Nick has been leading high growth teams and scaling early stage tech startups for 10+ years (most recently at Clearbit). He's been in a fantasy football league with his best friends from high school for just as long...and has never won. 😂
What goes without saying? The importance of employee training methods.
Equipping your team with the knowledge and skills to improve their craft and get stuff done (on their own!) is a force multiplier. Effective training isn’t only a great way to build autonomy—it’s also a surefire way to increase productivity, minimize mistakes, and improve employee engagement.
So what’s the catch? Sharing knowledge is a lot easier said than done. Especially when things are changing fast. And everyone likes to learn differently.
If you check in with your team, you may find your current training program:
Isn’t interactive or engaging enough
Takes too long and feels intimidating
Feels surface-level and disconnected from your team’s actual work
Instead of making more tweaks to an old training, maybe it’s time to deliver it differently. A new training method could be the change you need for key information to stick—and to get your team excited to learn something new. ⭐
The good news is, you’ve got options. Here are 16 employee training methods to switch things up:
Wouldn't it be nice to create a training guide that:
1️⃣ Actually gets used?
2️⃣ Doesn't take forever to make?
3️⃣ Helps people get unstuck, in their moment of need?
4️⃣ Minimizes repetitive questions, shoulder taps, Slack notifications, impromptu screen shares, emails, meeting invitations, and other disruptions?
5️⃣ Frees *everyone* up to do more interesting and impactful work?
Survey says there's a tool to do all that (👋👋, Tango!)—and new research to explain why all how-to guides aren't created equal.
When done well, training documentation can:
✅ Serve as a single source of truth for all other trainings
✅ Provide the right answers, in the right place, at the right time
✅ Combine procedural knowledge and peer insights
✅ Minimize blockers with step-by-step guidance in the flow of work
✅ Maximize people’s time spent improving their craft
A good how-to guide or SOP can go a long way. Documenting your team’s best practices helps more knowledge get captured, shared, and discovered across your entire organization. And it just got easier than ever to do. 💃
Pros of documentation
Cons of documentation
Supports improved efficiency and productivity
Takes hours to document a single process
Promotes a culture of knowledge documentation and learning
Formats like PDFs can quickly become outdated
Captures institutional knowledge and gives teams a competitive advantage
Doesn’t get used or appreciated like it should
2. Just-in-time (JIT) training
This employee training method teaches people what they need to know now—rather than what they might need to know in the future.
JIT training can include short work instructions or a quick online course with a quiz at the end. This type of training typically focuses on one skill or topic (think: how to use the new feature in your applicant tracking system). Keeping training short and sweet can make it easier to understand and complete.
True to its name, “just in time” means knowledge gets delivered at the moment of need, in the flow of work. Ideally, everyone can ideally access JIT training on demand. This minimizes the need for formal training sessions and trainers.
Targeted training topics? Check. Concise training materials? Check. Accessible (nearly) anywhere and anytime? Check. Sounds amazing, right?
What you’ll need to weigh: JIT can cost a lot upfront. You’ll need tools and resources to create engaging and accessible training materials. And it may not be the best option for more complex topics.
Pros of just-in-time training
Cons of just-in-time training
Is easy to access and digest compared to lengthy training materials
Doesn’t prepare teammates in cases of extreme crisis (like a sudden mass cybersecurity breach)
Encourages teammates to help themselves
Requires intuitive tools and resources for easy access and updates
Is more manageable to update since the content is minimal
3. Books, podcast episodes, and other educational materials
Whether it's your team’s latest podcast episode or books from your favorite authors—there’s lots to learn from thought leaders everywhere. 🌍
There are also lots of ways to weave your team’s favorite resources into your training. If you have Brené Brown fans (and leaders-in-training) on the team, then you could ask them to start a book club. You could also share an article that has stuck with you over the years (like this one) with the wider team.
Some publishers or authors may have already done the legwork for you, by including worksheets and guided materials to help with discussion and reflection.
Either way, you can start small and start somewhere by creating a thread to share your favorite resources or recommending a few newsletters to subscribe to. You could also go big by creating more formal programs. Some examples include:
Starting a manager or team-specific book club
Assigning teammates a podcast episode to listen to before your next meeting
Including an insightful article as required reading during your new hire onboarding training
What’s the caveat? As awesome as these resources and conversations can be, they take time, may not be immediately relevant, and can’t replace hands-on experience. The costs can also quickly stack up if you’re purchasing materials for each team member.
Pros of educational materials
Cons of educational materials
Provides detailed and timely coverage of a particular subject or topic
Time-consuming to complete
Offers insights into different viewpoints, which can spark creativity and innovation
May have outdated perspectives (ex: a book published 10 years ago)
Can develop soft skills
Can’t substitute practical experience
Not all topics need face-to-face time with a manager or trainer. With e-learning, your individual contributors can learn key skills on their own time and bring follow-up questions to peers or their manager.
An added bonus? Learners can go at their own pace and prioritize topics they need the most help with. This helps managers empower teams to understand and address their own knowledge gaps.
An e-learning setup is also easily accessible and scalable. Any teammate with an internet connection can log on from anywhere in the world—which eliminates costs for physical materials, trainers, and/or physical locations. When combined with other types of training methods, e-learning can be extremely engaging. Try adding gamification and quick simulations to spice up long slideshows or videos.
But the best part of any digital learning system? Data. 📈
You can instantly see metrics like your team’s completion rate and time training. These indicators can highlight sections that need updates or topics that could benefit from documentation and other resources.
One of e-learning’s biggest benefits is also a drawback—minimal contact with team members and trainers. This can feel isolating and make it tougher to stay accountable. You may also get less direct feedback from e-learning than from other, face-to-face employee training methods.
E-learning platforms costs can add up fast as well. That includes the extensive time needed from your team (and the platform’s support team) to set up and maintain it.
Pros of e-learning
Cons of e-learning
Can scale to multiple teammates
Can require significant time and resources to set up and maintain
Is flexible and requires minimal oversight from trainers
Requires self-discipline to keep up accountability
Allows teams to capture and analyze metrics (like completion rate)
Lacks opportunities for hands-on experience, like role-playing or scenario-based experiences
Cue the confetti—someone completed the latest lesson in record time! 🎉
Gamification gives you the opportunity to incorporate game elements into your training. Those might take the form of badges, challenges, and point systems.
Gamification helps training feel a little more fun by instantly celebrating your team’s milestones. It also makes objectives and progress clear for teammates.
Depending on the platform, your teammates can compare their progress on leaderboards or work together to complete specific trainings. Some setups even provide real-time hints or feedback when teammates get stuck.
However, this workplace training method can be expensive to integrate. It can also feel distracting and may put too much emphasis on competition. As a result, your team may not be able to reach proficiency if they’re too focused on hitting the next lesson.
Pros of gamification
Cons of gamification
Improves engagement and retention with a reward system
Costs can run high if your team needs to build out a custom feature
Uses positive reinforcement to encourage completion
Promotes collaboration by incentivizing progress in a fun way
Might put too much emphasis on competition
6. Video training
Videos can save your top trainers time from delivering live trainings and save time for your most important topics. You can also use video alongside other workplace training methods, like studying roleplaying scenarios.
Trainers can send these videos and let learners watch them on their own time. That’s much easier than coordinating schedules and breaking flow for training.
Videos may feel more engaging depending on the production quality and other elements like music or visuals.
However, engaging videos (especially ones with interactive elements) take up a lot of time and budget to create. It also requires your team to have specialized skills in areas like editing and lighting. Think that’s a lot? Imagine repeating all of that for each video once anything is out of date.
You can mitigate this by leveraging other training methods that are easier to update. Automatically generated how-to guides, for example, can be much easier to edit without requiring special skills or lots of time. (Think: tweaking a screenshot annotation vs. re-recording an entire video).
On a larger scale, videos can encourage passive learning. This is when learners watch and absorb information without actively engaging with it or practicing the skills they were taught—so less emphasis on competency and more on memorization is one thing to watch out for.
Pros of video training
Cons of video training
Saves trainers time from delivering live trainings
Requires lots of time, budget, and training to produce and update (and can end up looking amateur at best)
Gives learners the flexibility to watch when it fits their schedule
Is quickly outdated when a process changes
Allows teams to track views and other metrics
Can have unnecessary information that slows you down and makes it hard to find the knowledge you need
7. Instructor-led learning
For some topics, nothing beats learning directly from an expert in real-time. 🤓
Traditional teacher-led sessions are great for complex or core topics that need extra attention. Instructor-led training:
Lets trainers personalize sessions and answer questions
Gives teammates a chance to interact and get clarity on tough topics
Allows everyone to engage in more active learning
This employee training method can work well with new hire cohorts since they’ll have similar learning needs. Training sessions can align with their onboarding timeline to help them reach their milestones faster, and with less friction.
Instructor-led training can also reinforce knowledge shared in your team’s documentation. It’s a great way to make sure best practices stick and give your team a chance to share their feedback. Note: Your instructors can help capture any learnings and tips to help improve your team’s processes as well.
Even with all those benefits, people-led trainings aren’t always a walk in the park. Some trainers may be more engaging than others. Some may deviate from your team’s best practices. It can also be tough (read: expensive!) to scale instructor-led training as your team grows. Especially since engagement and other metrics can be difficult to measure.
Pros for instructor-led learning
Cons for instructor-led learning
Promotes active learning1
Doesn’t let teammates move at their own pace
Lets trainers answer questions and solve problems in real time
Can have varying engagement and delivery based on the format and the instructor
Reinforces best practices in documentation
May be difficult to scale as the team grows and best practices change
8. Simulation training
Simulation training is a hands-on experience that lets your team practice close-to-real-life scenarios.
Simulations are more commonly associated with hands-on practice. For example, security teams can take what they’ve learned from your breach playbooks and runbooks and apply it to a hypothetical breach situation.
These practices are especially helpful for risky industries or roles, like those in healthcare or teammates who manage customer privacy. It’s also helpful for manual jobs, like construction, that need hands-on practice. Bite-sized simulations can also support other trainings, like adding questions on a hypothetical situation in an e-learning quiz.
With these workplace training techniques, your team can practice problem-solving and learn from mistakes in a safe environment. These simulations can also reinforce learnings from other trainings (and highlight where some people need more support).
Big simulations can cost a lot of time and money to deliver, maintain, and update. That said, simulations can’t cover every scenario. This can lead to trouble if teammates get a false sense of security after nailing their last few simulations.
Pros of simulations
Cons of simulations
Provides teammates with the space to practice problem-solving and decision-making in a safe environment
Takes a lot of resources from the team to create, update, and complete
Teaches steps and tips that may not translate well with less hands-on methods
May need resource-intensive updates as processes and offerings change
Boosts the team's confidence
Can give a false sense of security
Role-playing isn't just for Dungeons & Dragons. It's a type of simulation training where teammates can practice solution scenarios that involve different types of people. 🎭
For example, you can take on different personas to see how your team handles tough customers. How will they react to tough feedback or long lists of questions? You can do these in person or incorporate questions like these into other workplace training techniques (during a coaching session, for example).
As far as benefits go, you’ll get to see how your team may react in tough situations. Role-playing can also help your team practice thinking on their toes and testing out different responses before experiencing the real thing.
That said, it’s important to note role-playing can’t prepare teams for everything or accurately predict how people will react in the moment. Some may panic or react differently when faced with an upset customer. Or the opposite may be true. What they do while role-playing may feel off if they’re uncomfortable or just aren’t a fan of this training method.
Also good to consider: Doing this training method in person can take an especially long time if you have a big group, and if you’re giving everyone a chance to practice individually.
Pros of role-playing
Cons of role-playing
Creates a space to give tailored feedback based on a teammate’s reaction
May result in pushback from team members who feel uncomfortable or don’t find it valuable
Provides a low-pressure environment to practice and learn
Can take a lot of time to complete, especially for large teams
Can be more engaging than structured learning methods
Can’t reflect all scenarios or accurately predict your team’s actual performance
10. Spaced learning
Spaced learning is exactly as it sounds—spaced out periods of learning (with ongoing reinforcement).
It’s a good solution for a very human problem: We forget things! Especially after a couple of hours of back-to-back training sessions. Since this method spaces out training periods, your team can find a better balance between training and work.
More importantly, spaced learning helps improve retention with check-ins and reinforcement. Check-ins can be as simple as sending out a reminder or as elaborate as a new quiz in your e-learning program.
The ⚠️ ? Spaced learning isn’t for everyone or every topic. Some teammates can quickly grasp the subject and may not need to spend time on constant reinforcement. Some topics may not need this many revisits. It can also extend training or team ramp timelines and requires more time from trainers.
Pros for spaced learning
Cons for spaced learning
Minimizes fatigue that comes from long training sessions
Can feel inefficient for teammates who quickly grasp the training
Improves retention with check-ins and reinforcement
Extends training and team ramp timelines
Makes time for both training and day-to-day work
May be unnecessary for simpler topics
11. Job shadowing
Job shadowing is when one teammate follows another teammate to get a first-hand look at a role or specific task. This employee training method is useful if you have teammates who are:
Interested in moving into another role or department
Eager to learn about tasks and responsibilities before their next promotion
Struggling with a task and can learn from seeing a top performer’s process
This approach brings a lot more real-world exposure than they’d get from instructor-lead classes or other types of structured learning. It also gives your team a chance to network and learn from different perspectives.
Shadow sessions don’t need to last all day. You can squeeze them in when it works best for everyone’s schedule. You can even set up a shadow during a couple of meetings or while someone is working through a project.
That said—job shadowing has its limits. It’s not always easy to find volunteers since it requires a major commitment, especially on busy days.
The experience can also vary for shadowers. Since every day is different, one teammate may have a more fulfilling experience than another. The shadow session also may not cover everything they wanted to learn about.
Pros of job shadowing
Cons of job shadowing
Shows teammates real-world examples of another person's process
May not give shadowers a consistent learning experience
Creates a space for your teammates to network and get exposure to different perspectives
Can lack volunteers since it’s time-consuming and especially tough during busy days
Gives teams the flexibility to fit shadow sessions into their schedule
Provides limited exposure and may not reflect a person’s full range of responsibilities
💡 Tango Tip
Include milestones and tips for making the most of the experience in your job shadowing documentation. Giving structural guidelines can help your team create consistent and fulfilling experiences.
12. Coaching and mentoring
Coaching and mentoring programs pair your top performers (or an outside expert) with other teammates who can benefit from their expertise. The goals of the program can dictate the structure:
If your teammate needs help improving performance → Assign them a coach with a structured coaching plan
If a teammate is coming back from parental leave → Assign them a coach with a return-to-work transition plan
If your teammate wants to learn more about growing at the company → Assign them a mentor with periodic coffee chats
If your teammate is new → Assign them a mentor with a list of suggested new hire mentee-mentor conversation topics
These programs can give mentees a casual environment to ask questions and learn about their mentor’s experiences. Great mentors and coaches can also help them build confidence in their abilities. 🙌
Other benefits: Your junior teammates can get one-on-one attention and tailored help, your senior teammates can flex their leadership skills, and you get a chance to capture your team’s institutional knowledge in the process. The program can also spark new friendships or a long-term mentorship.
However, just like job shadowing, this employee training method requires commitment from coaches and mentors who may be pressed for time. You could find yourself with a shortage of mentors and coaches—and a long list of excited mentees.
A lack of structure can also lead to vastly different outcomes or show favoritism. Some may love their mentor, while others may barely meet. Some may also prefer a teammate who seems similar to them (called affinity bias), but letting mentors (or mentees) choose their pairing may not be the most effective method.
Pros of coaching and mentoring
Cons of coaching and mentoring
Provides teammates with tailored feedback and training
Takes up time for coaches and mentors
Gives a low-pressure space to ask questions and improve decision making
Can’t function if there aren’t enough coaches and mentors available
Creates an opportunity for pairings grow into a long-term mentorship
May pair coaches with teammates who don’t match their work or teaching style (and vice versa)
💡 Tango Tip
Ask your teammates to complete a postmortem about their experience (including what they learned). Use these documented learnings to improve the program and its expected outcomes.
13. Social learning
Unlike other job training examples on the list, this one doesn’t have much structure. Social learning relies on teammates sharing their resources and tips. You may have a knowledge champion or two who’s already freely sharing their tips with the team. ⭐
Start small by nudging your teammates to share tips or articles with the broader team. Seeing a few people share can encourage others to speak up, too.
As alluded to above, social learning can also help build a culture of knowledge sharing. You may be able to surface tips from your top performers and find new knowledge your teammates wouldn't have shared otherwise.
What to keep in mind: This can be another case of “easier said than done.” Speaking up can be intimidating for your teammates who are more introverted or shy. It can also become a distraction if your threads go off-topic or become a little too active during the workday.
You may also have teammates share tips that are outdated or conflict with your team’s established best practices. If this happens, do some digging to figure out the source and how to address the situation without embarrassing or discouraging people (who likely had the best intentions).
Pros for social learning
Cons for social learning
Makes it easy for anyone to share their best tips
Can be intimidating for those who are shy or introverted
Requires no additional cost or time from the team
Can become distracting if people are interacting too much or going off-topic
Uncovers new knowledge you may not have learned otherwise
May surface tips that conflict with company best practices
14. Peer learning
Peer learning is similar to mentoring, but a little different. Instead of learning from one senior teammate, you’ll get together with anyone on the team. This can include your direct teammates and those who have less experience than you.
It’s also similar to social learning, but follows more structure. Real life examples of peer learning include brainstorming sessions or problem solving meetings that benefit from many perspectives. Bringing multiple heads together can help spark new ideas and save time from figuring things out alone.
Peer learning can also help your team get comfortable with sharing their ideas and seeing the benefits in real-time. That’s another big step towards building a positive knowledge sharing culture. 💪
But these sessions can quickly become unproductive if they veer off-topic or if everyone is stuck on the same question. In these cases, loop in senior teammates or use other training methods. However, that may lead to even more schedules to coordinate.
Pros of peer learning
Cons of peer learning
Gives teammates a space to organically connect and share ideas
Can get unproductive if teams veer off topic
Builds trust and morale among the team, leading to a stronger knowledge sharing culture
Requires schedules to align
Can spark new ideas or solutions
May not be helpful if peers are stuck on the same thing
💡 Tango Tip
To increase knowledge sharing, assign someone to capture key learnings and share insights with the wider team.
15. Stretch assignments
A stretch assignment is a task or project that goes beyond your teammate’s current experience.
This can challenge top performing teammates and gives them hands-on opportunity to grow. Coaxing them out of their comfort zone can level up their problem solving skills and build confidence when tackling new assignments.
You may have people on your team who can benefit from a stretch assignment. For example, if your senior IT specialist is excited to grow into a leadership position, you can see if they’d like to lead an upcoming project.
What’s the shadow side of a stretch assignment? People may feel overwhelmed or burnt out if they aren’t prepared or supported well. Internal or external pressure and a high risk of failure may cause stress. And diving in head first may feel like a nightmare for those who prefer more structured learning environments.
Pros of stretch assignments
Cons of stretch assignments
Gives teammates hands-on opportunities to grow and get exposure to new experiences
Can overwhelm or burn out a teammate if they aren’t prepared
Helps teammates feel more motivated and confident when tackling assignments
May not be effective for team members who learn best with a structured learning environment
Improves problem solving skills with tasks that have some familiarity
Risk of failure and increased pressure if teammates don’t have enough support
Cross-training helps teammates learn skills from other teams. It can help everyone work seamlessly when someone calls out for the day or when a promotion leaves a gap in your team. Cross-training can also expose teammates to other roles or departments.
This type of workplace training can help teams work better or uncover friction between them. 🤔
For example, sales and marketing teams have different skills, but need to work together closely to achieve business goals. Cross-training people on these two teams can help everyone understand the customer journey more deeply.
However, you can run into issues when cross-training your team. Without structure, cross-training can lead to confusion or overworked teams. Teammates may be assigned more work than they can handle or accidentally overstep on other people’s toes. It also takes lots of resources to successfully coordinate cross-team trainings.
The TL;DR? Cross-training also isn’t for everyone. It may push some team members into tasks that don’t align with their goals or strengths.
Pros of cross-training
Cons of cross-training
Helps teammates learn and grow in new areas
May push teammates towards areas they’re not interested in
Prepares teammates to support other areas
Can result in overworked or burnt out teams
Encourages other departments and teams to work and learn together
Can confuse the team on who is responsible for what
How to pick the best employee training methods for your team
Some teams may prefer tackling an e-learning program, while others like more structure with instructor-led training. It’ll take some research and check-ins to find what method works best for each topic (and each person).
Here are questions you can ask yourself when narrowing down the best employee training methods for your team:
What’s the goal of this training?
Who’s my intended audience?
What are my budget and time constraints?
Who will deliver this training?
How much time do learners and trainers have to dedicate to training?
Will they learn remotely, in person, or a mix of both?
How can I combine training methods and resources for the best results?
How do the people on my team prefer to learn?
How can I cut down on interruptions and impromptu requests to share screens?
How can I empower people to get unstuck and find answers fast, in the flow of work?
What processes do I need to make sure our documentation and training resources stay synced and up to date?
How can I encourage the team to document their processes and support our learning culture?
Do we have a documentation tool that can quickly help me create great training documentation that my team will actually like using—and help them get stuff done?
How will I measure this training method’s success?
The bottom line
There are so many employee training methods to choose from, but only so much training time in the week.
The good news? You can combine these methods to make them even more effective. For instance, you can enroll your teammates in your job shadowing program before offering up a stretch assignment.
If you had to pick only one? Strong training documentation may be your best bet.
Documentation drives continuous knowledge sharing so that on a small scale, teams can be more productive and continuously improve best practices. And on a large scale? Documentation makes it possible to build a competitive advantage with increased institutional knowledge and keep up with rapid change.
The most effective training method depends on the topic and the person receiving the training.
Workflow documentation alone can be enough for teaching long-established processes or reinforcing best practices. However, you may need to pair documentation with hands-on opportunities so your team can practice and get personalized feedback.
What kind of training is important for new employees?
Hands-on and self-directed training are important training methods for new employees.
Self-directed learning, like e-learning or documentation, can provide a foundation for core skills needed on the job. This can also save your trainers time from directly presenting on every single topic or best practice.
Hands-on opportunities, like instructor-led training or shadowing, can help your teammates dive deep into complex topics. New hires can also get answers to their questions fast.
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