The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) hosted its third annual event in London last week attracting over 400 attendees from more than 25 countries. Although legal operations is not as well established here as it is in the United States, the size and scale of this event highlights its growing significance in the UK legal market (for further information, see Practice note, Legal operations: an overview).
One of the sessions that caught my attention was led by Paula Davis-Laack and focused on building resilient teams. Historically, law has focused on the individual and undervalued and underinvested in teams. However, lawyers are now required to become more adept at working with each other and in diverse teams that may include other professionals, such as project managers and data scientists. Resilience is particularly important for in-house legal teams who have spent the last few years grappling with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the increasing pace of change in the legal profession and the constant refrain to do more for less.
What are the hallmarks of a resilient team?
Resilient teams address problems swiftly, remain cohesive in the face of adversity and bounce-back from setbacks quickly. They also share a common purpose, think flexibly, capitalise on opportunities and prioritise wellbeing and engagement.
How to build a resilient team
One of the key traits of resilient teams is that they operate within a culture of psychological safety. This is a shared belief among team members that the team is a safe environment for taking risks. Among other things, it encourages them to:
- Be themselves.
- Make mistakes.
- Ask questions.
- Raise problems.
Encouraging team members to speak-up promotes a culture of knowledge sharing and learning within the team. It also means that innovative ideas are more likely to be shared and that errors are more likely to be identified early on.
Creating a positive working culture is important but managers also need to understand what motivates or demoralises their team. Generally, team members want meaningful work that they can do with a certain degree of autonomy, together with the space to develop and learn new skills. They want their managers to give them a clear direction to follow and they are also keen on receiving regular feedback and recognition. Managers should aim to avoid (or at least minimise) ambiguity, role conflict, and organisational politics and red tape.
Strategies for managers to help build team resilience
Managers need to be both accessible and approachable. For example, when you are having a conversation with a member of your team, avoid distractions (like your mobile phone) and remember to maintain eye contact. It is also important to hold people accountable in a fair and consistent way, and to understand the different working styles and strengths of your individual team members.
Your behaviour before and during meetings is important too. Make sure that you give each person a say during meetings and limit side conversations. Sending an agenda ahead of time will enable people to gather their thoughts before the meeting and is likely to create a more meaningful discussion.