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Beyond the New General Counsel Meet and Greet—Assess Your Team

Miriam Frank & Barrett Avigdor LAW.COM

Congratulations! You just landed your new job as a general counsel, a role very different from and much more than being a great lawyer or even being a great in-house lawyer. Effective general counsel must develop strong relationships with the C-Suite and among leadership, but just as important, with the members of the legal team. Without strong relationships to support your development and success, you will be seen as uninformed or out of touch with the issues facing the business, and it will be difficult for you to ever earn the confidence and respect of your peers and team.

Some critical members of the team you’ve inherited have been in the trenches in this business for years. They have institutional memory and relationships that can help you get up to speed quickly and avoid political pitfalls. You need to develop open and effective communication with them and earn their trust so that they will proactively share with you what you may not even know to ask.

Just as important, your team members must enhance their relationships with business partners at their respective levels and with each other. Some of them are terrific lawyers, well-liked and respected by their peers and the business. Others are not. You need to sort that out quickly so that you know who you can rely on. If your team is spread out across the globe, the challenge is much greater.

Too many new general counsel start their tenure with a world tour “meet and greet” and come away thinking that they now know their team members. While such meetings are great for putting faces to names, they will not give you the level of insight into each team member that you need. Those meet and greets, though good for the beginnings of bonding, are more about the team assessing the new general counsel than the other way around.

An efficient and effective way to gain insights into your team is to use one of several well-validated assessment tools on the market such as the Hogan Assessment, the EQi 2.0 or the Myers-Briggs. They all require participants to take an online self-assessment and they all produce a detailed report that can be used for various purposes such as team building, individual coaching and goal setting. In order to get the full benefit of the assessments and to avoid the risk of misinterpretation, hire a consultant who is certified to administer and interpret the assessment. A good consultant can also help you select the assessment that best fits your needs, explain it to your team and help you translate the results into actions to implement your vision as a leader.

From there, you should convene a global meeting of your team and offer a professionally facilitated program to discuss the results of the assessments and to create a basis for candid communication. Consultants trained in the interpretation of those tools and familiar with the workings of an in-house legal department can work with you to design a program that simultaneously gives you true insight into your team and gives the team actionable intelligence for working more effectively both individually and together. These meetings tend to generate a great deal of good will and enthusiasm, bonding you and your team to a common set of goals.

To keep the momentum going when everyone returns to their home offices, create global task forces or working groups that provide people with an opportunity to help shape the new team culture you are building and to strengthen relationships with colleagues from distant geographies.

What if you have inherited a dysfunctional team?  Rivalries, feuds and resentments can create a lot of distraction that diminishes the team’s effectiveness. They are also obstacles to the clear and honest communication that you need in order to manage and lead the team. Given everyone’s desire to put on their best faces to their new boss, it may be difficult for you to get an honest read on the situation. Again, a consultant can help. We have been engaged by new general counsel to interview every member of the team and create a report indicating where the team is strong, where it is weak and what can be done to make it better. In one case, the rivalries among the team were so intense that some of the lawyers broke down when they told us about the stress they felt coming into work every day. By being made aware of the problem, the general counsel was able to take steps to break down silos, facilitate communication and incentivize teamwork.

Being a general counsel is a difficult, high profile job with little room for mistakes. You need to maximize the resources you have and to know who you can count on for what. You don’t have time for a lot of trial and error. By assessing your team early, with the help of a certified expert, you will get a clear picture of the talent that you have and a road map for building the team and the culture that you envision.

Your team is the key to your success. You should get to know them.

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