Just as our relationships may last for a “reason, season, or a lifetime,” the duration of teams can span from several weeks to several years. Many articles have been written about what it takes to form and maintain a high-performing team. Among the most notable of these articles is “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” in which Bruce Tuckman created the concept of “forming, storming, norming, and performing” to describe the path teams take to high performance. However, not as much attention has been given to addressing transition, such as changes in a team’s membership, an alteration in strategic direction, or completion of a project. Tuckman later added adjournment, describing the disengagement phase, to his model of team development.

For teams within and across organizations that are working to transform systems in ways that are socially equitable, economically inclusive, and environmentally sustainable, it can be tempting to treat team transition as a speed bump on the journey to greater impact. This is understandable particularly when team members are being pulled in multiple directions, they are managing limited resources, and there is urgency to demonstrate tangible results. At the same time, helping team members navigate transition, whether it involves a significant change or comes to an end, can help everyone be prepared for what comes next.



In this article, I describe steps for navigating team transition based on my experience working with multi-stakeholder collaborative groups that are advancing social, economic, and environmental sustainability. It’s important to note that navigating team transition doesn’t have to be an especially lengthy process. Depending on the scope and composition of your team as well as how time together is utilized, discussing the transition process and what these changes mean for the team and its members could take place within a 60-90 minute meeting.

Step 1: Acknowledge when a transition is underway and decide how you will help team members navigate this process

I was fortunate in having one of the best team experiences of my career. At the time, I led a remote team that convened leaders from across an industry to collectively innovate solutions to a challenge that was both complex and urgent. After a while, the time came for me to move on to other opportunities. Fortunately, I had time to prepare for this change in which the team would continue its work with a new leader.

An important part of this process was coming up with a plan for managing my departure from the team to ensure a smooth transition. The plan included helping to onboard the new leader and handover of my responsibilities, adjustments to work processes, communicating this transition to my team members and external partners, and sharing institutional knowledge I had developed, such as providing access to my notes and emails.

Step 2: Provide space for the team to process the transition

When a transition occurs it’s important for team members to discuss how these changes affect the team’s day-to-day work and the impact on members’ relationships. For the team I worked with, we had separate meetings to discuss immediate reactions to the transition when it was introduced, review changes to team operations to ensure a smooth transition and share experiences of working together to help bring about closure. Openly discussing the practicalities of this transition, along with emotional responses to this change, contributed to a smoother exit for me and a sense of closure for all of us

In helping your team make sense of changes that are happening, some questions that can be helpful to ask are:

  • What do we need to be aware of as the transition process moves forward?
  • What, if any, new opportunities do you see emerging?
  • How might we take better care of ourselves and each other in the midst of change?

During the transition process, it’s important to keep in mind that people respond to change differently. Team members may experience different emotions or even a mix of emotions, like sadness about the loss of a relationship, irritation about a change in routine, fear about what will happen in the future, or excitement about a new opportunity.

It’s also helpful for team members to reflect on what the team has accomplished as well as the experiences they had. Some ideas are to invite team members to post on a physical or virtual white board examples of team accomplishments, show appreciation for one another in a meeting or on a kudos board, and share stories of team experiences as a way to identify and build upon successful practices.

Step 3: Make and implement agreements for how the team will handle the transition

Depending on the type of team transition underway and the pace at which it is unfolding, it may be necessary to have a plan that details key steps in the transition process along with a timeline, deliverables, deadlines, and resources for carrying it out. Another option is to create a list of action items with clear assignments and deadlines. Regardless of what approach is used, it’s important for team members and other key people involved to be aware of how the transition process is taking place and what they can expect moving forward.

In working with your team to carry out a transition, some questions that can be helpful to ask are:

  • What does the transition process look like for us and others involved?
  • How will we communicate these changes? To whom and when?
  • How will we ensure that the transition process stays on track?
  • What lessons learned from this experience will we take forward in our work?

It was easier for me to leave knowing that my colleagues were prepared to take the work forward without me. Although I felt sadness in leaving a team that had achieved positive results as well as members I enjoyed working with, I also felt joy in sharing what this experience meant to me. In my farewell email, I shared ‘gifts’ I received from each team member which was a description of what I learned from working with them.

When your ‘season of transition’ comes, how will you help your team navigate this process, bring about closure, and be prepared for what comes next?

Kimberley Jutze is an organization development practitioner, social activist, and founder of Shifting Patterns Consulting, which helps social impact organizations, networks, and other multi-stakeholder collaborative groups increase their productivity, member engagement, and access to funding. You can follow her on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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