Someone, or perhaps more than one person, is soon to be leaving your team. Perhaps the reason is as simple as part of a project is ending and the team needs to be reduced in size. Or perhaps it’s more complex and involves a long-standing dispute resulting in a partner deciding to leave, or being forced to leave. There are as many reasons for people leaving teams as there are teams; it’s a normal feature of any workplace. And … it can be one of the most complex issues a team ever has to deal with.
Any workplace separation involves more than just signing agreements and getting the security pass turned in. For a smooth separation process, team leadership must address not only the person leaving but those who remain behind.
Based on our conflict advisory work with clients in the throes of workplace separation, we offer this short guide for those concerned about sustaining their workplace culture and performance during and after a separation. We’ll pose questions to be considered, and outline a simple starting process to achieve results that will support everyone. This is not a legal guide; rather some important guidelines to support your most precious resource - your talent.
Breaking up is hard to do: supporting the people who are left behind
Being proactive about setting the stage to ensure a successful, cohesive, high-performing team after someone leaves is critical. Answering the following questions will help you gain a deeper awareness of exactly what is happening and how you can give stronger support for those who remain.
Questions to consider:
1. How will you now that you have been successful at this transition as a team?
2. Messaging about the separation:
A. What is the agreed-upon story/message? Who needs to agree on this message?
B. How much does the remaining team need to know about why the person(s) is leaving?
Are there things that the remaining team shouldn’t know?
C. How transparent will/can you be about the cause of the separation? Why?
D. Does this departing person hold a special place in the team that demands special
attention be paid to perceptions among others inside and outside the team?
3. How much effort is the departing person willing to put into communicating to the team(s)?
Does that person need help? If so, who will help him/her?
4. How will the agreed-upon story/message be told, and by whom and when?
A. Will the separation be hidden, announced broadly, etc.….?
B. Does this same story/message work with outsiders to the team? Investors? Vendors?
5. Are there direct reports/colleagues/friends of the departing person who need special
attention? Who are they and how should they be worked with?
6. Given the organizational/team culture, what are the actions that must be taken to keep the
remaining team feeling and performing well?
7. What are the roles and responsibilities the departing team member filled? Will there be an
organized and voluntary handover of these functions? If so, what are the steps to making the
transition successful? If not, what the steps to making the transition successful?
8. Would an exit interview be valuable? If so, who should perform the interview?
1. Have an open discussion about as many of the above items that make sense to talk about.
2. Have one person outline a DRAFT plan that answers as many of the questions above as
3. Review the draft, edit, solidify, and set an action plan(s) with dates.
4. If the relationship between the person leaving and the balance of the team is contentious,
consider having an outside-the-team facilitator to help with the process.
Let’s circle back to the first question: “How will you know that you have been successful at this transition as a team?” Your thorough and thoughtful response will drive a successful separation experience.
Workplace separation happens... and it’s easier to just let it blow over and “move on.” But these are sensitive, complex events that can make or break an organization. The hard part is facing the music for yourself and the sake of the team, but the outcomes are more than worth the effort.
About The Author
Mark Batson Baril is a Conflict advisor and the Founder of Resologics. Resologics provides services to organizational teams that enhance their abilities to work with conflict. Resologics fully engages with each team to understand their needs and the opportunities for boosting team performance. Through a modularized approach, a unique engagement plan surfaces that is an ideal match to each team.