Together  Everyone  Achieves More 

Likely you have heard this acronym spelled out before.  How many assumptions are made when we decide that somehow as soon as you claim the team there is a gain in productivity and performance?  If only it were that easy! When it comes to developing a high performing team, there are many considerations and performance measures to know when the next step is ready to be delivered.

Let’s walk this though with an athletic team, the realm in which the word “team” is used (and perhaps overused) the most. Each off season we follow along as our favorite team (professional) has personnel changes. We also experience a change in teams at the university level with the graduation of some and arrival of others. This means each season requires the development and improvement of the team.  The best coaches are those who recognize the motivators of the individuals on their team, and communicate in a way that guides all players toward the desired outcome (in many cases this is a championship of some kind). This means the development of a common goal, and evaluation measures along the way.  There is a strong feedback mechanism to review performance, and compare/contrast to established metrics, while addressing necessary changes (for instance, in basketball, this could be the adjustment of an elbow for a shot, or footwork for a layup) and rewarding successes.

Sticking with the basketball theme, consider the multiple coaches that assist the team.  In fact, there are multiple teams inside the named team.  A shooting coach will work with point guards and perimeter players to develop their prowess.  A post-player coach will work with the players nearest the basket to rebound, box out, and move through plays. The head coach will bring everyone together to develop the synergy of the whole.

Synergy. What a wonderful word! What does it mean? offers this definition:

“The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.”

Now, if we considered how our offices operate as teams, or multiple teams, every single day, what does it mean to find synergy?  How many teams are working under your roof? Practice groups, established committees, ad hoc task forces, and then the teams we know as layers and levels – administrative assistants, paralegals, associates, partners, of counsel, and of course, non-lawyer leaders. The complexity of “team” is much greater in the law firm setting than it is for an athletic team. It is also much more nuanced.  The common goal seems less easily identified, or at least more amorphous.

What would it take to align the various teams to that common purpose? Your first step is to establish the values of the team.  This can be as large as firm values, or as small as your management team values.  The benefit of this first step is to build accountability in the team, which helps to secure the seven “C’s” – commitment, contribution, communication, cooperation, conflict and change management, and connections.

That commitment I mentioned earlier is the common goal.  Starting with a values conversation makes the flow easier into establishing what the common goal is for the team, and then establishing how team members can contribute to the goal. This contribution becomes an accountable trust-building component for all, and as you work in your team to develop action items, be mindful of the cooperation required to “achieve more”. Consider this – innovation and creativity are accentuated in communication and collaboration and teams thrive when innovation and creativity are embraced and fostered.

Communication is essential to the team development, critical to change and conflict management. We are experiencing a rapidly increasing amount of evolution (change), and understanding how we process change is important to the success of the individual and the team. Once you understand the necessary change, and you have clearly and concisely communicated it, expect some conflict to emerge. Change is an individual process, and where one person accelerates and another one puts on the brakes, conflict can emerge.

The success of the team comes from the ability to manage the conflict, to have honest and direct communication which is focused on the problem, not the personalities. Conflict can catapult the team to a higher level of performance — or to the doldrums of despair — hence the need for very specific and focused mechanisms to communicate about conflict.  In fact, I encourage teams to establish “ground rules” to operating in conflict.  This prevents emotional energy from taking hold in the conversation, and damaging connections which have been so powerfully formed in the team.

As the leader of a team, have mental notes to build in each of these seven, which also provides you a benchmark to measure against during the feedback moments with your team.

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About the Author

Judy Hissong
Judy Hissong, CLM, is the President of Nesso Strategies. Nesso is the Italian word for connection, and her company is built on the passion of human potential and bottom line improvement. She writes, speaks, trains, and coaches on leadership, wellness, workplace engagement, and communication and conflict skills. Find her on twitter @judyhissong; email; phone 619.546.7885; and join her LinkedIn Group “Engaging Legal Leaders” for more conversation about leadership in law firms.