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Associate conundrums: the joy of collaboration

Written by: Luan de Burgh
Published on: 20 Dec 2016

As human beings one of the aspects that differentiates us from other species is that we have a brain which has evolved to such an extent as to enable us to live, work and operate in a complex society. Having this social brain allows us to make sense of what is going on in this multifaceted society and to think collectively rather than just individually.

In the words of Cambridge Educationalist, Professor Neil Mercer, “we can wire up several minds to one problem and collectively solve it in a way no individual ever could.” We do that through shared common goals, shared attitude and shared language.

The days of working in silos and operating on an ‘eat what you kill basis’ are behind us (or at least they should be). Collaboration with colleagues is one of the most effective ways of developing your business. If you want to accomplish something and you meet someone else who wants to accomplish the same thing, the experience is meant to be dynamic.

We need to rely on the different skills and experiences other people bring to the table and the underlying common denominator for solid collaboration, the essence of that collaboration, is why you are doing something.

There are numerous examples in the world of sport, culture and business of extremely effective collaborations and each one knew why they were collaborating. Successful lawyers profit from collaboration. Indeed, in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (Lessons from Professional Services Firms, 2015) Heidi Gardner argued that lawyers who collaborate are likely to be four times more successful than those who don’t.

It is very simple, from collaboration comes revenue. The more practice groups that are involved in a client engagement, the greater the income that will be generated and this is not just advantageous for the law firm but it makes more sense for the client too.

Clients can find great lawyers in most practice groups, let’s say for example tax. If the relationship ends there, then although there will be a fee generated for the firm it is unlikely to be as great as the fee could have been had that tax lawyer successfully teamed up with, for example, an intellectual property lawyer, a regulatory lawyer and any other specialist lawyer the client will inevitably need.

When you team up with your colleagues they better understand what you have to offer and that knowledge makes them more likely to refer work to you at a later date and, as we all know, referrals are a far more efficient way to generate work than individual prospecting. Word-of-mouth is extremely powerful and as colleagues recommend you and your work, your reputation within the firm will grow.

Collaboration creates trust and with trust your practice group is far more likely to grow and develop because without trust, where lawyers are acting as lone wolves, the group will appear disparate and divided.

To collaborate effectively teams need to be comprised of different personalities and for those personalities to know each other well and understand that each has their role to play even though their own working styles may differ considerably but that they trust one another to achieve their shared vision as a whole. ‘Each person in the group needs to accept that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and it is better to focus on the strengths rather than get caught up in the weaknesses’ as one lawyer wrote to me recently.

The team needs to have clear goals, clear roles and clear lines of communication is for it to succeed.

To understand more about team roles is worth referring to the work of Dr. Meredith Belbin, who observed that “when a team is performing at its best, you’ll usually find each team member has clear responsibilities and every role needed to achieve the team’s goal is being performed fully and well.” Collaboration really is a win-win for almost everyone in the professional world and it should be part of your everyday business development.

Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach.