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Teamwork: Getting The Best Out of People Working Together

The jazz greats including John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong also understood collaboration; they knew that a great jazz performance requires more than individual excellence. Members of their combos listened carefully to the others and played in a tightly integrated and collaborative group environment. Not only did they work collaboratively, but they distinguished their performance by being creative, while at the same time playing within the structure of the song or tune.
— (Terrell Stafford)

Ask a managing partner or other senior leader of professionals if good teamwork is necessary and you will invariably get a positive response. It will probably be along the lines of, ‘A well-led and coordinated team, working together to achieve agreed objectives, produces better results than a collection of individuals accountable only for their own performance.’ It sounds trite. It is easy to say but getting it to happen is difficult enough in any organization. With professionals who often prefer to work alone and to be responsible purely for their own efforts it is especially tricky.

Nigel Knowles, Managing Partner at DLA, puts the problem in a nutshell:

In my experience many lawyers are insecure. They are happiest when working quietly in their silos doing their own specialized professional work. They are nervous about stepping out of their comfort zones. So it is quite hard to get them to work well in teams. They don’t always find it easy to contribute to business planning; to support each other; to pass on their skills; to participate in business decision making; to work together on major professional matters; and to pitch, as part of a team, for big new assignments.

Team leaders have to devote a lot of effort, therefore, to promoting good teamwork. Encouraging people to participate in decision making, giving everyone a chance to influence outcomes, lots of oral communication and above all leading by example are crucial. Team leaders need to be very skilful at running meetings. It is not readily given to everyone but people can learn. Getting a group to work well as a team requires lots of drive and enthusiasm but above all belief in what is being done and how it can be done. Belief, when it is there, shines through. It is critical. This does not mean that the team leader necessarily has to be noisy about it. For lots of team leaders drive and belief shine through in a quiet way.

The benefits that accrue to a group of professionals working well together as a team include:

  1. a greater capacity to cope with complicated professional matters by being able to utilize a wider but related range of experience and talent;
  2. better professional and business decisions arising from collective rather than individual wisdom – several heads are better than one;
  3. more and better ideas for improving service quality, marketing, skill development, data banks, systems and processes;
  4. better marketing by harnessing the different talents of individuals, for example some make formal sales presentations, others write articles, one or two run seminars and a few network among potential clients;
  5. improved client service by always having people available to deal with queries and respond to requests;
  6. easier sharing of knowledge, skills and experience;
  7. better development of trainees and younger professionals through shared work scheduling and coaching;
  8. improved reputation in the marketplace by being able to promote a strong and talented team working together;
  9. stronger support of colleagues for each other when needed;
  10. improved ability to attract talented professionals from outside by virtue of having a strong and successful team profile in the recruitment marketplace.

There can be little doubt about the benefits of having strong and effective teams. The important thing is how to bring them into effect. The rest of this chapter is devoted to looking at some useful ways of achieving this. A good starting point is to get your team to make an assessment of how well it is working and how to bring about improvements.