Four questions team members can ask when a colleague is planning to transition out

Often, people move on to a way of life and a role that suits their plans and ambitions, but the effects of the pandemic may have made such personnel changes more frequent than before. More importantly, a transition during this time can make it harder to find a replacement. Gad Levanon, from the economic think tank The Conference Board, predicts that labour shortages could rise in 2022.

The easy answer in such a situation might be to get all team members to share the load as a stop-gap arrangement. However, Winny Shen, associate professor of organisation studies at York University, Toronto, cautions against the long term effects: “While co-workers feel obligated to help one another, they’re more likely to have more contempt for their organisation, reach a breaking point, and leave.”

What’s the solution? A bit of smart work and mindful action from all stakeholders can make the process of transitioning faster, easier, and less exhausting. Here’s how each stakeholder can benefit by asking, and acting on, some vital questions.

  • The line manager

The departure of a skilled employee can affect the delivery of planned work. But how can the line manager handle this, particularly when finding a replacement may take longer than anticipated? This question might help you think out of the box and share ideas that work.

Can flexible arrangements be made to retain this person in the same or different capacity?

Rishad Tobaccowala, author and business consultant, discusses different ways to retain seasoned employees in the workforce and suggests bringing them in as fractionalized employees who spend a part of their time consistently with the organization. This format can also work for employees who wish to focus on other aspects of their lives like child care, senior care, or college, while also enjoying a sense of career fulfilment and job security.

  • The co-worker

As the co-worker of a departing employee, you are likely to be most familiar with your colleague’s work. Perhaps you might want to pick up the slack to ease the burden on the team till a new recruit is found. But this should not be at the cost of your physical and mental well-being. For this reason, the next question is essential.

How can I share the load without taxing myself?

Breaking down your own role and the tasks you are taking on and prioritising them through the Eisenhower matrix is the first step to answering this question. You can see which tasks may be urgent enough to be completed by you and which ones can wait for your colleague’s replacement. You can also break down your role in terms of complexity. The more routine and administrative tasks could be done by a virtual assistant. Alternatively, an online tool could reduce the time taken on certain tasks. Either way, let your manager know if you find options to lighten the load for yourself and the rest of the team.

  • The junior team member

The transition of a manager or mentor can be a difficult period for you, especially if you have gotten used to a certain management style and a specific way of assessing work. But you can address this concern and create opportunities for you to step up, with the following question.

How do I level up when I’m short on guidance?

Knowledge transfer documents are important — they act like process playbooks that help you do the job well. But beyond that, request for guidance and mentorship sessions before your manager moves on. This will equip you to deal with work situations independently if the need arises later. You may also want to ask your manager to be your mentor even after the transition or find the right mentor through online mentoring platforms — organisation-agnostic learning could fuel your growth.

  • The HR manager

For most recruiters, onboarding the right person is limited by many factors, such as job complexity, available candidates, scheduling difficulties, and notice periods. However, besides recruiting faster or shortlisting candidates in anticipation of roles that might open up, considering this question could throw up some innovative solutions.

Who else can fill the gap while I hire?

If there is excess capacity in another team at the moment, can they loan a resource to the team that is losing a member? Can a skilled intern or an experienced consultant join the team for a short time, till the position is filled? A holistic view of the firm’s current capacity and an understanding of the roles within the organization can help answer these questions and perhaps find a creative solution to help plug the gap.

Above all else, every stakeholder in the transition process must be mindful that the team and organization structure are fluid and flexible. The right person for the job might be a subordinate who is ready to step into his manager’s shoes. The management may decide to make the department flatter by doing away with the role. The transitioning employee may stay in a limited capacity and still add tremendous value. Anything is possible when everyone remains open to the opportunities a transition brings.

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