We continue our ongoing column, “Practice Group Dynamics” by Susan Lambreth, who has 25 years’ experience as a consultant to the legal profession, especially in the area of practice management. Her column will examine the components that make practice groups thrive.
As everyone is adjusting to working more virtually for a few months or more as COVID-19 precautions or bans come into place, it is more important than ever for Practice Group Leaders to continue to hold monthly practice group meetings. These meetings are important for several reasons:
- to provide a sense of security and stability, even in the midst of many unknowns about how COVID-19 will affect work environments and the economy — indeed, these meetings can minimize some of the damage to morale among those already suffering with depression or other mental health issues and more;
- to maintain a sense of connection among the group members, which is more critical than ever when there is such uncertainty in the world;
- to continue to work on projects that can contribute to the group’s success once the pandemic subsides, laying the groundwork for solid practice group performance and giving members something positive to focus on where they can feel their contributions (and they) matter; and
- to allow group members a chance to share their concerns, issues, and questions about their work matters, working from home, or any other topics they may want to discuss.
The isolation of working from home, while initially seen by some as a bonus (i.e., no commute time and costs, greater flexibility, etc.) can have many negative effects on those who are used to an office environment full of colleagues with whom to share ideas, have live discussions, and generally socialize. All of this interplay creates the happiness hormone, oxytocin, that results in higher levels of positivity and better mood.
VUCA — Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity — has become a common acronym in the business world in recent years. And while it has been discussed in many law firm meetings before, the COVID-19 pandemic brings these concerns to the forefront of our national and global discourse. Practice group leaders can play a key role in assuring and calming their members’ concerns as the group communicates, works on projects, and plans for changes in its markets that may be impacted by the outbreak.
The isolation of working from home, while initially seen by some as a bonus can have many negative effects on those who are used to an office environment full of colleagues with whom to share ideas, have live discussions, and generally socialize.
Even in more stable times, practice group meetings are one of the key foundations of building a high-performing practice group. Indeed, creating high-performing practice groups will be a topic for a future post in this series, but some of the keys to building these groups include establishing shared goals, communicating clear roles and responsibilities, and providing face-time for interaction (even if that is virtual). One of the important items on every practice group meeting agenda should be discussing group goals and the progress made toward them. This tells the group that goals discussed during the annual practice group planning process are actually meaningful and not just something the group puts in a plan in order to obtain its marketing budget from the firm.
Also, at a time of great uncertainty, developing goals and actions together makes group members feel more empowered and less victims of circumstances that are just waiting for the next bit of news. While we cannot predict how long the current crisis will last or what the total and ongoing affect will be, we can take steps forward to plan for our role in the changing market and where we want to land when the pandemic ends.
Remember Why You’re Meeting
Key objectives of practice group meetings include:
- creating a sense of shared destiny and group cohesion;
- keeping the group thinking strategically about where clients and the group’s business is trending; and
- sharing information that each member needs to know to feel connected, perform their work, or otherwise participate as a group member.
In our research across 20-plus years working with practice groups and practice group leaders, effective meetings are a core to success. We have seen observed that the most success practice groups are the ones that not only show positive economic performance, but also form a truly cohesive team. The least successful, we’ve noted, is a group of “solos” functioning under the banner of a practice group.
As we move more into virtual workgroups now, some important ways that practice group leaders can continue to reach these objectives and engage group members, include:
- Sharing any successes that the group has had a hand in, such as helping a client navigate the current uncertainty, handling a new matter, landing new work, etc.
- Communicating how the firm is handling the way the pandemic is affecting clients or impacting the firm so that members feel less worried about the future.
- Using polling software so you can get members to participate actively even though they are not in meeting rooms together. The many inexpensive polling software tools available can allow you to have anonymous participation in surveys. Engaging the team in this way could cover everything from how they are feeling about remote working or the bans on travel, to how their clients are being affected by COVID-19 and the economy.
- Asking various group members to prepare short (like, 5 minutes) presentations or reports on topics that are important to other group members, such as a recent client meeting, a trade association event (many of which are being rescheduled as virtual events), a RFP process the group won or lost, an element of the group plan that has been implemented, or a current matter of significance.
- Ensuring people representing different office locations, practices within the group, levels of experience, etc. are encouraged to speak during the meeting.
Continuing these approaches and monthly meetings will be very beneficial to your practice group during this time of virtual working. It will also lay a foundation for better cohesion after the pandemic subsides and business starts to get back to “normal” — whatever that will look like then.