This is honestly one of the hardest things to do. Personally, I find that the week to a month after a termination, I'm more separated from my team than I am at almost any other time. Regardless of how much everyone knows that the person needed to go, there's a time of feeling separation between the team and the manager, because 99% of the time, it was the manager who had to make the final call and take responsibility for the process.
1 - Accept the Grief
Grief is grief. You can't really fix it, but you can accept it, empathize with it and let it pass. It's justifiable. Just because you know someone is not doing work that is up to par, you can still like the person, and miss having them around. Don't discard that - it's the sign of caring people.
If you feel genuine (seriously, this is not a time to try faking it), join in. I've had to let go of people I genuinely liked and I'm able to admit that it may be hypocritical, but there are things I miss about them.
If not, if everyone else is grieving - sometimes silence is golden. Let the grieving happen for a short while (it just has to feel right - a day? a week? - how long did most people know the leaving person?), then get the team focused on work and something good.
2 - Be respectful
Different companies will have different norms, but usually the general is a lot safer than the details. Depending how much drama has ensued or how much terror is present, you may need to do some public speaking. Things to emphasize:
- you don't take this lightly - it was a very hard decision
- no one will be subject to abrupt and unwarned termination unless they commit a gross violation of company policy or the law (yes, committing armed robbery will get you fired on the spot, slacking a day on a document delivery? probably not)
- it was in your opinion more fair to let the person go than to keep them - it was the best and last resort for team health
- there was more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Details are not a topic for public discussion. It's the golden rule - would you want your employee assessments discussed publicly? probably not. The same respect holds, even for terminated employees.
Make yourself available for private discussions. Let it be known publicly. If you know people who were particularly close to the individual, reach out if possible and offer to lend an ear or answer questions. Avoid venting about the person - even privately - but do listen to concerns and do your best to soothe the fears. This can be easier one on one because you can share your faith and respect for the person you are talking to in a more direct 1-on-1 way than you could in a public setting. Not everyone will want to sign up for this, and it really can't be forced, but when it occurs, take it as a blessing to build a stronger tie with the people who continue to do good work.
This is a time when the tradeoff between public and private speaking is key. Public information sent to everyone gives the reassurance that there is common information and something everyone can count on. Private speech backs up that declaration, staying consistent but giving people individualized feedback that may be more relevant to them (whether they are good performers or need to change some behavior). But keeping the information consistent is crucial.
For me, it comes down to showing that you have respect - respect for following company policy, respect in giving people feedback that is both candid and private, respect for the rest of the team both making sure that team work is divided (and paid for in salaries) fairly, and that the team gets the best talented, dedicated, and helpful individuals that you can find. That respect outweighs the horrible part of having to let someone go.
3 - Focus on Work
People on good, thriving teams, generally like the work. Either they like the work itself or they like doing the work with their team members. Or (ideally) both - so focus on the work. What do we need to do? What gaps are left behind (a nice segway from grief)? What's next?
Give some time before the work is about finding a new team member. It's like a little death - you can't just plug and play (and who on your team would want to think that it's possible to do so?) Give it a bit. Even if you have to start working with recruiting, and talking to candidates... let the team rest for a week or two.
When you do open up and talk about the next team member, focus on the gaps in the team not the hole left by the lost team member. Frequently, a loss can be a gain in that you find a better combination of skills and personality traits that you hadn't ever had before. Collect thoughts about that as you refine the new job with your team. Having the idea of open possibilities is uplifting.
4 - What about that relief?
You're on your own. Sorry.
My theory is that the relief is most strongly tied to those who had to go through the manager side of the termination process. You're the one with the control, and the responsibility... and the relief. For you it was a decision and a painful, painful activity. For everyone else, it felt fairly uncontrolled. A "good" firing (if such exists) is one where the private details stay private, and the person leaves with as much dignity as possible. But that leaves a team asking why the person left when there was no fighting, no blame or any sign of negativity -- because all the hard parts were never seen, heard or felt.
I have had the joy of sharing my relief at an awful process finally completed when among the other managers who had to help with the termination (at least in a big company, this is never a one man job). But this is the moment when unless the person is an absolutely terrifying negative impact, the team will be grieving while you will be limp (or elated) with relief at it finally being over.
Just like you had to bear the brunt of feedback sessions, warnings, and formal organizational paperwork when you would rather have been making something joyful and working with your generally awesome team - now you will have to celebrate your lack of tension privately. Try to store it up. Take a family member or friend out for dinner and a movie. Vent outside the office. Spend a little extra time doing something fun you love doing. Let the relief charge parts of your life that were being drained by the stress of the office.