Q: A colleague left our company suddenly, leaving her work in disarray and the team upset. As the team lead, how do I handle this to prevent issues both internally and externally?
Diana, 40, program manager
A: Keep your cool, pick up the pieces, and be sure to have open communication.
It's frustrating when these things happen. And, while it's understandable that people are upset, it's a stage that needs to get addressed quickly so the work can be at the center of your attention.
With that in mind, talk to the team members, let them vent, and then ask them to move forward. Be sure to find an outlet for yourself so that you're also prepared to move on.
Develop a clear view of the situation. Inventory her work, including all of the projects and tasks that were on her plate. Also include the internal and external people who are affected. Sometimes apparent disarray can just reflect a different work style. Transition still may not be easy, but it could be less of a disaster than you fear. And, if it is bad, you'll know the details and be ready to make action plans.
Now spend time with the team members focusing on solutions, turning to them as partners so that they'll be invested in next steps. Determine the amount of effort each item will require, and prioritize them based on urgency to your company or your external client. Then assess who can best take them on. Be creative. There may be others in your company that you can enlist so that your team doesn't take the full burden.
Assess the assignments in the context of people's existing work. In order to keep quality of work high and to help restore morale, don't just pile on. What can be deferred from existing workloads? Are there items that can be taken off the list for good?
With plans in place, get in touch with each person affected by this staffing change. Communicate calmly and do not overshare. There's no value in sharing your stress! Instead, let folks know their new contact person and the plan for addressing their needs. If possible, reach out by phone so you can judge their response in real time and adjust the plan if needed.
Once you've gotten through the crisis stage, determine your long-term solution. Will the position be refilled? If so, use this as an opportunity to consider whether you want a new team member with the same skills or if your needs have changed. If not, debrief on what worked well, what could have been better, and let staff have a voice in allocating the extra work across the team.
Finally, find time for individual and team stress relief. A team lunch with the afternoon off could be a good gesture once the workload wouldn't add stress. Or consider a treat in the office and some flex time off.
Be sure your team members know that they're appreciated and make sure your customers know you're on top of things, and you'll get through this challenging situation.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.