Creating the Team: A Leadership Moment

Do law firms need leadership and teams?  The author would state that at no other time in the past has the legal profession needed leadership as they need it at the present.  The legal profession is facing unprecedented pressures from all corners.  In the author’s view, if we fail to respond to these pressures in a timely and appropriate manner, then the failure is due to the lack of leadership within the profession.

We need to learn how to build teams in law firms. We need to learn how to respond to competitive pressures by building teams that can respond appropriately.  We are a profession of individualists who now must learn that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.  The lessons will not be easy. They certainly run against the grain of most if not all, lawyers and their training and orientation. But the world has changed.  And lawyers, to be relevant, must strive to change as well.

Richard Hackman, Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University was recently interviewed on Yale Insights on the issue: “Do Teams Need Leaders?”

He was asked the following question:

Q: What are the conditions a leader should be putting in place before a team is established?

What sets the stage for a great team, a great organization, or a great nation is not all that different. There are several key conditions in all cases.

We need to know who we are. If we’re a team, we need to know who is on this team. It can’t be a team in name only with uncertainty around who is actually participating.

We need a well-defined purpose. It’s absolutely critical to be clear about what we’re trying to achieve.

We need the right people on the team. Do we have the right number of people? The right mix of people?

We need norms of conduct. What goes and what doesn’t go in this enterprise?

We need a supportive organizational context. Is there a broader context providing the resources, the information, and support that we need to pull this off?

We need well timed coaching. Do we have people in place to provide coaching to help the enterprise take advantage of those favorable conditions?

I run through that same list whether I’m talking about a small team, a division of an organization, a whole organization—and you can go up from there. Those are conditions of social systems which, when in place, increase the chances that that system will pursue its objectives efficiently and well. When they are not there, then the prospects for success go down.

One of the critical  skills that lawyers and law firms need to cultivate, in my humble opinion, is the ability to become leaders  – leaders of teams, of firms and finally of the profession.  As Richard Susskind has noted, “Tomorrow’s Lawyers predicts fundamental and irreversible changes in the world of law”.

How better to learn to respond to these fundamental and irreversible changes by creating an environment for change through effective leadership?  Not only do teams need leadership, law firms and the profession need leadership. The time is now…

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