How to Handle a Departure 🚪
Practical guidance about communication and how to behave with the rest of your team.
One month ago, Joel asked an important question in the Refactoring community:
This week a client of mine said that a key member of their team was leaving their company and asked for advice on how to share this news within their company.
What guidance would you offer someone in this situation? What pitfalls would you tell them to look out for?
What came after was a deep exchange where several members shared stories and advice, which I am happy to quote throughout the article.
As a manager, the way you handle the departure of a key member makes a big difference:
🌧️ Bad communication — can destroy morale and lead to more quitting.
☀️ Good communication — can turn this into a moment of retrospective and bonding, and even create a more cohesive team.
To get to the latter, you have a set of goals to accomplish — some towards the member who is leaving, and others towards the rest of the team.
About the member who leaves, you want to:
🍻 Keep a good relationship — tech is a small world and it’s never wise to burn bridges. You can surprisingly heal a lot of broken relationships during the exit phases, and leave in good spirits even your worst enemies.
📚 Learn from the experience — why are they leaving? You need to figure out the real reasons, 1) because they will tell others, and 2) to do better in the future.
About the rest of the team, you want to:
🏅 Display your standing — people will scrutinize the way you treat the person who leaves, and how you own problems. People on the team likely know more than you think, and often even more than you do. They expect you to speak and act with maturity.
🔍 Clarify what comes next — key departures always bring problems about filling gaps, carrying work forward, and more. People expect you to address this.
Also, what if you are the one who’s leaving? How can you make all of this easier for your manager and the rest of your team?
More than ever, this edition is the result of a roundtable with so many community members. Whenever possible, I will quote them verbatim. I will also share five real-world stories of people who handled their departure gracefully, step-by-step.
Let’s dive in!