Q I have a small team, and it just got smaller due to the sudden departure of one staff member for nonwork- related reasons. Do you have suggestions to help us absorb his workload and maintain our stamina?
A: Do plenty of planning and get support from both inside and outside the team.
The inner game
Start by getting your feet under you — you won't be able to help your team if you're still reeling. Develop a calm outlook toward the future, especially the next month while you're feeling the short-term impact. Notice any strong feelings that may disrupt you, such as anxiety or anger, so that you can keep them from setting the tone.
Develop a vision for successful transition. Focus on the actions your team will have taken, how you'll be feeling, and the outcome after you've made it through the crisis. Use this challenging situation to help you turn into an even more cohesive group.
To achieve your vision, think about the remaining team members, their strengths, and the ways they may have been affected by your team member's departure. Use this to develop preliminary ideas on how to best allocate the work, as well as some "energy-management" strategies.
The outer game
Bring the team together to discuss your preliminary plan and next steps. Acknowledge that everyone is going to have to pick up more work, recognize that it won't be easy for a while, and share whatever you can about plans to fill his position.
Then, take a week at a time, listing everything he was scheduled to do, and dividing it up based on knowledge and capacity. Also develop a coverage plan for ad hoc requests and questions he may have fielded. There may be projects where the team's information is incomplete and documentation is sketchy. Assign these and provide as much time as possible to investigate what needs to be done. Also determine what could be done by temps or contract employees.
Develop a communication plan for your internal and external clients. Minimizing their confusion and disruption will make it easier to keep things moving.
For the "stamina" aspect, address this as a team and individually. Good morale will help, so show appreciation in tangible (gift cards, time off once the crunch is over) and intangible (public or private recognition) ways. Keep your sense of humor, and help your team do the same.
Physical well-being will also make a difference. If you're all working long hours, bring in food, including healthful and "treat" items. Set aside an empty office or conference room where people can rest if needed. Encourage breaks to get away from work and get fresh air, and seek support from friends, family and co-workers outside your team.
The last word
Sudden disruption of the team can create challenges, but planning and looking out for each other will help you come out of it strong.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.