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The instant you add the first person to your team, communication becomes your number one problem.
Before that, when it’s just you by yourself, the conversation happens inside your head. It may be a weird, murky, disoriented, incoherent conversation, but it is happening. Lack of communication is not your problem.
But once you add an associate, staff person, partner, or anyone else, your communication challenges will immediately come to the forefront.
Getting your team (no matter how small) into alignment to achieve goals is essential. The law firm you’ve created in your mind’s eye will only come to fruition when you bring your team into alignment. Everyone needs to know what you’re trying to build and why it matters. Communication is how you make that happen. Without effective communication, everyone heads in a different direction. Things get done, but they’re often not the things that need doing.
Alignment is the objective
We communicate in order to achieve alignment, so that the right things get done. Everyone involved needs to know what the firm as a whole is trying to accomplish and what they as individual members need to do so that we can effectively work together. Small things can be achieved with minimal communication. But big things–like achieving your vision–require a team working in sync with one another.
Communication is how we all get on the same page. We need to cooperate in order to achieve our business goals. We can’t safely assume that everyone knows what we’re trying to achieve, unless we discuss it.
That’s why the most successful law firms engage in systematic communications between the people working together on matters, assignments, and projects. Each firm does it differently, but it’s safe to assume that firms getting great work done are using a variety of techniques to ensure that folks know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who needs to do it. That’s why the work is getting done properly.
Rosen Institute members learn to implement rigorous systems for communicating with their team members. Daily standups, weekly team meetings, one-to-one sessions, monthly and quarterly planning sessions, and more, are necessary for effective teams to efficiently achieve their goals.
The most amazing firms are doing something more
But just communicating with one another isn’t enough. Sure, over the short-term, you’ll get cases handled and keep clients happy through good communication among team members. But keeping the team in alignment over the long-haul requires even more than abundant communication around the client matters of the moment.
Your team doesn’t just want to know what’s happening. Your team wants meaning. They want to do something that matters. They want their lives to be about making a difference.
Working on a single case matters to your team. Working on a series of cases matters even more. But that will only keep them motivated for the first few cases. Eventually, though, your team will find they are seeing the same personality faults in each client, banging their collective heads against the wall over the same problems, and dealing with the same bureaucracies, over and over. They (and you) will start to wonder if all the energy you’re putting into these cases matters.
Defining your business purpose as something beyond just closing cases and making money gives the team a principle around which long-term alignment is possible. Purpose is like rocket fuel for a business. A higher calling creates higher energy.
The higher purpose of your law firm is like the North Star. It stands above, shining brightly, guiding you and your team to your destination. Even when we make mistakes, take a wrong turn, or follow a detour, the higher purpose–the source of meaning–pulls us back onto the right course.
But the search for meaning is challenging, and it always starts with the person at the top: you.
You’re going to have to find the thing that drives you. You’re going to have to really contemplate why you do what you do and what difference you want to make in the universe.
Finding that thing, that something you’re passionate about, which motivates others as well, is difficult. It takes emotional unearthing, reaching back to an earlier time, before cynicism, financial stress, and real life got in your way. You believe in something. Figuring out what isn’t always easy.
Cash isn’t really why you’re doing this
When I ask lawyers about their big goals, their why, the easy answer is often money. Lots of lawyers have thought it all through, figured it all out, and put a price tag on it. The dollar amount is shorthand for something like the big house, the nice car, the college tuition, the awesome vacations, and the relaxing retirement. They’ve added it all up and figured out what it costs and how much they need to earn to make it happen.
I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. But it’s not enough–not for you or for the others accompanying you on this journey.
Making money for you may be motivating … to you. The rest of your team isn’t going to invest themselves in your need for a bigger bank balance. They’re not going to stick around to see when you reach your objective. Even if they care about money, it’s not your money they care about. They’ve got their own priorities, concerns, and worries. Making money for you isn’t high on their list.
Plus, even the most money-motivated people (including you) are rarely fulfilled by putting away cash. Most of us find satisfaction in other kinds of reinforcement. We love winning the case, helping the client, or making a difference in our community. The money keeps us going for a while, but it’s rarely energizing as the years go by. We need something more.
I’ve known plenty of lawyers who hit their number, but still felt the need to keep going, because there is no such thing as “enough.” I’ve also known lawyers who walked away from their practices, when they came to terms with how unfulfilling their lives were. They realized that the kind of business they’d built and the type of work they were doing simply weren’t worth the misery.
A higher purpose brings out the best in people–even you.
Your team needs something to align around
The grander the purpose, the higher the calling, the more engagement you’ll get out of your team. You’ll also find yourself waking up without an alarm clock. The more you put into a big goal, the more you get out of it. Many of us dream small, and more often than not, that makes us feel small. We’re capable of more. Giving ourselves permission to strive for something bigger than ourselves energizes us and energizes our team.
Big goals require big efforts, big energy, and a big commitment. Sometimes we’re tired and just want to survive another day. Thinking big feels like asking ourselves to do more than we’re currently ready to do.
But as illogical as it seems, big dreams give us big energy. The dream brings out the energy to power us toward the dream. It’s the big goals, the big differences we strive to make, that fuel the extra energy we need to achieve the goal. Big goals make their own energy.
Money goals, even big money goals, don’t work. They’re not important over the long-haul. They don’t sustain us and they don’t motivate our team. If the goal is big money, then you need a big purpose. The purpose will power you and your team. The money is merely a byproduct.
The big goal aligns the team because the team cares about the commitment made by the business. The higher calling, the purpose, is the energy source. It’s what keeps the team communicating, moving forward, and working together.
Your number one problem is communication. Communicate a meaningful purpose to your team, and they’ll feel your vision in their bones. They’ll stay in alignment, they’ll work together, and they’ll communicate their way to an ever more successful law firm.