Your Role On a Winning Team
Heather Bradley, CPCC, and Miriam Bamberger Grogan, CPCC, are the co-founders of The Flourishing Company, a workplace consulting firm which changes the way people experience work. They are the authors of Judge For Yourself: Clarity, Choice, and Action in Your Legal Career, published by the American Bar Association in cooperation with MCCA®. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
For many years, competition was king. Success was a function not only of objective achievement, but also of achievement in comparison to, if not at the expense of, others.
As the role of an attorney has shifted from one of advice dispenser to one of business advisor, a lawyer's ability to work collaboratively with colleagues is becoming more critical. MCCA® research shows CEOs expect their lawyers to lead internal and external cross-functional, solutions-oriented teams.1
Whether they are non-lawyers in business units or corporate attorneys, users of legal services are sophisticated and can sense tension among team members. Busy clients have no time to manage egos. If clients do not receive the service they need, they will cut the legal team out of the process, either by firing uncooperative outside counsel or simply excluding in-house counsel from the planning and decision-making process. In short, successful lawyers looking to be good colleagues ask, "What is best for the client?" not, "How does this affect me?"
Competition as a Catalyst
Competition is invigorating for many attorneys, and snuffing it out entirely cheats clients out of the best efforts of those attorneys.
Properly directed, competitive spirit can promote collaboration among colleagues. For competition to be useful, team members must shift the focus from one of internal comparison to external outcome. To borrow a phrase, competition is useful when it promotes "win-win" versus "win-lose."
One Fortune 500 manufacturing company, Owens Corning, has initiated a company-wide plan to improve organizational and individual performance. Each department, including legal, is required to set performance goals, and overall progress is measured using an independent external measurement tool. Manage ment periodically publishes all departments' scores, taking advantage of the inherent rivalry to achieve organization-wide goals. In fact, the law department's collaborative style has driven it to the top, and it is the number one department in the company according to these metrics.
Law firm Dickstein Shapiro LLP capitalized on its lawyers' competitive nature to increase participation in its diversity efforts. "We included diversity as a factor in partner compensation this year," explains Elaine Arabatzis, the firm's diversity/pro bono counsel. "Some partners received a bonus, and others did not. Of course, that caused people to ask, 'Why didn't I get it?' and start to change their behavior—which is exactly what we wanted. In effect, the competition to make more money helped advance our overall goal."
Collaboration: More than Lip Service
Since client focus and collaboration are "hot," many law departments and firms have adopted the mantra, yet have not changed their behavior. Organizations that have adopted a collaborative approach, rather than simply pay lip service to it, share particular best practices:
Commitment from the Top
A major cultural change requires commitment from the top. Senior leaders explain the business case for collaborating and spell out their new expectations. They repeat the message early and often and make certain all systems support the new way of doing business.
Collaborative organizations communicate openly, often, and in a variety of formats. In addition to top management talking about the importance of collaboration, teamwork is fostered by doing it. Sharing all information on a project keeps everyone up-to-date on sudden or subtle shifts. Management reports on department, firm, or organizational priorities help keep individuals aware of the big picture and loyal to the team. Transparency from the top promotes communication throughout the chain. In turn, management and supervising attorneys become aware of and can address potential problems before they mushroom into large headaches.
Recognition and Reward
An organization committed to collaboration aligns reward systems to promote this desired behavior.
"We give bonuses to the best teams, not to individuals competing over a client," says Iris Jones, client services advisor at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP. "Each client service team completes a report detailing how it has worked together. For example, has the team met regularly? Does it have an action plan? How have responsibilities been assigned? What are the team's short-, mid- and long-term goals? What has the team done to sustain the relationship with the client in the future? The compensation committee takes all of this into account when making bonus decisions."
While it does not replace financial incentives, the best organizations champion teamwork with intrinsic rewards; for example, the Fortune 500 company mentioned above that publishes team scores.
Collaborative organizations understand the need to properly prepare attorneys to meet these new expectations. They invest the time and resources to support new success through formal training, individual coaching, and team coaching. Teamwork not only helps an organization meet its internal goals, it can also be a competitive advantage, helping a business stand out in a crowded field. In fact, one corporate law department intended to use several firms to handle a matter, but it was so impressed with one firm's collaborative approach, it asked that firm to handle the work exclusively.
Some organizational cultures foster competition while others promote a collegial work atmosphere. Some individual attorneys are competitive by nature while others prefer teamwork. In recent years, the profession as a whole has promoted working individually and competitively ("eat what you kill"). The Flourishing ProcessTM can help you build more collegial relationships to better serve your shared clients.
D&B Brief-Free Teleclass
Would being more collaborative boost your career?
If you answered "yes!", this class is for you. Join us for a fun-filled hour to learn some of the secrets of balancing competitive spirit with collaborative style for professional success.
Date & Time: Wednesday, December 6, 2006 at 4:00- 5:00 p.m. (eastern time)
The teleclass is free, but you must register in advance. Register online at www.mcca.com.
Would you like free individual coaching? We are looking for volunteers to participate in this teleclass. Volunteers must work in a corporate law department or a firm. If you are interested in volunteering, please send an email with your name and telephone number to info@TheFlourishingCompany.com.
We will consider all responses in the order received, and we will contact you if you are selected.
The Flourishing Process™
What does the client need?
How can we best serve the client?
Happy clients lead to a healthy bottom line. What does the client want to be different from working with you and your team? Clarify the client's objectives, so you and your colleagues are working toward the same goal. Focusing on the client allows individual interests to fade in importance.
Once you know the client's desired outcomes, ask yourself: How can we best provide the service? What assignments will best leverage each person's strengths and abilities? Is the team balanced? Are there gaps you need to fill?
Finally, be honest with yourself. As you approach each team interaction, are you focused on what is best for the client or the impact on you and your career?
What do I need to choose to work more collegially?
Based on the client's needs, and the best use of the team's collective talent, what choices do you need to make? You may choose to stop comparing yourself to other attorneys on the team, since comparing may distract you from providing the best service to the client. You may choose to be the "hero," putting client and team needs above your personal career management needs for a time. These can be tough choices. For example, when positioning yourself for advancement conflicts with the best way to serve the client, it may be difficult, but necessary, to "take one for the team."
- Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 7 Powerful Tools for Life and Work by Marilee G. Adams
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
- Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box by Arbinger Institute
What will you do?
To be more of a colleague than a competitor, take the following steps:
- Get to know your fellow team members. Try to have lunch or at least a one-on-one conversation with each team member. The team will function more smoothly as you and your colleagues learn how best to work with each other.
- Keep the lines of communication open. For example, include all team members on group emails, so everyone remains current on shifts in client needs and project status.
- Ask for input from the all group members and explain the decision-making process. Even if you make the final decision, soliciting and valuing others' opinions will promote a team spirit.
- Take credit for your individual contributions as well as leveraging the team's success.
Most people want to be part of a winning team. Working together, rather than against one another, will help you win the business competition.
- See Creating Pathways to Diversity: From Lawyer to Business Partner: Career Advancement in Corporate Law Departments.
From the November/December 2006 issue of Diversity & The Bar®