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Leading and developing legal teams: seven top tips

23 July 2015

Executive coach and former lawyer Anne Waldron offers practical tips for successful team development.


Watch the Red Arrows and it's obvious what great teamwork looks like. There's a perfectly executed plan, and each member of the team plays a specific role. But how does this apply to a team of experts - like lawyers - who have individual areas of expertise, and often work on cases alone? What I've observed is that effective teams do a few simple things that make a big difference. Obvious and common sense perhaps - but less often common practice!

1. Be clear on vision and objectives

Teams need a sense of direction and some common objectives. Ask the question: what are we here to do, and how? Even if lawyers are working on different cases - so there's no 'one' project to unite the team - it's important that everyone understands the bigger picture.

2. Encourage behaviours that will bring vision and values to life

Your team will have its own vision and purpose - the important thing is to develop and encourage the behaviours and mindset that will support it. Model the behaviours you want of your team and show your people what it looks like.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Lawyers are expert communicators, but often focus on technical advice, assigning work and legal updates, overlooking how important it is to communicate some of the other things that are at the heart of the work of teams. Keep your team in the loop, and don't confuse sharing information with discussion and consultation - remember that communication is a two-way process.

4. Get the team together - but with a purpose

It's important to get people together regularly so they know what's going on and feel part of the group, but team meetings need to have a purpose and be interesting, otherwise people will find them a waste of time, and even resent being there.

5. Get the best out of the individuals in your team

Motivating and inspiring people to do their best is a key responsibility of leaders. You have to remember that people are individuals - just because people have had similar technical training doesn't mean they will have similar strengths. People perform best, and are energised and happiest, when they are playing to their strengths. Doing something we are capable of but don't enjoy doing drains us of energy.

6. Create opportunities for development and growth

Training courses and CPD are fine, but it's through experience that people really learn. It's important to give people different opportunities to do different things. Take the time to talk to people about what they want to do next, or what they want to do more of or less of. Don't save one-to-one feedback for the annual performance review. Think of feedback as communication, a learning conversation.

7. Keep the bigger picture in mind

Doing specialist work can mean we get quite narrow in the way we think about things. Encourage yourself and others to keep the big picture in mind: the wider organisation, the market, the external political, economic and social environment.

Read the full version of this article from InsideOut magazine.

Tags: communication | development | leadership | team

About the author

Anne Waldron is an executive coach and former lawyer. She works with senior leaders and emerging talent in the professional services, media and financial services sectors. She was the head of talent at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and global director of professional development at Baker & McKenzie.
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