Wednesday, 10 March 2010

All about teamwork

I read James Dunning's recent blog posting (here) and was prompted to find my own comparison. Knowing even less about football than James, I felt it better to use another sport as my comparator and so selected Formula 1.

It is, I think, one of the ultimate team sports. Yes, there is the "name" driver sitting in the car during the race, but speed and reliability require very close communication and understanding between the driver, the engineers, the designers, the coaches, and the managers.

The same requirement for close working and communication exists in every business - and so in the law firm it is necessary that the lawyers work in conjunction with the support staff and that they work out a way to communicate with each other. Sadly in many firms the relationship is one in which success is often achieved in spite of the communication and trust (or lack of) which exists between lawyer and support, and occasionally the two are actively working against each other (think of marketing budget - some of which is controlled by the marketing team and some by the legal departments, who have been known, in some firms, to act without contacting the marketing team or with no regard for the marketing strategy of the overall firm).

Another thing that interests me about F1 is that the team principals are rarely ex-drivers - or certainly rarely ex-F1 drivers. Ross Brawn is one of the most successful in recent years. He comes from an engineering background but has a passion for F1. He has instinctive managerial skills, being able to motivate and direct a large group of people towards one single goal.

So the man running the organisation is not the star of the show - is not the person who, ultimately, "brings the prize home". He is, however, the person the the best experience in running the team and it is understood, throughout the organisation, that the driver has to be allowed to focus on his own area of expertise and his own job - that of driving the car as well as possible and of communicating the way the car is working to the engineering and design teams. No-one would expect the driver to jump out of the car and to start running the whole organisation - no-one would expect the driver to take a business-related call while on track. Schumacher is a fine driver - one of the best ever - but he knows his limitations and understands his (vital) place within the team, and he understands that his success is based on him being able to focus on his own skills while others get on with theirs.

This, however, is what seems to be expected of most senior lawyers. They will have achieved partnership and a place on the board through their hard work and legal expertise. They are then expected - at the same time as maintaining a business practice and their billing hours - to run the firm.

What is required is a Brawn for every group of Schumachers. Let the stars do the things they are good at and don't distract them with the (necessary) work of running an organisation. Yes of course they will be involved strategically - but then each member of the team should specialise - let the lawyers work and the managers manage. In particular, have one key manager who will run the firm while the partners do what the partners do - excellent legal work while developing new business and clients.

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