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Handing the Team Over To a New Manager

Peter Fedoročko

Director of Engineering at Workday

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Problem

When a company is growing rapidly, the number of people on your team grows too. Soon you will be overwhelmed with too many direct reports and will have to promote someone to a manager. At that point, you will have to step out, hand over your team to someone else; however, you will have to ensure the operational continuity and that the new manager-employees relationship will remain successful.

Actions taken

The process of transitioning a team over to a new manager consists of three phases and each should be approached most carefully.

  • In the pre-handover phase, you should enable the complete and seamless transfer of operational and personnel knowledge before a new manager starts working with the team. Also, during this phase, you should explain to members of your former team that you didn’t abandon them and that they would continue to follow the processes and procedures that you have established. Be aware that for many members of your former team this could be a stressful and risky situation that requires an additional understanding of their concerns and insecurities.
  • The handover phase itself should be as short as possible. You would want to avoid any of the extremes -- don’t make the transition too long, so that you end up entangled in micromanaging, but don’t make it too short either, so that it looks like you have discarded the team. As short as possible from my experience translates numerically to at most two meetings with a new manager where you are taking the lead and introducing a new manager. You should publicly announce that it would be your last meeting and that a new person would take it over from there. Once you do that, you shouldn’t show up at meetings, you should cancel all one-on-ones and most importantly, you should send a very clear message to a new manager that you wouldn’t be watching over, stepping in or micromanaging. Employees should be crystal clear who is responsible for what and have zero doubts whom to approach when having an issue.
  • The post-handover phase is in essence a wrap-up phase. You should check in with your former employees how they were feeling about the transition if the continuum was secured, how they were feeling about a new person -- but do so from a distance. If you would notice that a manager had a hard time with some things, schedule a one-on-one with him, instead of meddling in front of employees.

The biggest challenge for me was the challenge of acceptance. There were always some people who were more reluctant to accept a new manager for a number of reasons -- it was not a good decision, they were afraid of the transition, etc. They would often close up and act defensively and this is something a former manager could handle much better.

The other challenge was how do you make sure that a new manager has the knowledge on par with the former manager. The team would be operating within a matrix of expectations of what their manager knew and how s/he could help and they could be easily demotivated if they would get the impression that a new manager is unable to decide on things, come up with solutions, understand their problems in the same vein as a former manager.

Lessons learned

  • Be transparent to the team about the upcoming changes that include bringing in a new manager. Avoid ambiguity of any kind; instead be clear about the process -- You will have a new manager, I hired that person, x will be your new manager.
  • Be present and available but for the shortest reasonable period of time. Avoid the confusion about who is responsible for what and who is in charge.

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Peter Fedoročko

Director of Engineering at Workday


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