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It's Not About Being Right or Wrong

Employee Training

Recently I’ve been noticing a larger than normal amount of questions in class regarding teamwork. Specifically about how the two main teams, the office and maintenance teams, on our properties function together. These questions are originating from maintenance technicians frustrated with the office staff, as well as leasing professionals frustrated with the maintenance staff.

The solution I have found to this frustration is a proper Cross-Training event. (Yes, the addition of the adjective “proper” is needed.) If cross-training is not performed properly, the results can be disastrous. In this discussion we are going to refer to the “Host” as the staff member whom works in that department and the “Team Member” as the one whom is crossing responsibilities.  

Before we discuss the structure, let’s look at what cross training is and what it is not:

Cross-Training IS:

  • An opportunity for the host to allow the team member to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” and not an opportunity for the host to stomp the team member’s toes till the shoes fit.
  • An opening for the host to show how a typical process is being accomplished; not the time to show the most ridiculous example of a rare and unpleasant task that happens occasionally.
  • The time for the team member to experience a day on the other side … meaning that an expended amount of time is best, not just for an hour or two.


Cross-Training IS NOT: 

  • The time for the host to be right; and the team member to be wrong
  • The time for ego and rigidity; instead it is a time for both the host and the team member to learn from each other.
  • One sided; meaning that the team member and host will switch roles as soon as is feasible so the team member becomes the host and vice-versa.


Suggested structure:

I have found that cross-training works best when the full day is planned and spent in that role. This would mean that if the office is hosting a maintenance tech for a day, the technician should expect for that day to wear the uniform of the office, (Insert the complaints about wearing a tie and dress shoes now) and the office staff should expect to get a little messy (anyone have those extra exam gloves?).

In addition, the team member should be given an overriding task that is to be completed by guided self-direction in addition to the scheduled, and mentored tasks that will be accomplished at the same time. Here is some suggestions for the host:

When the office is hosting the maintenance team member will: 

  • Call a specific amount of residents to find out the results of their latest service request
  • File specific information such as service requests or update other files as needed
  • Tag along when showing an apartment to a prospective resident
  • Observe the move in paperwork from start to finish (or as much as possible)


When maintenance is hosting the office team member will: 

  • Inspect a vacant apartment and list needed repairs to be completed
  • Complete the tasks needed for curb appeal on a building or area of the property
  • Tag along to complete service requests and handle service calls


When hosting, have a plan, and ensure that the plan includes examples of a typical day. Try to stay away from those activities that are extreme (such as make ready maintenance in an apartment that has been completely destroyed by the previous residents). As the host, be sure and have an open mind to suggestions posed by the team member as they may have a fresh idea about how to correct a problem.

When you are the team member, be aware of what is happening in the unfamiliar surroundings. Pay particular attention to how long things take to accomplish, as this is a common area of conflict. This activity works best if you get your hands dirty and be involved, even if the task you are working on isn’t something you enjoy or would like to do as a career. Most maintenance technicians would not like to file and ensure compliance paperwork is correct any more than someone from the office would like to replace a wax ring seal under a toilet. 

Maybe “like” is not the correct word in that example. 

In the end, a cross training activity should foster a closer sense of team work. By team members being able to see in to the lives of another’s responsibility clearer communication and realistic expectations can reinforce the fact that the on-site office and the maintenance staff are all on the same team trying to win resident renewals and satisfaction.

Paul Rhodes is the National Maintenance and Safety Instructor for the National Apartment Education Institute.