Lost a team member? Stop and reset

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A few days ago, famous snowboarder Shaun White pulled out of a new and high-profile (largely because he was competing in it) Olympic event. The athlete’s decision to focus on his mainstay event left sportscasters and amateur analysts to debate why he pulled out of the event. Even his potential replacements (and fans) were left scratching their heads, and more than a bit disappointed.

Shaun’s self-removal from an event to which his popularity was elemental calls to mind what can happen on a project team when one of the core members leaves. Sure, the association environment may be warmer, less thrilling, and unwatched by most of the world. But when you’re the project manager or business owner, the impact feels as big.

What happens after “I quit”

One afternoon, I received a distress call from a colleague in a similar, albeit non-Olympian, situation. My colleague is a software vendor who is working with an association implementing an AMS. The vendor alerted the client that a developer on the team had resigned and, consequently, he had to shift resources while they regrouped. He felt the he honored his commitment for transparency and working with client to adjust schedules when necessary – together. The client seemed to take the news well and discussed the temporary changes to the schedule. Fortunately, the client’s launch date is more than a year away, so they are not in middle of launch preparations without a key team member. (Sorry I can’t say the same for the Olympic team!)

A few days later, the client sent a very stern email outlining his concern about the schedule change and possible delays on a series of upcoming deliveries. When the vendor called to discuss the client’s concern, he was unable to come to any agreement and the call ended rather abruptly. The vendor felt very unprepared for the strong message after having an agreeable initial discussion.

I talked with the vendor about the pros and cons for restarting the discussion or letting it rest. In the end, I recommended that he contact his client and acknowledge that he was concerned about changes to the schedule and the technical resource, then schedule time with his client to discuss the change management plan for the project. It may be that the plan needs revision or adjustment to ensure that both the client and vendor have a clear and detailed process to help support future changes that will occur.

What’s the point? You can’t fix everything with one discussion. It is critical to acknowledge when someone is unhappy, without defending your position – it’s not all about you. To restart a delicate discussion, try to find a common area to meet to deconstruct and rebuild one step at a time. This method may not work for Olympians on the precipice of a snowy mountainside, but there’s also less chance of injury, as long as you work together.

 

Flickr photo by Eric Magnuson