Cascade Training

By using this approach, we can certify that skills have been properly acquired and that they will be used to continue generating the success of a group in the future.

Picture this: It’s early in the timeline of the human race. Huge animals can kill people in one fell swoop, but humanity must survive by hunting, scavenging, and cultivating for basic needs. So how did we make it this far?

Let’s first take a look at some of the fundamental elements that helped the earliest generation of humans:

  • First is a community or team of people who share basic necessities to make sure everyone survives together.
  • Next is the set of specific tasks to be performed in the hierarchical structure.
  • Last but not least is the mechanism for passing down the knowledge and skills to ensure everyone gets it, applies it, and guarantees the community’s survival.

There are many more elements that contribute to the success of a group, but based on my own personal experiences in dealing with people in different countries or just daily interactions, I’ve found these three key ideas to be the fundamental core. I’ve tailored my training approach to incorporate these foundational elements that have allowed us as a species to survive and thrive.


Half a million years ago, early humans began to use fire. Controlled fire changed our world, but that’s a whole other article. For now, I want you to imagine a campfire. What happens at night when you go camping? Everyone enjoys sitting by the fire listening to stories or having conversations. All this happens because people come together and have a sense of belonging. There is a bond at a central location, which, in turn, forms the community. You’re part of something. You see it in today’s society through social media, which has taught me that even as an individual, I still yearn to belong to a group—whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or a group text message.

A sense of belonging is important to humans. For Native Americans, the sense of community was paramount to each tribe. It allowed for a group of people to identify and perform small tasks that led to huge accomplishments. Each person had his or her job, whether it was to be a hunter, defender, fire keeper, farmer, gatherer, or caretaker. As the saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Each one of these tasks makes someone feel he or she is contributing to the overall success of the group. Everyone feels important and part of the community.


This is a perfect segue into the second element, which is the structure within the community. Once you have a feeling of belonging, you need to understand the roles at play. There is a chief tribal leader or elder who disseminates learning down to the youngest member of the team. Each member must understand what his or her role is and how to branch out from it.

There also needs to be someone ready to do what you’re doing today, so the organization is never disrupted. The community emphasizes that all roles are valued and will dictate which roles are required for the group’s survival. Communication would take place at the fire and everyone would be made aware of your role and responsibilities. In this way, everyone knows what is expected from each person, and the contributions are celebrated together.

This structure is important because those who lead can do so by example. They also lead by teaching others about what they learned worked and didn’t work. Passing on best practices and making new standards was based on how they benefit the community as a whole and not just the individual. There’s always a true succession program at work—when the chief is out, the next person is on deck ready to serve and lead.


This brings us to the third point: How do we pass on this knowledge so everyone understands? The discussions around the fire speak of what lessons have been learned relating to the topic. For example, the hunters catch a deer, but the cooks can only feed half the community with it. The farmers speak to how much they can supplement the meal and if they require more hunters and equipment to bring home more food. The overall community helps to resolve the single problem instead of a single person resolving all the problems. The elder makes the decision based on direct input and his past experience, and he continues to pass that knowledge to those below him. The subject matter experts in their tasks stand up, demonstrate, explain, and answer questions to educate people based on desired skills or attributes required for the subject.

For this learning to work properly, it needs to be done by the expert through to the level below, and then the level below becomes the experts and they ultimately teach the ones below them. This way, the same knowledge and skill is passed from person to person in the exact same fashion. The expert certifies to ensure the apprentice can perform it correctly. This is the cascade approach to training.

Sports teams follow this philosophy, as well. From my personal experience of being a former athlete, this resonates with me and it’s how I’ve learned many of my tactics and skills.


In today’s modernized world, we’re trying to create experts to solve all our problems. We tell people that the tasks they do are meaningless. We pit people against each other with the “Us vs. Them” mentality. We provide handouts and presentations, and if people pass the test, they’re considered to have been trained. Instructors have no connection to the group they’re teaching. They can only explain theory and cannot directly relate to the class’ concerns. Such trainers have never performed the tasks to truly understand how to teach them or what the environment is like when those tasks are performed.

Despite all the advancements we have made, we are separating and alienating people away from what originally perpetuated the human race. That sense of belonging is a feeling that is important in every aspect of life and gives way to receptiveness, collaboration, and new ideas.

Cascading works in any career position and has allowed us to survive for hundreds of thousands of years with proven results. So why did we abandon this when it comes to the workplace? By using this approach, we can certify that skills have been prop – erly acquired and that they will be used to continue generating the success of a group in the future.

Bobby Moreira is eLearning Training and Development lead at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). He was named a Top 5 Emerging Training Leader by Training magazine in 2016.