I’ve managed many teams over the years, and it’s hard to think of a worse feeling when one of the stars of your team tells you they’re going to leave the organisation. Over many teams, and many years, this has happened more times than I would like. To some extent it’s inevitable, and sometimes I recognise it isn’t entirely a surprise (regular one-to-ones should offer a clue to a team member’s current thinking and feelings), but when that person is a great contributor then coupled with the question of “What could I have done differently?” there is the inevitable, “What am I going to do now?”
But while it’s always painful I’ve come to recognise that localised crises like that present new and unexpected opportunities. In particular, I am often surprised and delighted when other team members use the opportunity to take on more responsibility and demonstrate skills I (and perhaps they) had previously overlooked. I remember losing a great tester, who was highly skilled at manual testing, and when they left their team realised they relied on them too much, and started automating more. I remember losing a great architect only to find someone else who naturally picked up the responsibility of technical vision for the team, and showed impressive communication skills. On more than one occasion I’ve lost a wonderful team lead, and found their replacement from within the team quickly blossoms, showing previously-hidden leadership qualities and a welcome freshness of approach.
These all feel like a crisis at the time, but as my hair gets greyer I realise the world doesn’t implode and life goes on. More importantly I’ve learned that problems create opportunities—they force us to do things we wouldn’t have contemplated previously. These open up new possibilities, which in turn gives us new routes to exploit.