmission of tacit knowledge around these activities:

  • Storytelling—have experienced scientists tell stories about the challenges, successes, and learnings they have experienced in this ar
  • Shadowing—have the student watch the teacher do the activity, and expect them to ask lots of questions
  • On-the-job training—have the student perform the activity under the guidance of the teacher. Expect the teacher to provide consistent feedback
  • Lessons learned—gather the team together to learn from events that have happened by asking open-ended questions and sharing experiences
  • Mentoring—pair a student who wants to learn more with someone who exhibits the behaviors you want modeled. Expect transfer of successful approaches and behaviors in the lab

#3 – Expect practice

Once the cross-training event is completed, expect the student to spend time on a regular basis to practice the new skills and contribute to that aspect of the lab’s work. If the new skills are not regularly used, the hard-won cross-training will eventually be lost and forgotten. Build the new person into the schedule for work in the trained area, even if the actual amount of time is small.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to our conversations.