I've found myself leaving teams that I have bonded with twice in my life, and it hurt badly on both occasions. I've always treated team members as coworkers rather than employees, and over the years we had built a "brother/sister" relationship. Telling coworkers that I was leaving wasn't easy.
I didn't handle everything as well as I would have liked, but there's plenty to learn from what I did correctly, and what I would do differently next time.
Nothing is more important than communication. You have to tell your employees what's going on as soon as possible, ideally just after you have told your superiors. The management at my company needed time to plan for the transition, so I held off notifying my team longer than I would have liked after giving notice. This ended up being a mistake, as coworkers noticed that I seemed to have checked out. Once I was leaving, it didn't make sense to get actively involved in every new project, but my coworkers didn't know why I was cutting back. It looked as if I didn't care anymore, which wasn't true.
Tell them everything
Think about your departure through the eyes of your coworkers. They're typically most concerned about how such changes will impact their jobs. While you're ecstatic about your new gig, don't be surprised when your employees don't seem happy for you -- their own livelihood is foremost in their minds.
Before breaking the news to my employees, I thought a lot about how life might change for them. What would the succession look like? How would this impact the agency's culture, workflow and day-to-day operations? What opportunities might this create for them? I made sure that I had good, honest answers to questions like these -- even if it wasn't always what they wanted to hear. Sharing the good and the bad helped them feel more comfortable that there wasn't another shoe about to drop.
Relationships don't end when you leave
Your relationship with coworkers need not end on the day you walk out the door. Even if you've moved to a competing agency (I didn't), social media tools make it easy to reach out to former coworkers informally, without them having to feel put on the defensive. Facebook and Google+ have proven invaluable in allowing me to be there for former employees when they needed me, even after I was gone. An open relationship with prior coworkers also makes it easier to ask for the e-mail address, name or password that you've inevitably forgotten or left behind. The leadership team that replaces you isn't an enemy. Meet, chat and review with them as much as you can prior to leaving. For me, this was a time to be open and honest about what works, what doesn't, and what they should be prepared for to successfully lead a team I had built. If they listened, this was a last opportunity for me to help make a things right by my coworkers.
Leaving my coworkers was one of the toughest things that I've had to do in my career. I did my best to be honest and communicative about the future. I've never burnt a bridge, and I'm certain for many of us, our paths will cross again. Goodbye is rarely final.
Next post: Making a great entrance.