Managing Time Off with a Deep Team Roster

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It’s inevitable that there will be times when key members of your team will take some time off. As much as we would love for our key team members to always be available, we all need time to step away from work to prevent burnout, refresh our minds, or take care of personal situations.

One drawback, however, is that the rest of the team can be deprived of a large chunk of knowledge and manpower during this period. In many cases, having a bigger team can at least help reduce the loss of labor and leaves you with an almost “full” roster. While more numbers are good, it is vital that teams develop a “deep” team roster to effectively handle time where members of the team are unavailable.

My experience

To give an example of what I mean by a “deep” team roster, my team was recently put in a position where one of our Product Managers was out on parental leave. Being a Product Analyst on the same part of our product, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to step in and essentially act as interim Product Manager during this time.

I had not had much experience being a Product Manager, so this was a pretty daunting task to take on. I had attended many calls with our Product Managers, so I had at least gained a secondhand experience with much of the work and the meetings that they took part in. Seeing and actually doing the work are two very different things though, so I had no idea how this would turn out.

What I did not realize is that I had gained much of the vital Product Management knowledge in only a year since starting at Tasktop. When meeting and working with partners, customers, and my own colleagues at Tasktop, I was capable of answering most questions and making decisions regarding our product.

My previous work experience, and secondhand experience with the Product Managers, gave me a good foundation to confidently do what was asked of me. And for situations where I wasn’t fully confident on a decision or answer, other team members could fill in the blanks needed to make the call in these situations. I was not alone during this time due to my whole team having the full knowledge necessary to fill the void of our unavailable Product Manager.

This was my inspiration to write this piece because I realized that my team not only had the numbers and manpower to make the team feel “full” while our key team member was out, but we also had a “deep” pool of knowledge where there were no major gaps among the whole team despite being down a key team member. Our dedication to empowering and growing every team member made this possible.

How to build a deep team roster

My recommendation is that you should make an effort to disseminate knowledge across the whole team to enable team flexibility and balance. You never know when situations will arise where your key team members need to take some time off, and you should put your team in a position where a time like this doesn’t hinder productivity or chances of being successful. I’ll leave you with some examples of what you can do to help build a “deep” team roster:

  • Cross-team collaboration in meetings and on projects
  • Knowledge sharing sessions with the whole team
  • Establish contingency plans of which you can practice (more details about this in my colleague Trevor Bruner’s blog post Why we need to talk about contingency plans in software development 
  • Spread responsibilities among the whole team
  • Communicate with the whole team when answers aren’t readily available, you may be surprised with who can help provide an answer

Time off should be something to rejoice in, as it helps prevent burnout and ensures your team can stay highly productive over time. Taking the time to build a “deep” team roster will pay off by allowing the rest of the team to handle these situations confidently. And for the team members who take time off, they can truly get the most of this time knowing that they have left their work in good hands.