How to Handle a Team Member's Unexpected Departure

Bill Onion
March 21, 2018 | 10:30 AM

What to Do When a Team Member Leaves Unexpectedly

unexpected departure.pngSo, a key member of your team turned in their notice today. Maybe they are moving to another company, or maybe they won the lottery; either way, you now have a crucial role to fill. So, what should you do first? Then what? What about that big project? First, and most importantly: don’t panic. This isn’t the first or last time something like this will happen. Here are our tips for surviving this transition.

The Awkward Conversations

It can be uncomfortable to talk about, but the first real decision you have to make is whether or not your team member gets to stay for two weeks or if today is their last day. A lot of this will depend on the relationship you have with them and the nature of their departure, as well as company policy. This is a very big and very important decision, and there's no right or wrong answer - but a decision has to be made immediately.

Another tough decision is figuring out when to announce the departure to the rest of the company. Best practice says to be completely open about what is transpiring because once one person knows, everyone will know. Some companies choose to wait until the end of the two weeks, but we recommend announcing the news on the day that they make their decision. It’s always better to be in control of the information upfront.  


With those decisions out of the way, you need to make sure you have all of your documentation in place. If you don’t currently use a ticketing system, the outgoing team member needs to document all open tasks. They also need to document all of their daily tasks, whether they are open issues or not.

Next, their credentials for every business-critical system they have access to need to be documented if you don’t already have them. This should be part of an overall Disaster Recovery plan, assuming you have one. If not, now is a good time to get started on that.

Finally, work together to document a transition plan. Be sure to fill in very specific plans of who needs to be involved when including the HR Department. Keep in mind that there will be security concerns with someone at this level leaving the company, so do your due diligence upfront to make sure you have everything covered.


Now it’s time to gather your support team to make sure that this transition goes as smoothly as possible. First, see if your outgoing team member is open to some kind of extended, part-time support role. This will be on a case-by-case basis, but it can only help to have them as a resource going forward.

Next, pause all of the projects they are currently working on if you can. That way you can focus on the transition, fill in gaps in documentation, and find some stopgap support for those projects until you find a replacement.

The Exit

Finally, work as hard as you can to make this as graceful an exit as possible. People leave companies, but it’s not unheard of for someone to come back as well. Try not to burn any unnecessary bridges, because you never know when you may cross paths with someone again, especially in the tech industry.

How to Prepare for a Team Member’s Departure

Now that we’ve discussed what can be done in the aftermath in order to keep things moving, there are a few things you should have prepared at all times that could make a future team member's departure or transition easier.  

Create a Succession Plan

One thing we encourage all of our customers to have in place at all times is an updated Succession Plan. If your IT Director put in their two weeks’ notice tomorrow, do you know who would fill that role? Having a documented plan for who moves to what position in the event of someone leaving will remove a lot of the initial panic when the time comes.

Have an Established Ticketing System

Not only will this help in the event that a staff member leaves, but it will make everyday processes easier. Establishing a ticketing system to use for all projects will keep everyone in tune with the overall progress of a project, whether they are directly involved or not. If a key team member leaves, the rest of the team will be able to reference the project tickets to keep things on track.

Encourage Cross-Training

We get it; everyone is busy and they don’t have time to take on additional tasks that don’t even directly affect their responsibilities. But cross-training in different departments of your organization, or even just on other processes within the same department, can be a huge help when someone leaves. You’ll have a bigger pool of resources to pull from to pick up the slack until a full-time replacement is found. 

Additionally, this helps team members get a better idea of how other aspects of the organization work, potentially leading to more understanding and tolerance for business processes from start to finish.

Credentials Process

One of the tricky things that we’ve seen happen when someone leaves is the discovery that the person who left was the only admin of a program, or they were the only ones with the appropriate credentials. Trying to get that information after someone has left can be time-consuming, not to mention awkward. If your organization has a credential documentation process, that information is available to those who need it.

A team member’s sudden departure doesn’t have to be a crisis. It’s unfortunate, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Having these processes in place before someone leaves will make their exit much easier on the rest of the team.

Is your team in panic mode because someone left and you weren't prepared? Contact our team to pick up the slack. 

Turn to Briteskies to extend your team. Let's work together!

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