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Helping your team through closure

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Use this page to help you consider how to lead and support your team through closure. It gives you ideas for how to help people through the emotional and practical process of closure.

Closing an organisation is as much an emotional process as a legal one. Most people working in voluntary organisations believe in the value of their work. This means the decision to close an organisation can often surface strong emotions and may result in stress for those involved.

Good leadership, clear communication and providing the appropriate support to staff and volunteers are key ingredients in ensuring a smooth process.

The carrying out closure checklist gives you practical steps and links to further information. 

Supporting your team through closure 

When closing an organisation, your duty of care to staff, volunteers and beneficiaries should be at the top of any closure plans.  

It is important to remember that staff and volunteers will have to cope with feelings of loss and uncertainty about their future. At the start of any closure process, it is important to set up and share specific channels that offer support.  These may include: 

  • regular team catch-ups
  • line management support and supervision 
  • one-to-one peer support 
  • support offered by an employee assisted programme such as counselling
  • support offered by a relevant Trade Union (if your organisation has one) 
  • signposting and support to other pro-bono advice for example employment advice. You may want to look at our HR trusted suppliers.  

Redundancies may be an inevitable part of closing your organisation. Providing staff with the appropriate support and information about the process and their rights can help to manage feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.    

Leading an organisation through closure 

Closing an organisation will require courage and commitment from an organisation’s leadership. Those leading the process will need to: 

Work well as a team

Closing a voluntary organisation will require trustees and the executive, be they paid staff or volunteers, to work well together. This will mean having a shared understanding of who is responsible for doing what and when. Trustees, staff and volunteers may have to take on different and or additional roles to normal. 

To help manage expectations it is important that everyone is honest and realistic about how much they can do and when. Trustees need to be aware of when they are taking on an operational role and consider how this may impact lines of accountability.

Depending on the complexity of your organisation, you will need to address a number of issues in closing your organisation.  Take the time to support those leading the process, to understand what is involved. Don’t assume that everyone knows about the administrative process and understands the legal framework.

  • To understand tasks you may need to complete to close well, visit our page on planning for closure.

During times of stress, people may behave differently to normal and this can impact how your team works together. For example, individuals may become irritable, indecisive and/or inflexible.  

In order to reduce the impact of these behaviours on your team, it may be helpful to agree a code of conduct. You may already have one place which you can refer to. This will set out what behaviours you expect from each other and may set out how you plan to resolve any conflict. It is often a useful point of reference if disagreements do arise. 

Access the appropriate support 

It is important to recognise that those leading the process will also be affected by the decision to close and will need support too. You should consider at the outset how you are going to support each other and what additional support individuals may require. You need to be mindful of everyone’s feelings and make time to support each other.  

For those leading the process, additional support such as an external mentor may be helpful:

If the chair/chief executive relationship is strong, this will serve the organisation well in the process.  They can offer support to each other and role model appropriate behaviours to others. 

If there are known difficulties in the relationship, it may be worth having a conversation about how these difficulties are going to be managed. The Association of Chairs’ guide ‘A Question of Balance’ can help with this.  

Communicate clearly and consistently with staff and volunteers 

Communication both internally and externally will need to be managed with care and sensitivity. Your messaging needs to be clear and consistent. To help with this, develop a communications plan setting out:

  • your key messages
  • to whom you will need to communicate them
  • by when
  • in what format  
  • by whom.

Initially it is likely that the decision and plans to close will be discussed by only a few key people including trustees and the executive.  However, you will need to plan how and when you communicate your message about closure to other stakeholder groups. For example beneficiaries, funders and partner organisations. 

The format and content of your message to these groups will need to be tailored, based on individual relationships. Remember that this information may be shared more widely so always stick to your key messages even if they are expressed in a different way or level of depth. 

When communicating with staff and or volunteers you need to be clear about why the decision has been made to close. If required, you should be able to provide evidence to support your decision. If you have chosen to close, be clear about why you feel it is in the best interest of your organisation’s purpose.

It can be helpful to remind staff and volunteers that those leading the process have a duty to act in the best interest of the organisation’s purpose, not the institution. It is best to stick to the facts and actively listen to and engage with any feedback.  Be clear about: 

  • what decisions have been made
  • what decisions still need to be made
  • if, when and how staff and volunteers will be consulted on future decisions.  

Be prepared to manage different reactions to the news of closure. For example, some staff and or volunteers may be angry, some may be shocked, and some may feel that they are responsible for this decision.

Acknowledge the emotional impact of the news and provide staff and volunteers with opportunities to talk about their feelings either in a one-to-one or group meeting. Staff and volunteers will inevitably have questions and want reassurance about what this means for them and their future. Where possible, provide reassurance but don’t pretend to have all the answers.  

Prepare for difficult conversations and support your team to manage these  

Trustees, staff and volunteers should be prepared for difficult conversations with other stakeholders and feel able to manage these. Avoiding them out of fear of individual reactions or a lack of confidence, will only make things more difficult to manage as you go through the process.

In managing difficult conversations, things to consider include: 

  • Preparation is key. When informing beneficiaries and partner organisations, consider who may be the best people to share the message and which format is most appropriate. Sometimes an initial phone call or short email which is followed up with details can allow people to process and accept the news. 
  • Give staff and volunteers the opportunity to debrief on their experiences of handling difficult conversations. Individual responses to the news of closure, such as indifference, may be difficult for staff and volunteers to experience. Urge staff and volunteers not to take feedback personally. 
  • It is important to give your team the tools to be able to manage these conversations. They are not easy. Share tips and guidance with your team as appropriate.   

If you feel your team needs support, ACAS offers guidance on challenging conversations.  

Plan your team’s time

Closing a voluntary organisation can be a time consuming task. Even a small organisation may have a number of final tasks to complete before closing. The more complicated your activities, the more diverse the range of activities or services you deliver, and the more relationships you manage, the more time you will need. 

Do not underestimate the time that tasks can take; especially where staff and volunteers may be demotivated by the closure. If you employ staff consider the sequencing of redundancies for different roles. 

Try to build in time for staff to attend job interviews while still in employment or a contingency should they seek an earlier exit. Some volunteers may drift from the organisation or not be willing to vary the tasks you may now need doing. 

Whilst it may feel counter-intuitive, you may want to consider seeking additional volunteer support for the closure process. You may require individuals with more availability or different skills. Or which require a different level of support to any existing volunteer programme. 

Page last edited Oct 09, 2020

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