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Building Team Unity After a Layoff

In the wake of a termination, it can be hard for managers to rebuild team unity. You may have to deal with an individual termination, or with a layoff. Unfortunately, nowadays with the incredible financial, business, and competitive pressures on organizations, large-scale layoffs are a fact of life. Downsizing, rightsizing, ventilating the organization, and migrating the skill set are all phrases that senior executives use to describe employee layoffs.

Whatever euphemism is used, these actions are traumatic, not only for the friends and colleagues losing their livelihood but also to those left behind. Your remaining team members now have to continue to deliver, wondering how their workload will be affected, and perhaps fearing that they’ll be next to go. In these situations, productivity can easily slip and you may be at risk of losing more key personnel.

In this article, we offer practical guidance on steps you should take to manage your team after a termination.


Steps to Take After a Layoff

1. Communicate Immediately

First and foremost, get ahead of the rumors. Bring your team together and explain exactly what happened — and what will happen. If this is a layoff of multiple employees, perhaps company-wide, explain why the action was taken. In most layoffs, you will have guidance from management or HR about what is to be communicated.

2. Communicate Honestly

Your team will certainly be anxious — concerned for themselves and probably their former teammate(s). Now is not the time to issue Pollyannaish statements about team unity and spirit — that probably won’t go over well. Instead, acknowledge that together you’ll be facing the loss of workplace friends. Recognize that there’ll be an impact on the team’s work. Tell them what you can about future plans for your team and the organization. Encourage the team to talk about the impact and to contribute ideas on the way forward.

3. Be Realistic about Work Impact

Layoffs are drastically different than individual terminations. With an individual termination, the work impact can often be handled by reconfiguration of team responsibilities. Tasks and responsibilities can be picked up temporarily by other team members. Layoffs have a more permanent feel — even if they aren’t. While you may know how you want to reassign the work, it’s a good tactic to ask the team for their input. You may even ask one or more team members to recommend how to do it.

Frequently, layoffs are about reducing costs and/or increasing productivity. If there’s a significant reduction in team size, be careful what you say. Don’t say, “Of course, with a smaller team we’ll have to prioritize what we work on,” unless you really mean it.

If your boss expects you to meet the same deliverables with fewer people, then tell your team. They may not like what they hear, but they’re more likely to trust and follow you when they understand the expectations.

4. Touch Base with Key Personnel

Tell your team that your door is open to them — assuming that you have a door of course. When terminations occur, there’s always a risk that your star performers will re-consider their positions. Headhunters are always on the prowl during layoffs, and they’re likely targeting your high-achieving survivors, not the people that you let go!

Set up a schedule to visit with every team member individually. That way, you can touch base with all the employees who are critical to your success. Assure them of their value and importance to the team and make sure that they are in a positive frame-of-mind.

5. Be Available and Lead By Example

As you and the team come to grips with the new reality, it is important that you lead. Be front and center with all discussions on work reassignment. Be sure to be visible, accessible, positive, and show your appreciation of the team’s efforts.

Hopefully, you’re already an active manager who interacts daily with their team. If not, this is a good time to start doing it. Make a habit to stop by each team member’s workstation on a regular basis. Find out how they are coping with any additional work they have picked up as a result of the reorganization. Be ready to offer suggestions, answer questions, and share any guidance you can. Be sure to recognize the team members who are going above and beyond your expectations. Express your appreciation for their contributions to the team.

Do something nice for the team. Maybe bring them coffee and donuts in the morning or pizza at lunchtime. Perhaps you could take them out to lunch if your budget and organization rules allow.


Wrapping Up

Layoffs are difficult, not just for the frontline employees, but also for the CIOs, managers, and team leads who have to make the hard decision to terminate. If you are in this position, we hope that this post has given you some practical advice that will help as you work to rebuild trust and team unity.



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