One thing the military branches know well is that their people will move in to and out of assignments on a pretty regular basis. I can’t speak for all the branches, but I was impressed with the process that the Army used, and I adopted it to use in the private sector.
The approach is pretty simple and it includes three pieces:
- There is an outgoing incumbent. He or she wants to leave the campsite in good shape upon departure.
- There is an ongoing set of people who have grown accustomed to the incumbent’s style of management and idiosyncrasies. They want to know what to expect from the new person.
- There is the new head of the organization who wants to be able to “hit the ground running” and “know where the land mines are.”
Those three entities have different and similar needs, so along comes a transition meeting to try and address all three. The role of the consultant/facilitator is to orchestrate these three pieces and have the existing organization come out prepared to accomplish its mission more quickly and effectively. With that said, I’ll add that anything that happens leading up to, during or after a transition meeting probably would happen anyway. It just happens faster and hopefully more effectively.
In Preparation for the Transition Meeting
Before the meeting, the facilitator/consultant interviews everyone involved, starting with the outgoing incumbent. Questions are asked: What are the projects that he or she is working on? What is the status of each of those projects? Are there any upcoming deliverables and what are the due dates? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of the staff members? Is there anything else personnel-related that the incoming head needs to be aware of? Any other issues related to the group and its mission that the incoming head needs to know? All this content will be shared with the entire group during the transition meeting, so being descriptive versus evaluative is important. The information shared should not be anything that people have not heard previously.
The consultant/facilitator then does individual interviews with each of the team members. The purpose of the interviews is twofold. First, the facilitator wants to get each team member's input on what is going on in the group, their projects and the people. Second, the facilitator wants to know what, if any, concerns or apprehensions each individual may have about the incoming leader. All of the information from the individual interviews is combined and organized by theme. Sometimes multiple people will say the same thing; in those instances, the “frequency” would be indicated.
The third piece of data collected comes from an interview with the incoming leader. This person talks about his or her background, previous assignments and management philosophy. Part of that philosophy would involve how he or she intends to manage. How and how often he or she wants to be communicated with. What if any concerns he or she has about the assignment. Overall you hope to convey what it is like to work for this person and what people can expect. Again, everything is written down to share during the transition meeting.
The overall meeting can take as little as a few hours or as long as a half a day. The outgoing leader can lead the presentation on the current status of the group from his or her perspective. I have also seen the facilitator lead this section. The rules of the session are that only questions of clarification can get asked. You don’t want to debate things, just understand what is being said by the outgoing leader. Once this piece is over, there is a short break and the outgoing leader leaves the meeting.
The facilitator acknowledges that a transition has occurred. The incoming leader begins to assume command. Typically the facilitator goes through the background information and talks about how the new leader wants to lead and interact with the group. Once again, only questions of clarification are allowed. This is a good session, as people begin to ask questions and the way forward begins to unfold. You might capture some agreements that people want noted for the record.
There is typically another break and then the consolidated group information is presented. The new leader gets to understand the status of operations from his people’s perspective. The new leader gets to respond to concerns. Again, this is usually a rich discussion with agreements made and next steps identified.
All the information discussed is produced and disseminated to all participants. The group usually has a social event like a meal, although this can vary. Invariably, almost to a person, participants will indicate that this process will accelerate the orientation/indoctrination period by six months.
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