Q: A manager on my team has moved on to a different company. We have a very cohesive group; what can I do to minimize the disruption from his departure and maintain the team's strength?
A: Don't hide from the emotions, and let other team members show their strengths.
The inner game
Deal with your own feelings first. When a team is running smoothly, a loss like this can be hard to take. Take some deep breaths and focus inwardly until you're feeling calm. You likely have a mix of emotions on behalf of your employee — while you may be happy for him for the new opportunity, you are probably sad, too, and possibly angry. These are all honest responses, so take some time to acknowledge them.
Shift your focus to your team. Consider the reactions they may be having, individual by individual, and the type of support each will need during the transition. Keep in mind that, like you, they will have a wide range of reactions. Give particular thought to the needs of people who reported to this manager.
You'll also need to determine your strategy for replacing this person and ensuring that the team's work gets done. Evaluate your team's strengths, and use this as a chance to make changes and build on your current success.
Finally, stop and think about why your team is strong and cohesive. What is the culture, and what is the role of each person in creating it? What do you bring? The departing manager? Each team member?
The outer game
Your team is affected as a whole, so address the situation as a whole. Set up a team meeting to talk about the change, and the challenges and opportunities that come from it. It's important to let people express concerns openly and have them validated. At the same time, you'll want to convey a clear sense of optimism; people will follow the leadership message you send. Talk, too, about your understanding of your team's culture and the priority you place on nurturing it.
It's also important to take decisive action on hiring decisions. If this presents a realistic opportunity to promote from within the team, that will help with continuity and sends a message of growth potential. It can also add a level of challenge for the new manager — that's a topic for another column. If it's more appropriate to hire from outside the team, then you'll need to prepare yourself and the team to help the new manager with the inevitable learning curve.
This isn't a "one and done" situation; you'll want to check in with people over the next few weeks and months to be sure that the team is rebounding from the change so that you can address any issues as they come up.
You'll also need support, because your workload during the transitional period will inevitably be greater. Make a plan to manage that, getting support from your boss and colleagues, and ensure that you have sufficient stress management activities underway.
The last word
Changes can be hard, but you can lead through this one to maintain the strength of your team.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.