Increase Operational Throughput by Cross-training Employees

Increase Operational Throughput by Cross-training Employees

Every business deals with throughput. Whether they choose to call it that is another story.  Throughput is defined as “the amount of material or items passing through a system or process.”  For restaurants, that would be the number of customers served per hour.  For car manufacturers, it might be number of cars produced per day.  For graphic designers, it might be number of design projects fulfilled for paying clients each month. 

Maximizing throughput means maximizing revenue through a system optimized for efficiency.  A fine-tuned system will (1) eliminate bottlenecks, (2) use automation when possible, and (3) have a cadre of cross-trained employees to step in when demand is high. 

The first two points are default answers in any Operations Management 101 class.  The third point about cross-training employees isn’t talked about much, but it can make all the difference, especially when the system experiences an unexpected surge in demand resulting a sudden bottleneck in the process.


Most systems rely on a workforce trained for specific tasks within the fulfillment process. For example, in a restaurant, there are chefs, waiters, and dish washers.  The chef cooks but doesn’t do dishes.  The waiter doesn’t do dishes.  The dishwasher does dishes.  What happens if the dishwasher gets overwhelmed with dishes, though?  If a bottleneck is created at the dish-washing station, new customers have to wait longer for their food which means that throughput suffers which means revenue is lessened. 

The restaurant manager has to make a few quick decisions to remove the bottleneck and get throughput moving again. 

She could

  • Yell at the dishwasher which won’t do any good. 
  • She could hire a second dishwasher, but that won’t fix the immediate bottleneck.    


  • She could quickly mobilize the chef and waiter to help with dish-washing while they’re not busy doing other tasks.  They probably won’t possess the incredible dish-washing skills of the staff dishwasher, but at least they can help. 

Ideally, the manager would have seen this situation ahead of time and already cross-trained her team to be ready to help when needed. 

Cross-training your cadre requires a culture of teamwork where everyone values the important role each individual makes. 


Another case study occurred in 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, when demand for hand sanitizer sky-rocketed.  Melaleuca, a major producer of hand sanitizer, suddenly was slammed with orders from around the world for the precious disinfectant.  Almost overnight orders increased by 50%.  Even with full staffing at the distribution center, where order fulfillment occurred, a bottleneck began forming in the packing and shipping area.  Without batting an eye, Melaleuca executives gathered volunteers from across the company to quickly train and pull 10-hour shifts at the distribution center.  Without hesitation, scores of employees willingly stepped-up to help eliminate the bottleneck at the distribution center.  After just a few days, the bottleneck was solved and throughput was humming along at an uninterrupted pace once again.


Machines are wonderful and automation is essential in the throughput calculation.  However, never underestimate the human element.  A little additional training and a heartfelt pep talk can do wonders in eliminating a bottleneck, especially when everyone realizes they’re all in it together.