As a consultant specialising in working with managers and staff in the areas of General Management and Communications, I am often brought in (a few months too late...) to very stressful situations.
I recently worked with a set of chambers where the relationship between clerks, support staff and members of chambers had degenerated into a series of shouting matches. In my usual way, I took the Senior Clerk out for lunch to talk about the situation. "You have no idea of the stress we are under. I haven't got time to be nice to people", he said. I wish that view was unusual...
In the first place, I have a very good understanding of the stress he and his staff are under. I was brought in to run an international law firm in 2008 just as Lehman Brothers crashed and the next nine months was rather horrible as all the plans we had discussed pre-appointment were thrown out to be replaced with a mass (and rather panicked) redundancy programme. I agreed to be the last man out in phase 1 - moving from a healthy salary to the joys of self-employment. I know what that sort of stress feels like.
Much more to the point - as I said to my Senior Clerk - now is always the time to be nice to people. There is never an excuse for shouting - or rather for treating people disrespectfully. Never (oh I've done it - but there was never a good excuse for it).
I spoke for a while with the Senior Clerk and then began the process of building respect back into the day-to-day life of chambers. It won't be easy - but it is necessary. Without that, nothing else will work, the sniping will continue and any change programme will fail - spectacularly.
When life is quiet in the field of consulting (that's the problem with dealing in the area of common sense - there are times when no-one thinks they need any help...) I work on film sets. Most businesses could learn a thing or two about leadership and management by watching how film sets work. There is tons of stress - imagine a business where the outgoings are huge and start immediately and the income is (a) uncertain and (b) about two years away. Each day of filming costs a fortune - I was on set last Sunday and if that one day cost less that £300,000 I'd be really surprised. Added to the stress is a huge group of people - crew, cast and extras - who may be on set for one day and may never have worked together. Imagine that your business is like that.
And yet it works - and it works because of the respect that is shown at every stage. Crew are trusted to know their jobs, are consulted and then thanked. Cast and extras are asked politely to "stand there and do that' and then thanked each time. Crowd Assistant Directors are brought in especially on large sets just to look after the extras. Yes, of course, that's partly to make sure they are in the right place at the right time - but I witnessed the Crowd AD (a wonderful young lady by the name of Georgie) make a special effort to come on set between takes with water for her people.
I do not believe that a set of chambers is a more stressful place to work than a film set - and yet one is characterised by calm, respect and politeness and the other, often, is characterised by shouting and blame. Which of the two do you think seems to work better..?