More than ever, our companies need to train and develop our employees and managers. In this effort, we have spent countless billions of dollars on seminars, executive education, and speakers. The results, alas, have been underwhelming.

The dirty little secret is this: Done right, we can best train and develop our team on the job for free.

Problems With Solutions

First of all, we need to require employees who recognize a problem to offer a solution. By having our employees first talk through their proposed solution, they can be guided to see the problem from a broader perspective and think through the positives and negatives of their ideas. If their solution is appropriate, we can simply approve it without further comment.

The employees can then implement their solution, leading to greater ownership and accountability. During this process, we can further assess employee thinking patterns and perspective, gaining insight into potential blind spots or challenges—areas for further discussion and coaching.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

On our teams, we should have individual employees become experts on some specific area important to the overall team.

Consider the example of a team trying to improve safety performance in an operation. In this case, one person could be the forklift safety expert, a second the hazardous materials expert, a third the personal protective equipment expert and a fourth the overhead crane expert.

It then becomes each individual’s job to fully understand that specific area and to coach and train team members in that particular area. As a result, our employees are learning from one another. In addition, each of our employees is enhancing his or her specialized knowledge and communication skills.

Take a Vacation

The Germans are known for their ample vacation time. In the summer, many executives will take a two- to four-week vacation. To accommodate this, each executive may have a stellvertreter. A stellvertreter (literally, “taking the place of another”) assumes the role of the executive for the time he or she is on vacation. Of course, the executive’s boss is there overseeing the stellvertreter. But still, the stellvertreter has a two- to four-week test run, during which he or she is responsible and accountable for doing the work of the boss and sees the world through the boss’ eyes.

Let’s apply this to our companies. By taking a two-week vacation (leaving the laptop and smartphone behind), we can recharge our batteries and see how our direct reports perform without our presence. This gives our teams trial-by-fire training, further accountability, and usually a great sense of accomplishment that they can steer the ship while the captain is on shore leave.

By using these three simple methods, we can train and develop our employees and managers to make bigger decisions, think more broadly and take further accountability, at a total cost of zero dollars.