References to “team” are everywhere in corporate America, but you rarely hear about legal teams. Why is that? It starts with law school. You need the best grades to get on the law review or obtain that Wall Street job. And then the weeding out process begins the moment you join a law firm. In a firm you are judged on initiative and volume; not whether you are a team player.
It’s different in a corporate setting. Budgets are tight, business demands are growing and legal issues are becoming more complex. One way to ease the burden is to use your staff more effectively by investing in team building.
At Kellogg, we believe in having the “Right People in the Right Jobs.”
Headcount pressures first require us to ensure we have the “right jobs.” Don’t have five litigators if three will do. It’s a little easier to create the right jobs than it is to find the “right people.”
I like to describe our SEC lawyer as a guy who would be surfing SEC.gov even if he wins the lottery and spends the rest of his life on a beach. He simply loves the stuff.
Not only do you need a qualified, passionate person in the position, but also someone who wants to be part of a team. You cannot carry anyone who isn’t interested in helping develop a team environment. It’s very easy for even one person to kill the enthusiasm you are trying to ignite.
What do we do now that the roster is set? Three key things come to mind:
A key attribute of any highly successful team is effective communication. The first thing you need to communicate to your staff is why you think team building is important and why it’s worth the effort. One of the things we did was determine what was interfering with our communication. The entire department agreed we needed to better understand each other; create an environment that allows everyone to speak his or her mind; and have more fun.
You can probably see the virtuous cycle this creates: Once we know each other better, we are more likely to say what we are thinking, which, in turn, reduces stress and uneasiness to allow us to relax and have more fun, which helps us get to know each other better.
Great teams are composed of people who understand and are committed to their specific roles. An area we continue to work on is clarifying who does what. Of course, the employment lawyer handles employment issues, but that barely scratches the surface. We now are refining the team concept to clarify what responsibilities have been delegated (a certain person has complete authority to make decisions) and those that have been empowered (the person has responsibility to develop and influence the decision, but it’s still the boss’ call). We all know the inefficiencies that exist when department members aren’t clear on who makes what decision.
3.Plan Like A Team
Teams have rules and goals. Go offsite with your team to develop a specific direction for the department and to create a mission statement. It will help determine what the group stands for and start the process of creating a team identity. Next, cobble together operating principles that outline what team members expect from each other.
Lastly, pull together the specific team priorities for the year and beyond and make sure everyone understands and agrees on the deliverables for the department, and that everyone understands what they need to do every day to meet those goals. You will be surprised how motivated people will be after playing a role in determining the department’s short- and long-term destination.
A word of caution–team building requires a significant investment of time and energy. And it doesn’t happen quickly. At least for us, we are already seeing a great return on that investment. What’s most exciting is that we still have a long way to go.
Gary H. Pilnick has been senior vice president, general counsel, corporate development and secretary of Kellogg Co. since August 2003.