Passing the Baton When You Have That New Job

A knowledge transfer session is the least-sought-after activity in a project. The intention is to get rid of your current responsibility and move on, no matter what mess you leave behind. But, while watching a relay race, Rinku Sahay realized how crucial it is to have a successful “pass.”

I was watching a relay race recently. A relay is where members of a team take turns to perform and complete a certain action or activity. In a relay race, one team member passes a baton to another until it reaches the last member, which concludes the race. You could say this is kind of like the waterfall/sequential model. Member two can start only when he successfully receives the baton from member one, and so forth. It is sheer teamwork with perfect coordination and timing. 

As I watched the race, the importance of trust and a good transition process sank in. What does it mean when we talk about good “teamwork”? As I read more about these relays, I was to learn how the coordination happens and how the racers take little details into consideration. The transfer in these relays is also known as a “blind handoff.” 

The following quotes are from the Wikipedia entry for the 4 x 100-meter relay

Transferring of the baton in this race is typically blind. The outgoing runner reaches a straight arm backwards when they enter the changeover box or when the incoming runner makes a verbal signal. 

It’s not one person who is responsible for a successful  “pass.” Both parties have to show equal preparedness, alertness, and initiative on reaching the defined phase for the transition to start and successfully end. 

The outgoing runner does not look backwards, and it is the responsibility of the incoming runner to thrust the baton into the outstretched hand and not let go until the outgoing runner takes hold of it. 

The higher responsibility should for obvious reasons lie with the incoming runner—the person doing the handing over. He needs to have a plan in place with a list of items to be transferred and a defined schedule. He knows best what needs to be dictated and what does not, the tricks of the trade, and the minor details. And, he should only let go or declare the transition complete when he feels that the outgoing runner has got a good understanding of the subject and has all his queries and clarifications answered. 

Polished handovers can compensate for a lack of basic speed to some extent, and disqualification for dropping the baton or failing to transfer it within the box is common, even at the highest level. 

Say there were ten action items to be completed in a span of five days. Owing to some other deadlines, you are only at the eighth item and it’s already the fifth day. But, so far, you have ensured that the transition has been thorough enough that even if you only brief the other person on the remaining two items (considering the time crunch), he’d be able to pick it from there. 

So, even if you cannot execute the handover as planned, taking care of the quality could compensate for the time crunch. 

In spite of all the preparation, there could always be scope of error or involved risks that might lead to a missed pass:

    • Maybe the incoming runner did not give clear verbal signals.
    • Maybe the outgoing runner did not stretch his arms enough to reach the baton.
    • Maybe the changeover box wasn’t defined well enough.
    • Maybe the pass happened outside the changeover box.
    • Maybe the incoming runner let go even before the outgoing runner had a good grip of it 

Interesting, isn't it? But, it’s not quite simple to perform as it is to read about it. It takes a lot of practice to “pass the baton” without any disqualifications. 

We often overlook the little details. The transition phase for us may seem like just another activity on the list toward getting rid of your current responsibility and moving on. But, it’s worth giving more consideration to a handoff. A lot can depend on how smoothly the transition goes.

About the author

CMCrossroads is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.