Coping with the death of a colleague

Mar 31, 2024

Though there’s no roadmap for navigating grief, there are steps leaders can take to manage their own emotions and guide their organization through a tough time.

Can you ever really be prepared for the sudden death of a team member? The shock and disbelief that accompanies this kind of loss is surreal. No amount of company literature or leadership training can equip managers with the effective skills needed for handling this challenge. In many cases, leaders find themselves in the difficult position of trying to support grieving employees while dealing with their own grief and managing the logistics of change.

Our firm recently experienced the unexpected loss of a beloved colleague, Scott Forbes, who was a respected part of our Transportation Team and a mentor to many – both inside Garver and throughout the AEC industry. His death has caused me to pause and reflect on his life, and my own, and on how best to steer a team through a time of individual and collective sorrow.

And though there’s no precise roadmap for navigating grief, I’ve learned that there are some guide signs along the way – steps leaders can take to both manage their own emotions and help navigate their organization through a tough time:

  • Remember that people grieve – and handle stress – differently. As my family can attest, I take solace in physical work, so you’ll find me outside doing that.
  • Be authentic with your team and communicate your own feelings. Acknowledge that the employee’s death has an impact on you personally. As leaders, we need to be the calm in the storm, but we also need to remember that it’s OK to be vulnerable and that vulnerability is its own kind of strength.
  • Communicate information with empathy and clarity to decrease the possibility of rumors or misinformation, build trust, and provide a sense of order going forward.
  • Set and share the expectation that your team will get through this loss over time and offer a positive vision of the future.
  • Extend grace. Offer flexible and reasonable accommodations as people find their new normal.
  • Encourage your employees to take care of themselves, physically and mentally, and to avail themselves of company resources, like counseling and wellness programs.
  • Show up. Even a small gesture – offering a word of kindness, listening, checking in on those who were close to the co-worker – can go a long way.
  • Connect with the family of the person who passed away.
  • Find a way to honor your co-worker and keep their memory alive. Scott’s family established the Scott Forbes Scholarship to support an organization he was passionate about, the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of Women in Transportation Society. To donate to the Scott Forbes Scholarship fund, contact the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of Women in Transportation Society at

Work can be a welcome distraction when you’re grieving, but when the person you’ve lost is a co-worker, it can serve as a painful reminder. Scott was a daily presence in our Frisco office, and I know our people there miss being able to pop in to chat with him or seek his advice. But the workplace can also provide a supportive community when we are grieving a common loss, especially if that workplace already has a culture of connectedness and supportive leadership, which Garver does. 

Brent Schniers is director of transportation for Garver. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.