young businesswoman holding binoculars over cityscape of BeijingA huge part of facilitating engagement, cohesion and motivation in any workforce is by giving workers context to their work. Assigning tasks to a worker without giving them insight as to how their work affects others, and the organization as a whole, is a missed opportunity to engage them as a conscious part of the success of the business.

Fully communicating expectations means making sure that employees are aware of how their role fits in to all of the moving parts. Even workers with more siloed roles need context in order to do the best work possible. There are several ways to get your team interested in their co-worker’s roles, and learn how their own roles can improve through context. While any type of training initiative will use up resources, these programs aimed at employee investment will always prove to be worthwhile. According to Caryn Goldberg, an assistant professor of management at American University,

“By creating systems that let employees cross-train and gain experience in various departments, smart businesses can end up with employees who are able to fulfill various roles, allowing them to find the best fit for their skills within the company. In addition, as they learn more about overall operations, they are better able to make decisions, solve problems, and conceptualize new ideas because they have a better understanding of how the business runs.”

Give Context to Get Context

Let’s start at the very beginning. With any initiative, you must give context as to why this is happening. To start a job-swapping or cross-training program (or any program for that matter) without instruction, or expectations is just a waste of time. It might sound simple to the point of dumb, but give them context about gaining context. Let them know what you want them to take away from the experience.

Informal Learning

This seemingly hands off approach to training does actually require leadership. While informal learning accounts for most of employee development and training, it must be encouraged, measured and led in order to be effective.

Investing in a social intranet portal can be a great facilitator of informal learning. Workers can easily and safely share information and collaborate. Encouraging simple updates on projects keeps everyone in the loop in a timely and fun way. Tools like Yammer and Basecamp have proven very effective in my own workplace.

Onboard to Include Cross-Training

Giving the new guys company insight from the get-go will stay with them in a big way. Not only will cross-training new employees give them a glimpse of the big picture, they will create relationships with other departments or roles. The first relationships or contacts that an employee makes are extremely important. When they have a particular contact to go to for help or guidance, it opens up the lines of communication and facilitates cohesion.

Give Them Options

Phil Libin of Evernote is somewhere of a leader when it comes to engaging employees in non-traditional ways. He and his team implemented a program called the “Evernote Officer Training”. When employees sign up for this voluntary program, they are randomly assigned to meetings outside of their department. Libin says,

“They’re there to absorb what we’re talking about. They’re not just spectators. They ask questions; they talk.”

This idea can span out to voluntary training sessions, conferences or even just webinars. Giving them learning and training options can prove to be very beneficial to all parties.

Having a workforce that is knowledgeable, capable and trained increases the value of your team. Simultaneously, offering training and on-going education shows them that they are valued. Context in work incites passion and facilitates motivation.

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