Three Steps to Building a High Performance Legal Team

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There’s no doubt that legal departments are being run like a business, increasingly so every day. The 2017 State of the Industry Survey, conducted by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, reveals these metrics about departments as they grow their legal spend and headcount:

  • Large companies ($10B+ revenue) have an average internal/external legal spend of $185M and an average headcount of 296 FTEs
  • Mid-size companies ($1B-$9.9B revenue) have an average internal/external legal spend of $40M and an average headcount of 74 FTEs
  • Small companies (less than $1B revenue) have an average internal/external legal pend of $5M and an average headcount of 11 FTEs

In addition to operating as a business entity in their own right, today’s legal teams are expected to add value to the company and to deliver more of that value for less. With the “more for less” directive, how do they achieve superior business results and drive revenue growth? Additionally, what fuels the most successful high performance legal teams? I recently posed these questions to some of BarkerGilmore’s distinguished and experienced General Counsel who’ve led their own accomplished corporate legal teams. They identified three main steps to building a winning team.

  1. Understand the needs of the organization. Whether you have ascended to the leadership spot through an internal promotion, or you’re coming in from the outside, get to know the overall business goals and legal needs of the company. In today’s business world, an emphasis on profit often drives the business goals, so for the legal team to succeed, this translates into putting aside reactive legal functions and operating on a proactive platform of innovation to develop new ideas to generate revenue. To meet the legal needs of the organization, it’s important to assess whether you have the right people in the right roles, align job functions and talent, and fill the gaps as necessary. Survey your internal clients to find out their experience with the team’s delivery of legal services and how that delivery can continuously be improved.

  2. Bring together the best talent by hiring innovative people who meet specific needs and who have complementary skill sets. Especially at the senior level, it’s important to have lawyers with leadership skills, high emotional intelligence, excellent technical expertise, and the specific knowledge necessary to address the company’s legal needs. Lawyers who are, or who have the potential to be, broad thinkers, wise counselors, and effective leaders in their own right will help drive the team to a higher level of excellence. A team with these traits is key to the legal function’s credibility with the CEO, senior executives, and the board, as well as regulators in a regulated institution. Assembling a talented team with credibility enhances both the individual’s and the team’s effectiveness as both business partners and prudent risk managers, two critical roles for in-house lawyers. Furthermore, the need to recruit, coach, and empower top talent is underscored by recent corporate scandals. Companies and their stakeholders are best served by lawyers who look at issues broadly and exercise leadership in risk identification, assessment, litigation, and foster a culture of integrity and compliance.

  3. Lead and then relinquish control. Our advisors agree that a good leader builds a great team by focusing on the building blocks, as outlined in Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Lencioni posits that trust, healthy debate or conflict, commitment, accountability, and results drive collective success. The element of trust is the foundation, since members who trust one another will ask for help and freely give help, admit their mistakes, and give one another the benefit of the doubt, which is vital to a smoothly functioning team. To build trust, a good leader needs to model authenticity, be open and vulnerable, and be accountable when something goes wrong, particularly between the team and senior leadership. Communicating with each other by sharing information and personal history allows team members to get to know one another better, breaks down barriers, creates understanding and empathy, and builds further trust. As the team comes together with ownership of shared goals and expectations, leaders need to show their trust and remove themselves from controlling the team, giving authority to their direct reports with the expectation of regular updates on the achievement of their goals. Freedom is the most critical element for encouraging a team to reach for greatness – it’s definitely the intrinsic motivator.

If you need assistance in building a high-performance team, our advisors can help you put these steps into practice by helping to establish a common vision and mission, ensuring alignment around the goals. They will work with you to identify tools for evaluating talent, make changes or add to your team by recruiting top in-house legal talent, and coach and motivate you and your team members.

Topics: Compliance   |   Legal   |   Advising & Coaching

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