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Collaboration Insights: Collaboration is a key to profitability

Beth Sears

Beth Sears

Creating a culture of collaboration is hard work and especially hard in law firms. Think about it, attorneys are trained to argue their points of view! When you add working in an adversarial system fraught with demanding schedules and heavy workloads, stress often undermines the ability to create an environment in which people naturally come together. In addition, although most attorneys enjoy financial rewards, it comes at a cost. According to Martin Seligman, “Researchers at John Hopkins University found statistically significant elevations of major depressive disorder in only 3 of 104 occupations surveyed. When adjusted for sociodemographic, lawyers topped the list, suffering from depression at a rate of 3.6 times higher than employed persons generally. Lawyers also suffer from alcoholism and illegal drug use at rates far higher than nonlawyers.” These problems can dramatically affect how lawyers interact in the workplace. Even when law firms profess a collaborative culture, competition can undermine their ability to create a supportive environment.

These startling factors should alert you to the importance of creating a culture where everyone feels supported and enjoys coming to work. In a day and age when retaining top talent is difficult, law practices with collaborative culture are not only more profitable, but their ability to attract and retain top talent and clients outperforms other practices. A culture of collaboration requires a plan that intentionally and strategically creates a culture of engagement and collaboration.

Culture Transformation

The article “12 Keys to a Collaborative Organizational Culture,” defines a “truly collaborative environment as one that involves every employee at every level and department and is infused in an organization’s culture.” It becomes a way of being. So how is a collaborative culture created?

Loyalty is earned in a culture of respect and equality. While teaching “Respect in the Workplace,” around NYS for Cornell ILR, participants responded to the statement, “I feel respected when …” The top two answers that consistently came up first were “I feel respected when”:

  • I am listened to
  • I am acknowledged for the work I do

It didn’t matter the level of the individual, type of business, respondent’s age or gender — these two responses came up consistently. Ironically, the respondents reported that being heard and/or recognized for good work were often missing at work.

All too often organizations forget every employee is important in the success of the operation, including the support staff. Your brand as a practice is communicated with the first person answering the phone. Have you told him/her how important their work is in the success of the firm? Have you listened to him/her to find out their challenges?

With law school enrollment dropping, practices need to focus on recruiting and retaining top talent. The best organizations, law firm or not, create a culture where people enjoy being; develop everyone’s skills; and challenge individuals with new and interesting work.

For an organization to create a collaborative culture it must be built on a foundation of trust. Patrick Lencioni states the most important characteristic of any organization is trust because it influences everything else. Your people must also understand the vision and how their work impacts it. Most helpful in a multi-generational organization is the definition of the noble purpose of the work as millennials want to know their work impacts something larger than themselves. Your employees must understand their opinions matter and have a process for two-way communication. This creates a sense of belonging and helps to engage your top talent. Leaders throughout the organization must become more self-aware and so he/she understands how their behavior affects others. Leaders should work to create a supportive environment and one that celebrates successes. When your employees are happy, they perform better, and this translates into better client relations.

A truly collaborative culture involves all employees and is reflected in day-to-day behaviors. This can help lower stress, increase client satisfaction, build employee loyalty, increase profitability and creates a win-win situation for all.

Beth Sears, Ph.D., President of Workplace Communication, Inc. is an interpersonal and organizational communication expert. Using her unique approach, Beth has helped leaders to clarify their vision and create language that inspires and engages their workforce, resulting in collaborative, focused teams. Contact her at (585) 538-6360.