Academic journal article Human Factors

The Impact of Cross-Training on Team Functioning: An Empirical Investigation

Academic journal article Human Factors

The Impact of Cross-Training on Team Functioning: An Empirical Investigation

Article excerpt


Team effectiveness in the workplace is of vital concern to organizations that depend on teams to perform important tasks. Recently research on work teams has begun to examine several factors that foster effective team performance, including team composition, organizational context, and task demands (Hackman, 1986; Sundstrom, De Meuse, & Futrell, 1990; Swezey & Salas, 1992). However, despite the obvious importance of training as a means to enhance team performance, relatively little research can be found on team instructional strategies (Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas, & Volpe, 1995; Salas, Dickinson, Converse, & Tannenbaum, 1992). One particularly promising team training strategy in need of investigation involves the cross-training of team members to enhance their knowledge of one another's tasks (Cannon-Bowers & Salas, 1990).

Although cross-training is a familiar term to most people, it remains poorly defined, scarcely researched, and rarely mentioned in the literature. In this investigation we offer a definition of cross-training, explain the mechanisms by which we believe it can improve team functioning, and test its efficacy as a team training strategy.

Defining the Mechanisms of Cross-Training

Cross-training refers to a strategy in which each team member is trained on the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of his or her fellow team members. The goal of this type of training is to provide team members with a clear understanding of the entire team function and how one's particular tasks and responsibilities interrelate with those of the other team members (Baker, Salas, Cannon-Bowers, & Spector, 1992). The type of knowledge that individuals acquire through cross-training is referred to as interpositional knowledge (IPK).

IPK can be described as a type of "role" knowledge held by team members. It is information that each team member holds regarding the appropriate task behavior of each of his or her interdependent teammates (Cream & Lambertson, 1975; Hemphill & Rush, 1952; Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964). This knowledge pertains specifically to a teammate's individual job function requirements, including equipment operation, action-outcome contingencies, and task dynamics. It also includes context-dependent information pertaining to both temporal relationships and cause-and-effect associations within the task. In summary, IPK refers to the body of knowledge that a team member holds about the tasks, roles, and appropriate behavioral responses required of his or her teammates in various situations.

We hypothesize that IPK is crucial to team functioning because it allows team members to anticipate the task needs of fellow team members, thus allowing enhanced coordination with a minimal communication requirement. That is, team members can acquire information and other resources from one another without the necessity for explanation (e.g., when one team member provides information to another without being asked to do so). This enhanced ability to coordinate with reduced communication can be particularly important during periods of high workload, when it is difficult to overcome a lack of IPK via explicit communication among team members (i.e., because they are too busy attending to other task demands).

We maintained that the acquisition of IPK is the mechanism by which cross-training works. That is, cross-training improves team members' ability to predict, anticipate, and thus coordinate their activities by increasing the accuracy of their knowledge regarding the roles, tasks, and information needs of their teammates.

Cross-Training and Team Performance

Given the potential importance of IPK to team coordination, it is not surprising that several of the researchers who have sought an understanding of coordinated behavior have indirectly supported the use of cross-training as a team training strategy. …

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