Posted by Charles A. Volkert on Friday, January 3, 2014 - 00:00 | Follow me
Most of us have been part of a legal project team in one form or another during the course of our careers. So we understand firsthand the benefits of a flexible staffing plan that uses a combination of full-time employees and highly skilled legal professionals on a project basis. Not only can legal professionals be brought in on an interim basis to fill staffing gaps or supplement the efforts of a core team, they also can serve as technical experts when a given skill set doesn't exist in-house, such as for e-discovery and managed review matters.
There’s a Japanese proverb that captures the essence of the teamwork advantage -- “None of us is as smart as all of us.” But effective project teams don’t just happen by bringing legal professionals together. It's up to the project manager to guide the team to a positive outcome.
Tips to Set the Stage for Successful Team Collaboration
Here are some suggestions for setting the stage for successful collaboration:
Create a shared vision. Successful teams are unified by a clear sense of mission and purpose -- why the team was formed, its goals, what’s needed to achieve them. A shared vision binds a team together, even when internal disagreements arise.
Clarify roles. Define each member’s role -- and put it in writing. Guide the team to establish processes and protocols that clarify how they’ll work together. Include guidelines for conducting meetings, exchanging information, making decisions, and resolving conflicts.
Encourage equal participation. Quieter or less experienced members are often overshadowed by more assertive participants on any team. While top performers may naturally take on more difficult tasks, ensure others don’t feel ignored by steering aspects of the project their way.
Develop appropriate rewards. Merit mechanisms in many organizations are based on individual performance. If you want to use a team-oriented work approach, aim to incorporate rewards that give proper weight to both individual accomplishment and group success.
Recognize when a team isn’t the best approach. Keep an open mind as you analyze which functions or project phases lend themselves to team efforts and which are better handled by individuals. For example, implementation of a new information system may require the attention of an IT manager, with legal support staff brought in for input at certain decision points.
Stay positive. Whether supervising attorneys or senior-level paralegals themselves serve as team leaders or they tap someone else for that role, they’re still responsible for facilitating the process. This requires keeping the group motivated, especially when it encounters setbacks. Remain positive, but don’t brush aside problems that develop.
It takes skill to oversee teams so individual members and the entire group are engaged and productive. By laying the proper groundwork for collaboration, intervening when necessary to help teams navigate a rough patch, you can offer the group the support they need to be successful.
Are you a legal project manager? If so, do you have any advice you'd like to share on how to foster team collaboration?