5 steps to ensure smooth transitions when teams change

A firm corporate structure, proper planning, and standard operating procedures can help facilitate project hand-offs amid changes to teams.

In every team and organisation, employee turnover is inevitable. Managers and often entire teams may receive new assignments, transfer to different departments, or leave the organisation for new opportunities. When that happens, it's time to hand over the projects they've been working on for months or even years.

Creating positive project hand-off experiences is important for both the short- and the long-term success of new management, employees, and their organisations.

Here are ways to make staffing changes a winning opportunity for all.

Plan for a hand-off before change occurs. All businesses harbour a wealth of institutional knowledge accumulated over their lifespan. Forward-thinking executives will put systems in place to maintain that knowledge base and make it available to all employees, said Steven Sacks, CPA (inactive), CGMA, US-based owner of Solutions to Results LLC, a consultancy that specialises in helping individuals, firms, and organisations communicate with clarity and purpose.

"From job descriptions to strategic plans, processes, and even passwords, it's important to keep everything up to date," Sacks said. "No matter how diligent you think you are about creating an environment for smooth transitions, there are always some bumps along the way."

Thorough preparation will help you navigate the rough waters before transitions even occur, Sacks added.

Define staff roles. When facing the challenge of handing a project off, it helps to identify the specific responsibilities of those on your team. Implementing the RACI model will bring structure, clarity, and focus to the process of transitioning projects or initiatives, said James Keeling, FCMA, CGMA, founder and director of JGK Financial Management, a consultancy in Hertfordshire, UK.

RACI is the acronym for "responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed". This matrix defines the roles of an ideal project management team, which include individuals directly responsible for completing tasks associated with the project hand-off, those who are accountable for the successful completion of the hand-off, someone in a consulting role to provide expert advice, and someone on the outside, such as the leader of the new team, who needs to stay apprised of the progress made.

"RACI provides a concrete and intentional framework that facilitates a smooth transition and hand-off by defining who [has] which role," Keeling said. "This avoids confusion and keeps the individual team members focused on the tasks they are [allocated]."

Document everything and share knowledge. No matter how diligent you think you are around creating an environment for smooth transitions, you can always do better. It all starts with developing a strong plan, allowing enough time for thorough preparation, and creating an effective scheme for documentation.

"The person stepping into your shoes needs the project information recorded clearly, concisely, and in an accessible format," Sacks said.

A checklist of processes, procedures, inventories, and other key information will help ensure everything is in place when a project transitions to a new team or more significant changes are in the works.

Along with effective documentation, teams must be willing to share the collected information.

"Communicating and sharing knowledge are critical components of a smooth transition," Sacks said. "The best ways to share information are at scheduled project meetings, performing simple briefings at the beginning or end of each day, or by placing information and memos on your company [shared] drive and giving everyone access."

Develop standard operating procedures. Whether written up in numbered steps or in a narrative format, standard operating procedures are only effective if they are clearly written and based on input from the entire team. This ensures that projects will remain consistent and predictable with little interruption when teams hand them off, Keeling said.

"When you create standard operating procedures, it is essential to keep them updated and adhere to them," he said. "I've seen people who go to great lengths to create these procedures, but then they don't do it that way in practice."

And when work teams change their procedures, they should document what has changed and why it has changed, so those who take over can see that a process was updated and understand the reasons it was changed, he added.

"As long as the fundamentals and procedures are sound before handover, the new team can adapt them in support of any change in the business model after the transition occurs," Keeling said.

Stay agile. Always stand at the ready and be prepared to pivot when necessary, Keeling said.

"Your team may be going down one path when suddenly they come to a hard stop and need to pivot," he said. "Staying agile will help when the time comes to hand over the projects you've been working on and move on to something else."

Having a structure in place that facilitates agility across the entire company will help transitions go smoothly.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at