It has been my privilege to work with a number of in-house legal teams over the past four years since I joined MinterEllison. Prior to joining MinterEllison I had worked with many teams across the world at many different levels of seniority, but I had never specifically worked with in-house legal teams.
I have noticed many great strengths and qualities that in-house teams bring to any dialogue which are unique and incredibly valuable. These characteristics are different to what many other teams can offer. These teams are usually staffed with focused, high achievers equipped with inquiring minds combined with an absolute intent of delivering to high standards. An asset to any strategic planning and decision making process.
It is my belief that these team members are not brought in early enough to the these processes and this represents a great opportunity for those teams that are truly aspiring to be strategic business partners. It's a chance to set themselves apart from other legal teams and indeed other in-house and external advisors. But it can also represent a better outcome for the organisation – it increases the diversity of thought around the table and it is effectively capitalising on some remarkable talent that exists and it so easily accessible.
The other benefit? It increases the level of satisfaction and engagement of the legal team. The sense of being valued and valuable to business partners results in a stronger sense of "belonging" to the organisation. This sense of belonging will translate into higher levels of performance, greater commitment to outcomes and improved retention. And ultimately, earlier engagement results in advice delivered with a strong commercial focus, more aligned to the business objectives than a strictly technical review which the business then considers more a "tick the box" exercise.
So with this as the opportunity, and I know that many teams are currently considering how they can actively move up the "value chain", there are some activities that can be undertaken that accelerate this transition or simply consolidate the progress that you may have already made with the team. As with all organisational development work, I need to deliver the caveat that none of this represents a 'silver bullet'. It requires focus and commitment – which means understanding that one intervention will not deliver the impact that is ideal.
Every interaction needs to be bespoke – there is no "one size fits all". Every team is different. And it needs to work within the context of business imperatives. Whilst training programs have their place, teams grow and develop best when dialogue occurs in the context of what is real and relevant. At MinterEllison we have developed a toolkit for in-house teams that supports the team plan their development in a way that works for them. This approach has resulted from our experience of working with in-house legal teams but also drawing on experience of working with teams across the world.
This is based on applying some foundational elements common to many in-house advisory teams. Smart application of these foundational elements through delivery, creates momentum and commitment to change from both the team and the business at the same time and ultimately can showcase the exceptional talent that exists in these teams.
I consider the foundational elements to be comprised in these questions:
A series of planned activities that continually challenge the team to adopt new ways of working is the best approach. When I work with teams, scoping out a map of the series of a interactions over a 12 month period is one of the first stages. This doesn't mean it can't and won't change – and agility to adapt to changes in the market and the organisation are critical – but "it's a marathon, not a sprint". But during the marathon you must not miss the opportunity to celebrate the successes and achievements that are instrumental in reaching key milestones. And enjoy it! There is no greater reward that seeing a team start to reach (and redefine) its potential.