Legal departments affect and engage with all aspects of the business, from finance and marketing to IT. Nearly every employee across the organization will interact with your team members at some point. This high profile makes the department uniquely suited to exemplify the desired corporate culture—both internally and externally—and be a role model for other units. As a driver of culture, your team can help create an environment that promotes sound ethical practices and legal compliance while supporting the business goals and vision.
Becoming an organizational influencer starts from within. As a GC, you have an opportunity to be a culture-shaping leader who sets the tone for the rest of the department. So how do you build a powerhouse culture that elevates your team and its impact? These tips can get you moving in the right direction.
- Define your department’s purpose: Yes, one of the key roles of your department is to mitigate legal risk. But how does that tie in with the greater objectives of the organization? What challenges does your team solve and how does it enable the company’s success? Establishing a meaningful purpose will help bring your team together, give them a collective sense of identity, and lend real-world value to the work they do every day.
- Decide what your values are—and make them visible (literally): Your legal team culture should reflect the organization’s core values. Examples of core values include a client-first mindset, transparency, honesty, accountability, and diversity/inclusion. Your department may have some unique values of its own, too. Make sure your team knows and understands what these are and remind them often. Some clever ways to do this include creating a memorable acronym or displaying your principles creatively in a shared office space.
- Structure your department strategically: To best serve your business clients, your legal department’s priorities should be tied directly with those of the organization. Make sure your team structure aligns with business needs and that roles and skills are mapped appropriately. This will improve efficiency on the back end and ensure you’re making the most of your talent.
- Get tuned into your team: Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the foundation of a strong team culture—especially active listening. Ask your employees what they need to put their best foot forward. What motivates them to give 110%? What are they lacking? It’s your job to set your people up for success with the proper tools and support. Be their advocate and champion, and you’ll receive higher levels of engagement and performance in return. For example:
- If your team yearns for a more collaborative dynamic, make meetings a priority and find more ways for people to connect and share.
- If your team values recognition, make it a point to routinely acknowledge members’ milestones, achievements, and commitment.
- If your team needs research tools to be more efficient and effective in their work, consider investing in Lexis-Nexis or Practical Law.
- If your team wants easier access to CLEs in order to meet professional requirements, get them an ACC membership.
- Incentivize desirable behaviors: Employees pay close attention to what kinds of behaviors and accomplishments get rewarded in the workplace. Make sure that decisions related to team hiring, promotions, and pay increases correspond to your department’s cultural values.
- Provide clear, consistent messaging: To build a sustainable legal team culture, you must continually reinforce what you’re trying to achieve. Look for opportunities to highlight department culture during the onboarding process, through reward and recognition programs, and through professional development initiatives. If a client-first approach is one of your key values, for example, call out team members who go above and beyond to meet the demands of your business clientele.
- Lead by example: One of the most effective ways a GC can convey cultural values is by modeling them firsthand. Make sure your actions reflect what you say. Being a living, breathing example of the culture you want to create will build credibility and inspire your team to follow in your footsteps. If communication is a cultural staple, keep an open dialogue with your team and take the time to regularly talk to employees. Is work-life balance a core value? Don’t email your team after hours or on the weekend. Walk the walk.
When you lay a sturdy foundation and provide your team with the tools and resources they need to thrive, you set them up to be happy and successful. Employees who feel appreciated and find meaning in their work will be more productive and have more favorable interactions with clients. Plus, your team’s demonstrated values and behaviors will help promote a company-wide culture of excellence. It will also strengthen its role as an indispensable partner to the business.