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    April 12th, 2008

    ♫ It’s good for all my people
    it’s good for all my people
    it’s good for all my people
    and it’s good enough for me
    Gimmie that old time religion…♫

    Words and music anonymous, first published by Charles D. Tillman.

    Think of a lawyer and an image of a solo warrior heading off to battle springs to mind. Unfortunately, like most stereotypes, it is increasingly out of touch with reality. Law firms have discovered that to survive and thrive in modern society, they have to reach back to the old-time concept of teams and leaders. Firms have discovered that groups led by effective leaders possessing so-called ‘soft’ skills: coaching, counselling, mentoring, tutoring, and motivating – are much more effective than just groups of lawyers and staff working together. A group of people is not a team. A team comes together for a shared goal or task, such as handling a particular client, a file or area of law. What are the benefits to firms and clients from building teams? First, teams outperform groups, team members support each other’s growth and learning, teams maximize the use of human and other resources, there is continuous improvement and knowledge sharing amongst the team members and the output of a team is synergistic – greater than the sum of the individual parts. Furthermore, teams are willing to push work down, allowing firms to not only mentor and grow juniors, they provide head-room for senior counsel to tackle higher-value work and allow a firm to transition to alternate billing methods – having work competently performed at the lowest cost to the firm while maximizing profitability.

    So how do you evolve from individuals to groups to teams? Here are some suggestions put forward by Donald Clark and others in this area:

    Build the team: The first duty of a leader is to ensure that the foundations for team development have been put into place. This is based on the work by Herzberg on Hygiene and Motivational factors. Any issues lying within the following topics that affect the team must be resolved to the satisfaction of the members in order to take them to the next level: Working conditions, Policies and administrative practices, Salary and Benefits, Supervision, Status, Job security, Fellow workers, Personal life. For example, including someone who for one reason or another will not fit within the dynamics of the team will only frustrate the other members and prevent the team from moving forward. This last factor is so important that elite military teams themselves select their future members from potential recruits.

    Communicate the vision: What is the goal to which you are striving? Let the team members know how each of them plays a role in reaching that goal.

    Be Passionate!: One of the greatest motivators is seeing a leader’s passion to accomplish the goals of the team. Conversely, a lack of passion sends a message that “this doesn’t really matter all that much”. Get behind your team and radiate energy!

    Enable others to act: Give your team members the tools and the space to get the job done. Then get out of the way – micromanagement is not a leadership style. Trust your members to do what is right.

    Get Dirty!: You are encouraging the team members to reach beyond their current abilities into new and unknown territory. Leaders are willing to be the first to try something and show that not getting it right the first time is just fine. Stretch and pull others along with you.

    Encourage: There are three distinct styles of leadership: Authoritarian, Participative and Delegative. Note that each of these styles is used in different situations and with different people. The Authoritarian tells people what they want done and how. Typically this is used in crises situations when time is short and the team members are already well motivated. The Participative leader involves people in the decision-making process, reserving the right to make the final decision. Typically this style is used where the leader does not possess all the information to make the right decision. The Delegative leader sets the priorities and allows the team members to decide what has to be done and how to do it. The delegative leader remains ultimately responsible for the work of the team and is comfortable with the decision-making ability of the team.

    Radiate Values: In facing a decision, there are usually at least two options: doing something right and doing the right thing. You can take the short-term expedient decision or you can take the high road, realizing that this route sows seeds that bear fruit over a longer time frame. As a leader, the decision that you take will say volumes about your values to your team.

    Be in Character: Great leaders possess common character traits. The US Army has enumerated 23 Traits of Character. Check this list and reflect how many apply to you and to the leaders in your firm: Confidence, Courage, Integrity, Decisiveness, Justice, Endurance, Tact, Initiative, Coolness, Maturity, Improvement, Will, Assertiveness, Candour, Sense of humour, Competence, Commitment, Creativity, Self-discipline, Humility, Flexibility, Empathy/Compassion. As clothes make the man, then character traits make the leader.

    Law firms are catching that old time religion and transforming their firms into well-oiled teams. After all, it is good for all their people!

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    This entry was posted on Saturday, April 12th, 2008 at 10:17 pm and is filed under Adding Value, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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