Shedding Teammates

Published: April 22, 2020

Human Resources departments call it a workforce reduction. Describing the termination of a job as a lay off softens the blow. Getting furloughed suggests there might be a chance to return. Whatever the reason and however it is named, subtracting teammates alters the ecosystem. Because change is a form of loss, times like these move painfully through the classic stages of grief.

Losses accrue over the course of a lifespan. We do our best to cope in the moment, but life’s demands usually force us into a new normal before we’ve had a chance to fully process the impact of change. Any unresolved feelings get delivered to the future. 

Unless managed, the consequences of loss are cumulative. New losses stir up unresolved issues from previous ones. When this happens, the emotional response is likely to feel larger than its cause. All the feelings swept under the rug come roaring back.

The Kubler-Ross model (1969) was designed to help manage death and dying. The same principles apply to our reaction to losing a job or losing a teammate. The same principles apply to losing the ability to earn a living or support a family. The same principles apply to losing a nest egg that took a lifetime to build. When significant loss of any type occurs, we go through predictable stages.

Denial: The shock of disbelief convinces us there is some kind of mistake. Somehow, this can’t be happening.

Anger: Reality strikes and the unfairness of the circumstances screams, “Why me?”

Bargaining: We scramble to negotiate a better outcome. 

Depression: Despair settles in. This is real and it hurts. Whatever the future may bring is not yet visible because all coping resources have moved into a protective mode. 

Acceptance: We eventually embrace the inevitable future. The experience of pain gradually gives way to problem-solving. The new normal begins to take shape. 

Someone always has it worse. Finding perspective is a coping skill. In the Team Clock model, we reference the Distancing stage where teammates take a step back, heal, refuel and then step back in with renewed energy and a fresh viewpoint. That’s when the reinvestment begins. That’s when teammates come back together. That’s when new problems generate new solutions and teams find ways to innovate. 

All teams travel in cycles and the experience of change and loss is a time-limited stage. While it feels personal, pervasive and permanent, it’s usually neither. Things happen beyond our control. Changes rarely impact everything. Nothing is forever.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.