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Six top tips to kick-start collaboration in your firm

‘Collaboration’ may seem like yet another buzzword bandwagon that the business world is trying to jump on but bear with me… While collaboration isn’t a magic bullet, as such, it is a key differentiator for professional services firms and a fundamental part of the journey toward achieving your goals.

Dr Heidi K. Gardner of Harvard Law School, author of SMART Collaboration: How professionals and their firms succeed by breaking down silos, tells us, “The greatest asset in any knowledge-based organisation is the expertise of its professionals”. Being able to harness that expertise and share it with colleagues and across departments is essential for success.

Done right, collaboration makes your firm more successful – in the war for clients, and in the war for talent.
Dr Heidi K. Gardner
Harvard Law School

Building a culture of collaboration is a behavioural shift and can take time to nurture. This isn’t about cross-selling services across the firm, but rather being able to work together and share ideas and best practice ways of working – re-inventing the wheel each time you’re faced with a challenge is not an efficient use of anyone’s time!

So, where to begin when it comes to building a collaboration plan for your firm? Although there are many ways to encourage professionals to collaborate on an individual level, most firms will ultimately have to navigate a fundamental culture shift in order to move towards a more systematic way of working collaboratively.

Here are six practical steps you can take to kick-start a collaboration culture.

1. What gets measured gets done

A good first step in encouraging a behavioural change is to build metrics related directly to the desired activity. If you measure performance entirely by an individual’s financial numbers – billable hours, for example – this incentivises partners and fee earners to focus on this action.

Clearly communicate to partners and fee earners that collaboration is seen, tracked and will count towards targets that are reviewed in performance appraisals.

2. Communicate the ‘why?’

Secondly, explain why this change has come about. It’s much easier for teams to get on board with change when they understand the ‘why?’. Launching an internal communications campaign making the reasoning clear is a great way to engage people in large organisations.

Showing individuals that this programme isn’t meant to deter them from fee-earning work, but will increase their earning capacity in the long run, will help to shift behaviours. It’s also important to communicate and celebrate success to demonstrate the ROI on collaborative efforts.

3. Lead by example

It’s easy to tell people how they should behave – but you’ll get much better results by showing them. Senior leadership needs to set an example by collaborating in their day-to-day activities, and you can do this by:

  • Setting a standing agenda item in group meetings to review another group’s plan for opportunities
  • Establishing a rotation in which a team member joins one of another group’s meetings and delivers an elevator pitch for their practice, sector or client expertise, learning more about the host group’s expertise in the process
  • Bringing group leaders together at regular annual intervals to share best practice, discuss common challenges, set priorities, and generally advance execution of the firm’s strategy
  • Creating a forum for sector leaders and client team leaders to exchange insight and experience; which can then be leveraged by their respective teams.

4. Put the right tools in place (make it easy)

Collaboration nirvana is only going to happen if you make the process simple, with minimal barriers to entry. Having a place where all goals can be shared across teams gives your people instant access to all the information they might be looking for.

You can do this by leveraging your existing team structures to make business development information more accessible. You can ask your practice, sector and client teams to articulate their top five priorities for the year ahead, then establish a transparent process through which these groups can share their plans. Or you can implement a software platform to do the legwork for you. Once you’ve developed a simple way to access relevant information and set the expectation that priorities should be shared, it’s much easier to incorporate a host of activities into ‘business as usual’ team tasks.

5. Start small

Rome wasn’t built in a day! A good way to kick-off a collaboration process could be asking your partners to identify one or two areas in which they’d be more likely to succeed with help from others. Then, support them in sharing their goals openly with colleagues and connect them to relevant industry professionals with complementary technical expertise. Finally, celebrate success resulting from these connections by highlighting wins on the firm’s intranet, internal newsletters or other comms.

6. Use technology

Implementing technology to facilitate strategic collaboration is a good way to solve a data-sharing problem. There are many corporate technology systems and collaboration tools out there: financial, CRM, intranet, HRIS, the list goes on… but what do you need from a platform? Conduct an audit to identify information gaps, inaccessible data and questions you can’t answer. Use this as a starting point for defining the type of system that would help people in your firm turn information into insight and insight into opportunity.

These are some ideas for quick wins that will help your firm get started with a collaboration transformation. With a few early success stories and a little momentum, you can ease your firm onto a path that fosters a truly collaborative culture and the success that goes with it.

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