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Managing a successful team can be achieved in many different ways—especially by engaging them in multiple aspects of the organization, as Tom Phillips learns.
Leadership and talent management are crucial to building effective teams. But, as registrants discovered at the session Humans as a Resource: Building an Effective Team and Growing Talent (held Wednesday, November 18), the first step is recognizing that you will not have all the answers.
It’s also about fostering diversity, providing opportunities for engagement, and, importantly for today’s environment, helping employees get through tough times.
“If we ever get to the arrogant position where we think we know how to manage teams, it’s probably time to stop managing teams, because you’re on a continual learning curve,” said Marion Heathcote, Principal at Davies Collison Cave (Australia).
For Brendan J. O’Rourke, Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP (US), leading an effective team means making the job not only about work. “Make it fun,” he said. “When you’re working around the clock, if it isn’t fun and rewarding—what’s the point?”
“If we ever get to the arrogant position where we think we know how to manage teams, it’s probably time to stop managing teams.” - Marion Heathcote, Davies Collison Cave
Moderator Mei-lan Stark, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel, Intellectual Property, NBCUniversal Media, LLC (US), began the session by recognizing that “building teams is not easy, least of all in the current circumstances.”
Noting that COVID-19 as well as, in the United States, social and racial justice movements have had a major impact on teams, Ms. Stark asked the panel to outline how they have reacted to the challenges of the pandemic.
Ms. Heathcote described how she “hated” the buzzwords that have appeared in management circles since the pandemic hit, such as “resilience” and “grit mentality,” because of their implied toughness and militaristic overtones.
“I hope that if we have learned anything from this recent period it is a bit more about kindness and creating an environment that allows everyone to come together, rather than this aggressive ‘we can survive’ or ‘boot camp’ mentality, because it undermines what we’re trying to do with our teams,” she said.
“We’ve given everyone the business tools. We have to also make sure they can deal mentally with the situation,” she said.
Her firm tasked employees who had previous experience in working remotely with sharing their knowledge to help their colleagues cope.
“We needed to keep everyone having a conversation—not as a military boot camp but as a community,” Ms. Heathcote said.
“Building teams is not easy, least of all in the current circumstances.” - Mei-lan Stark, NBCUniversal Media, LLC
The Perfectionism Problem
Ms. Stark noted that lawyers “often have very perfectionist tendencies,” and these traits, combined with job insecurity driven by the pandemic, may create issues within teams.
Peter Dernbach, a Partner at Winkler Partners (Taiwan), explained how, when the crisis arose, lawyers at his firm switched to “emergency mode”—a working culture that is unsustainable.
“There is a tendency in law firms and among legal professionals to ‘suck it up’ and to put a high value on the ability to get the job done. While in the short term that can provide very good results, in the medium and long term it can be damaging,” he said.
Admitting that legal professionals may not find it easy to ask for help, Mr. Dernbach said Winkler Partners had a broad conversation throughout the firm to encourage people to talk about what they, and others, needed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Creating, fostering, and sustaining diversity is also vital to building successful teams, the panel said, and involving teams in the recruitment process plays a huge part in creating that diversity. The speakers agreed it was important to ensure people at different levels of seniority help in hiring candidates.
In fact, in Ms. Heathcote’s view, “There is no level in the firm that shouldn’t be engaged in the recruiting process.”
“First, we had to do the introspective work about the values we share and then ask: how do we put them into practice?” - Peter Dernbach, Winkler Partners
Helping Talent to Grow
Organizations should be engaging their employees in other ways as well.
“You can’t incentivize people only with money. You have to incentivize them with opportunities in their careers,” noted Mr. O’Rourke.
In his experience, lawyers’ investment in their own roles goes in tandem with the quality of the candidates their firm recruits. “It’s infectious,” Mr. O’Rourke added.
The culture at work can also impact how talent grows within an organization. But, asked Ms. Stark, how does a law firm or company implement values without resorting to clichés?
“First, we had to do the introspective work about the values we share and then ask: how do we put them into practice?” said Mr. Dernbach.
Winkler Partners explains its mission statement to job candidates early on.
“Make it fun. When you’re working around the clock, if it isn’t fun and rewarding—what’s the point?” - Brendan J. O’Rourke, Proskauer Rose LLP
“They can see if that’s a good fit for them, but we’re also explicitly asking new candidates about their values,” he added.
Giving your teams room to be themselves is key. “We have to allow people to do things in different ways,” said Ms. Heathcote.
“That way you get unique and unusual results that can only strengthen you, your goals, and deliverables. It’s a win-win situation.”
INTA 2020, leadership, talent management, D&I, COVID-19, pandemic, law firms, Proskauer Rose, Davies Collison Cave, engagement