In every company, and in larger companies, every department and location, there are key players who make the company work. They might be the boss who sets a clear vision, they might be the admin who goes above and beyond, they might be social butterfly who knows everyone. Whoever they are, they are the ones that keep the team working. And when any of them leaves, the dynamic of the team changes. Not always for the worst, but there is always a period of adjustment.
Sometimes however, several of them leave in quick succession, like canaries at the coalface. Or maybe they just stop doing what makes them effective, new directives from above, too busy on chargeable time, or something else. Suddenly the team starts jarring, and you don’t necessarily know why, because you haven’t seen what they’ve been doing behind the scenes. But if you feel that tide, you’ll know everyones getting their CVs ready, either to jump up or to jump out.
If you don’t know who your canaries are, keep a lookout, because apart from the leadership team, there’s likely a few you haven’t noticed. Who is really pulling the strings? Who goes above and beyond? Who seems to turn up in unexpected places? Who is the person people turn to when things go wrong or they need advice? Don’t go looking for the people who surround themselves in lights, who have a Heart of Gold and want you to know it. Look for those who are looking out for people who are invisible. Who is kind to the cats?
But equally, be wary of the teams where the canaries don’t get a chance to be found because something else gets in the way. The teams heavily populated by graduates, or men, beyond the industry norms. If toxicity is bred into the culture, the fatal warnings are much harder to spot. Toxic culture shields egos and protects the status quo, weeding out dissent even when that dissent is essential for the survival of the team.
Know who you are working with.