I help my clients find and hire great team members that not only have the skill set match for a role, but their values are also aligned and they are a great energetic match with the organization.  We develop the relationship with intention.  

So, when things don’t work out and you have to fire a team member, it can feel like a heavy decision.  I’ve included some tips here to navigate this process. 

Preparing for the termination

You’ve been doing regular performance reviews, right? 😉 If you have, you have a record of conversations and specific examples that will confirm your decision to terminate your team member.  If you haven’t been doing this, consider giving your team member 30 days to change their performance before you make the decision to fire them.

Maybe the role is simply no longer needed in the company or you are letting someone go for unethical, illegal, or inappropriate behavior.

Whatever the situation, this will guide your conversation and the terms of the termination.  No matter what the reason, review the contract for the team member and understand the terms for termination in the contract.  

Identify the terms of the termination

You might consider giving the team member advanced notice and the option to work for another 2 weeks or finish a project.  I’ve seen this work nicely in some situations. You will need to use some serious discernment, present this as an option to the team member, and create a really focused plan for their remaining time at your organization. 

Of course, the other option is to terminate effective immediately. In this case you might consider offering severance pay. 

Having the conversation

Now that you are clear on why you are letting this person go and what the terms are for the termination, you are ready to have the conversation. 

The conversation should be short and to the point, no more than 10 minutes:

  • Let them know you are terminating the relationship and a short explanation of why.  For example:  “It’s clear to us that you are struggling to meet the expectations of this role so we have decided our work together is no longer a fit.”  Do not go into a long dialogue or create an opportunity for discussion here.  
  • Let them know if the termination will be effective or give them the option to continue on a focused project until a specific date.  For example:  “We have decided to make this effective immediately.” Or, “We would like to give you the option to complete the XYZ project and work through <date>.” 
  • Let them know that you will follow up in an email and what the next steps are.  For example: “We will give you your final paycheck today.” Or, “We will need to have your decision by tomorrow morning at 9 AM if you would like to continue to work on XYZ project and complete your work with us on <date>.”
  • Let the team member know that you will notify the rest of the team. 
  • Send a follow up email that restates the reason for the termination (in a short statement, just like you delivered in the conversation), and what the terms are.

Other things to consider

If you are giving the team member the option to continue work for a period of time, give them a short deadline – overnight – to let them know your decision.  Don’t ask for their decision on the spot.  It’s best to give them some time to think about this.

Debrief on what happened and if there is anything you could have done differently to support this team member’s development. 

Make sure you notify people who worked with this team member directly. Do this in 1:1 conversations.  You want to be the one delivering this news, not the terminated team member. 

Letting a team member go has an effect on your entire organization. Consider how this is going to impact team morale.  The effect of team member transitions like this aren’t siloed to the terminated team member. This is an organizational change that will impact many people. 

Finally, while this is a heavy topic, I’ve supported many graceful transitions.  I’ve seen relationships end on a positive and supportive note too.  Is there a way that you can bring this intention to the process? 


(I am not an attorney and these tips are only meant to support you in navigating this process but are not meant to protect you legally.  If you are navigating a sensitive situation in the termination process, it’s always a good idea to consult your attorney.)