When we talk about improving collaboration it usually means breaking out of departmental siloes and becoming more cross-functional. Learning from colleagues outside your own group and working more closely towards shared goals is vital, but I wonder if that definition of collaboration isn’t out-dated.
Reams of studies by the likes of Peter Drucker have demonstrated the benefits of collaboration, and large businesses have put decades of effort into improving teamwork. But the focus has been almost entirely on the internal organisation — collaboration in a bubble.
Today’s digital business models require all functions including legal to operate as part of an ecosystem, not as lines on an organisational chart.
It’s now common practice for technology platforms to connect businesses with suppliers, investors, customers, regulators, distributors, and consultants, across a broad range of stakeholders.
Data is traded back and forth and communication happens largely online. Teams are comprised of people working locally and internationally, in a blended workforce that mixes full-time roles with job shares and contractors. Meanwhile, the sudden rise of hybrid work environments now sees almost everyone complete some part of their week in a home or remote office.
Collaboration in this context requires legal teams to adapt themselves to the idea of flexible partnership — to interact effectively in an environment with multiple moving parts, and to keep pace with a quickening pace of business.
My advice to General Counsels and leaders in law is to build a wide network of relationships. You are not alone – collaborate with your business partners (finance, commercial, procurement etc), your legal service providers/delivery partners and peers – do this to encourage diversity of thinking and experience to solve complex strategic problems. As Matthew Syed says in his book “Rebel Ideas: The Power of Thinking Differently” to avoid the echo chamber effect, we need to understand that while there may be a moral and political objective behind diversity it is also critical to achieving our purpose – to thrive in a competitive environment. In my experience there are only positive gains from collaborating with others who are focused on delivering sustainable outcomes.
Talent is an ecosystem too
Digital transformation is pressurising every business function to move faster. The speed at which products go to market and contracts get signed can determine competitive advantage, or mean the difference between staying in business or failing.
Boards are looking for greater alignment with client needs and they expect legal departments to optimize for rapid delivery, picking up the pace and providing faster advice to support faster decision-making.
The result? A Harvard EY Law survey of 2000 lawyers found that over the next 3 years, General Counsels anticipate a 25% increase in workload, with 75% concerned that they may have insufficient resources to meet demand.
How will General Counsels cope? It starts by recognising that they don’t have to face or resolve challenges in a silo. The next step is to re-think legal operations beyond the four walls of a departmental office.
From finance to procurement, peers to delivery partners, there are resources General Counsels can draw on to build an operating model that focuses on value-added outcomes rather than traditional hierarchies, accounting cost centres, or linear lines of reporting.
Work is a space, not a place
In the next instalment of the series we’ll delve into how new roles are making it easier for General Counsels to connect their core teams with an extended pool of resources that includes both traditional and non-traditional legal skill sets. We’ll also explore how technology is enabling legal departments to become more agile and delivery focused.