Sooner or later in your career you will need to move to a new team for a variety of reasons. Additional responsibilities, new challenges, internal reorganizations. Most probably, you will need to do this multiple times in your career. The more gracefully you handle this, the better the overall results will be. And by gracefully I mean that you need to leave your old team in order, close down the professional relationships that you build in way that shows mutual respect.
In this article you will learn a few of the things that I do when I am joining a new team. I have also tried the burn the bridges technique and I must admit it has its applications, but I prefer the graceful way.
Time to read
Time to read: 10 minutes (based on 150 words per minute).
Have you ever felt panic when you realized that you have a few weeks to transition your responsibilities before joining your new team? These two, three, four, maybe more weeks can feel overwhelming. You own a lot of stuff and a lot of people count on you and your mindset is gradually shifting to the new team, the new responsibilities, and the new challenges. There is a certain moment in time when you need to lose the attachment to the old and start increasing your attachment to the new team. Call it the tipping point if you will.
My answer to all this is that in the current fast-paced environment you need to be preparing your departure from day 1. In the last decade we have seen the need to redefine your career, your skills, and your profession multiple times. So I think it makes sense to start thinking about departure as soon as you arrive. In this article I will cover my tips and tricks that start way before the actual transition to the new team all the way to the first few weeks on the new team.
Before we dive in, I want to cover a few principles and mindsets that could prevent you from thinking about the transition correctly.
First of all, attachment. We attach to things this is our greatest strength and sometimes our greatest weakness. Attachment is what makes us human beings who establish relationships. And it also makes us stick to the status quo and miss an opportunity. And while not opportunities are great, never taking any opportunity is the worst way you can let life pass by.
You are not as valuable for your old team as you think you are. I am sure you have seen over and over again key people leaving an organization and the organization moving on almost without a bump. After all, this is why you build them. If you let your ego swell it will sooner or later fill everything and leave nothing else.
We are creatures of habit and our brains try to automate most of your days. This is a great feature, because it leaves us brain power of the important decisions. But it can also make thing harder when you have to document all the habits that make you do a good job, before you leave for your new team.
The benefit of this article it that you will learn to be careful with you attachments and evaluate them. To keep your ego in check on your way up, on your way down, and on your way out. And to create the habit of documenting and externalizing your habits.
How can you prepare your transition?
While you are comfortably working in your current team, you should be preparing your exit. I call this automating yourself out of your job.
Step 1: Document everything
An organization exists to serve a specific purpose. Amazon is the most customer-centric company. Apple challenges the status quo. Microsoft brings PCs to every desk. You can fill in as many of these as you want. And an organization generates organizational knowledge. Documents, databases, presentations, emails, even tribal knowledge. This is why when a person leaves a role this usually does not devastate the team or an organization.
All the time you need to be contributing to this organizational knowledge. Summarize successful initiatives that you lead and distill your steps into principals or tenets. Capture the processes that you follow on paper so that you can examine them objectively, but also prepare them for your successor. Store every document that you generate in a shared location. Contribute to team knowledge (wiki pages, project trackers, etc.)
Step 2: Automate as much as possible
I am definitely not a techno-fob and I am looking forward for that these times but sooner or later most of the currently existing jobs will be automated or performed better by software and/or hardware. This is why our brains invented habits thousands (or millions?) of years ago. A habit is just an automated behavior.
Now we have a whole arsenal of tools that help us automate stuff. Reminders, schedulers, and all sorts of things. Use automate and share everything that you accomplish. On one hand, this will make your job easier and you will be able to set your mind on tasks that are not yet automated. But on the other hand, you will be preparing your role for somebody else (e.g., more junior) so that they can also add their ideas to the automation.
Step 3: Organize what you use
All the docs and automation in the world will be useless if people cannot find them. There are roughly two ways to achieve that: by relying on search and by relying on a hierarchy. I am personally better at hierarchical organization but there is overwhelming evidence that searching is more efficient.
This is why what woks for me is a hybrid of both. I have high-level folders per year and per topic (e.g., business docs, tech docs, reports, etc.) And inside these folders I leave all documents and I only append the date on which I received the document to the filename. My brain is good at remembering the rough month/quarter when it read something.
How can you execute your transition to your new team?
Enough with the prep work. The time has come, the clock is ticking and you need to start actually doing everything.
Step 4: Create a transition document
You can start with a document (wiki page, Word doc, note) where you start describing:
- Areas of ownership: Who will be the new owner and where can they find information?
- Processes that you follow: This will be useful both for your current org, but probably also for the new one.
- Action items: A list of tasks to accomplish before you leave. Or to transition to your successor during to ramp up faster.
- Resources: A list of resources (all the work in the previous steps) for the whole team to tap into.
- Relationships: A list of people with whom you work most of all.
Step 5: Notify your colleagues
Hopefully you direct manager already knows and now you need to start letting people know. Most of all, please, be positive. Don’t babble about the challenges your current team is facing, but be forward looking. If you can mention the opportunities you are going into. Let everybody know that you are leaving your areas of ownership in good hands. Assure them that you have thought about a lot of things.
Step 6: Start ramping up
I understand that this only adds up to the things on your plate, but hopefully you have done a good job documenting. Reach out to your new team (especially if this is an internal transfer) and start ramping up. There is nothing better than being fully ramped up on your first day. This step will be harder if your new team is external.
How can you finalize your transition?
Once again, this step will be more difficult if you are leaving the organization or the company.
Step 7: Stay engaged
Obviously, you interests now lie with your new team. But you can still be engaged with your old team. Keep following their high-level communication. Be there for them if they have post-transition questions. Even keep in touch with them. You’ve probably spent months and years with these people.
Step 8: Stop taking action items
And last but not least, you need to sever the ties when you need to do work for your old team. I have seen so many people fail at this (including myself) that I wanted to stress this out. Of course, it may be easier for you to keeping doing XYZ. But the more energy you dedicate to the past, the less energy you have for the present. At some point you need to fully dedicate to your new role. The best time for this is your day 1.
If you want to learn more about embracing change click here: The Habit of Embracing Change.
Moving to a new team can be stressful, while it should be exciting. Moving on can feel sad and overwhelming, while it should feel easy. If you do your job with the idea that you might need to transition some day and f you plan carefully when this happens, a move to a new team can be a very pleasant experience.
What are the next steps?
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