Conducting an exit interview is something not talked a lot about. In fact, most of the technical people I follow, don't have an account conducting an exit interview, how did they seperate from the group after spending a long time. Often, I have often found people's account who leave the company, and the different challenges that they had, and seperate thoughts which made it difficult for them to continue.

One of the hardest decisions to make 🥲.

I got to experience some glimpse of the other side of the table, when your team-mates are not that interested in creating value, or are finding it difficult to have similar values.

I am talking in the context of KOSS, one of the college groups that I am in, and promotes OSS in IIT Kharagpur. We have had our set of challenges, and the very nature of challenges made me feel, how a small company/startup would feel, while offboarding teammates. Note that, this might not hold true for a big company, as I don't have a formal experience of working with one more than a year. I decided to document some of the learnings/observations, while conducting exit interviews, and why we had to take such a drastic step.

I think, it would be an interesting read for my future self, when I would be going through my blogs, as this problem would continue to be one of the hardest challenges, to have an answer to.

Why do you need to offboard members?

This is one of the most paramount questions, that you should ask before taking this drastic step. It is important to have numerous instances to disprove your thesis of why a person needs to offboarded before you do; but at the same time, you would need to be quick on your feet to minimise the damage, it would create to have an uninterested team-mate.

Having objective analysis - finding out what was wrong altogether

Doing an objective analysis of the team-mates is difficult; one of the best way is to have an one-on-one call with the members you want to offboard. The most important thing is to make sure, you clarify their personal goals, and what was the expectation they had while joining your organization. It is important to capture/note-down the very reasons they had, while they joined you; this provides you with feedback of how they perceive the organization, and the high hopes they had while joining the team. It also helps you evaluate, what were the promises that were made/assumed, and how did the team realistically delivered.

It is also important to ask them about the reality that happened, after they joined. This gives us the compare and contrast, and helps to distill on the specific events, that made the experience of the team-mate not that much enjoyable. They get to revisit the expectations they had set, and how they were able to achieve them. The priorities of people change often, so it is often natural to assume, that people might switch things, and put the contributions on the back-seat. Especially in college, it is natural for people to join different societies and leave to remain in the ones which they like the most.

Accountability and Responsibility

Being dilligent has nothing to do with skill; people often can perform their duties as they are expected to do so, while not being technically sound. This holds more truth in our case, as we have a higher role of managerial/logistics duty, than technical. Turning up to the event is a testimony of their interest; you find working with you team as a committment to the team members, and how you value each other's contributions. It becomes difficult, if people start de-valuing the contributions, and people sort of break into groups which have similar interests. Try to get an idea of how much they are invested in the people, and how much accountable they are in times of crisis.

How you should go about offboarding

Offboarding a team-mate is a very tricky part. I personally haven't found a graceful way of parting with a team member, although you can make this event a valuable experience for both of you. It is important to make the offboarded member realise, how they fit into the scheme of things. Every individual has the freedom to pursue things they want in life in their own way; it is important to inform them if the don't align with the same things that both of you want. An example of this would be, explaining how a field of interest for a person who is working with a community, is different from the goals of the community. That does not make the person a bad one; it's just that the priorities of the life are different for both. Life is too short, and having clear cut priorities is one of the underrated skills of an individual, and makes them a valuable asset in whatever field they are. However, if the priorities/vision are not aligned, then it makes sense to part ways gracefully, while expressing all the accolades they brought, and the positive aura they got an opportunity to make with the community, if they made one.

Life is too short, and having clear cut priorities is one of the underrated skills of an individual, and makes them a valuable asset in whatever field they are.

Communication is of paramount importance, and it is important that we have an exit interview for the same. I am in college as I am writing this, and an ideal scenario would be to have a close/face-to-face one-on-one with the offboarded members. It might be one of the most awkward moments, but if you are able to clearly express the thoughts as to why you would need to part ways with the member, and if you are able to convince them about the shortcomings of the way they are not a good fit, it creates a mutual parting decision, and a silver lining to one of the most difficult decisions.

My Experience with Exit Interviews

I was a part of the governor team at KOSS, where we were responsible in devising the high-level idea of how should the club should function; taking decisions on the vision of the club, and making sure all the people at KOSS love the things that they are doing, while making sure they themselves are having a healthy learning curve.

After working for most of the college time with the club(5 years which is the total duration of my college course :P), I realised the need to keep a lean team, and making sure we have a team of highly functional individuals, who understand the work at hand, and would love to use creativity for extending/working on the goals of KOSS. What I observed that, we had a large number of people in the executives, who were responsible for making sure that the society was functional; handling day to day tasks, and assigning them to respective people. We also conduct KWoC, which requires fair bit of technical know-how for conducting it successfully. But many people were not interested in taking up responsibilities, and taking mentorship as one of the fiduciary duties. We have a freshers batch who are matched with executives, who work as a role model for them, and help them navigate their experience with KOSS.

Mentorship was one of the most important aspect of KOSS; unlike other societies, we pride ourselves in having a close touch with every individuals, and make sure that we are always there when they need us. Contrary to the above, we had many individuals, who were disinterested in conducting their responsibilities, and had been very out of sync of the things happening at KOSS. They were also very less frequent with communication, and that made it difficult for other team members to depend on them. This also affected the freshers who looked to the mentors for guidance :(

Once this was escalated by many people, the governors decided to ponder about this problem, and find out how to solve this. This was a difficult problem to solve, and getting rid of people doesn't set a good precedence on the current set of people who are at KOSS. We(me, Shivam, Taapas and some others) brainstormed with some seniors, to find out a graceful solution. I personally liked the aspect of having an exit interview for people whom we are onboarding, and although it was not the way we intended to execute, it was a novel thought of being transparent while offboarding team members.

We had numerous discussions in slack, and we transparently discussed with the current executives(who were not offboarded). Many agreed with relieving few people of the duties, to their interest and different priorities, and raised concerns with a few members who should be retained. We heard the ones who were dilligent, and gave a high weightage while deciding the offboarded members. It is important to be transparent and involve people who would be affected.

I personally had one-on-one calls with half the people, and trust me it was one of the most difficult interviews I had to take. Surprisingly, I found out that most of the people were understanding of decision, and many did accept the varied reasons as to why they were not involved with KOSS; some were burned out of the many internships and courses they had; some were interested in pursuing the field of interest orthogonal to KOSS's goals; some were outright not interested in working with the current set of people(this batch of people made me sad, about the recruitment strategy we have).

Overall, I felt satisfied after conducting the exit interviews, it gave me a chance to revisit the decision, and gave a face to all of the data we had for each individual. Story speaks more than data, and as I found, people had a different aspirations, which made a lot of sense; I might have made the same decision had I been in their place. I got to revisit a few decision, which I am happy to do, because now they are renewed with interest with KOSS, and the only reason they were inactive, was due to poor communication.