Renowned management consultant Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, referring to the importance of organisational culture to business success. This is especially true for teams looking to transform the way they work to meet future demands.
Good lawyers have particular attributes - meticulous attention-to-detail, a mix of risk aversion and commercial acumen, perfectionism and the ability to replicate precedents. It should then be expected that some legal cultures will be resistant to ‘innovation’ initiatives that involve unprecedented ideas, ambiguity, experimentation and continuous revision.
Here are some battle tested key insights (or tips) to assist you transform mindsets, behaviours and processes.
What is an ‘innovation culture’?
An ‘innovation culture’ is a collection of team behaviours that foster innovative thinking, practices and delivery of work. This kind of culture can facilitate innovative output, but does not ensure it.
One way of defining ‘innovation’ is a change of tools, operating models or business models to develop a novel solution to a problem or opportunity. Applied to legal teams, this may mean the adoption of new legal technology tools, revised processes or new ways of working that improve the operational, cultural or commercial objectives of your team and its stakeholders.
Are you fostering an ‘innovation culture’ in your in-house legal team?
The key components of a successful team culture are authentic leadership and empowered team members working towards a clear, common vision, backed by aligned values, behaviours and processes.
Below are some key considerations for leaders wanting to enable their teams to adopt more innovative behaviours, mindsets and practices.
1. Have a purpose and a vision
A team purpose or vision is not an idealistic set of corporate values, nor is it an overly conceptual goal. In fact, a team’s purpose and vision are very different things. A purpose is the reason for the team’s existence – this is usually organisationally driven. The purpose of in-house legal teams may be to advise the organisation through legal, commercial and risk-related decisions. At G+T Innovate, our purpose is to develop lawyers of the future and future-proof our clients’ delivery of legal services. A team vision is a ‘stretch-goal’ that inspires action and provides strategic direction – a clear, ambitious ‘target-state’ that is often linked to a team’s highest values. A team that values delivering excellence and flexible working may have a vision to ‘continuously exceed business expectations from anywhere in the world’.
Tip: Create a vision that is ‘simple, but not easy’
First, determine what you and your team value the most, the values that are prioritised, and let those values guide your ideal. A good vision is ‘simple but not easy’, within your team’s control, and everyone has had a chance to provide input.
Be sure to articulate the value of the vision to the team – if successful, how will it change their everyday lives at work or at home? Ensure each team member knows their role in the journey – that their unique personality or skillsets are critical to the team’s success, and the part they play.
For example, if your vision is to enable remote, high-performance teams, then your vision may be ‘to exceed business expectations from anywhere in the world’.
2. Create values that align with your vision and embed them into your team’s culture
Values guide team behaviour, which then forms team culture. To create an innovative culture, your team’s values (and thus behaviour) will need to align with innovative practices – curiosity, open-mindedness, experimentation and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Tip: Reframe your values into actions and questions
Reframing values into actions and questions is a powerful tool for driving behaviour. For example, the ‘innovation values’ above can be reframed to ‘be curious’, ‘defer judgement’, ‘believe in a better way’ or ‘learn by doing’. It’s no wonder that Google is seen as an innovation powerhouse – their 8 Pillars of Innovation are clear, actionable values that guide behaviour, and culture.
Taking it a step further, values can also be reframed to drive decision making. For example, a rowing coach might consider ‘does this make the boat go faster?’ for every major (or minor) decision, or an innovative team leader may ask ‘is this an opportunity to do something differently?’.
3. Exhibit and encourage behaviour that is consistent with your vision and values
Behaviours are inspired by the vision and guided by the values, but it is innovative behaviours that ultimately create innovative cultures. Ensure that as a leader, your own behaviour and leadership style aligns with the values you are trying to promote.
Tip: Practice authentic leadership
Authentic Leadership theory promotes honest, safe and inclusive environments and recommends that leaders invest in ongoing personal development, build honest relationships and ensure their actions are consistent with the vision and values.
Self-awareness practices will make this endeavour easier – keep track of ‘triggers’ that have deviated you from your values, encourage regular and transparent feedback, and once you can identify your own weaknesses, encourage others to help you address them.
‘Leading by example’ is a powerful way to instil behaviours and values in a team. Aim to align your actions with your values and make yourself accountable to those values. Set ‘behavioural KPIs’ on your own leadership style and track them as meticulously as your other metrics. Ensure that your behavioural KPIs align with your team’s (and if they don’t have them, create them).
Adopt a mindset of ‘continuous improvement’. Assume that no tool or process is perfect, and encourage teams to continuously experiment, seek feedback, reflect and improve things in increments. Some of our other articles provide some more guidance.
4. Create an environment where team members have the opportunity, permission and capability to innovate
Innovative cultures require an environment where teams feel safe to speak up, give feedback, propose new ideas, respectfully challenge others and have the resources and know-how to turn ideas into action. In summary, they have opportunity, permission and capability.
Tip: Ensure team members feel safe enough to experiment and provide feedback
Psychological safety is the most critical component to individuals making this transition to innovative practices. It is important to understand that innovation is not a linear process – it requires experimentation, novel thinking, testing, revision and learnings. Team members must feel safe to balance this uncertainty and still meet business needs. One characteristic of a psychologically safe culture may include open meetings where everyone feels comfortable to raise their hands and openly debate ideas.
Transparent leadership and open communication are important trust-building tools. Communicate the vision openly, encourage open feedback and share progress. Creating a positive feedback loop for constructive criticism will build trust and will lead to very valuable insights.
Tip: Know your team members well and how they operate
Each team has differing personalities, skillsets and drivers. An authentic leader knows these intimately and where each person’s strengths, weaknesses and motivations can fit in the vision. Is each team member being applied to their fullest potential? Are they aware of their gaps and approach them with a growth mindset?
Finally, have systems and process in place to enable execution, to turn values and behaviour into output. This has two components – capability and operations. Fostering a team that is empowered to pursue innovation is most of the battle, but they will also need the education and resources to put ideas into action. This can take the form of training in areas like design thinking or process improvement, or access to conceptual frameworks, project management tools or legal technology. This capability is supplemented by operations – the processes your team use to create and implement their innovative ideas. Common examples are innovation idea registers, or even remote collaboration practices.
Each of these approaches must be balanced with performance to ensure that the team is still delivering. The outcome is a more efficient, engaged team with better processes to deliver better work. This should remain the focus. Accountability, performance and output should not be lost as part of this process.
Balancing a traditional legal ‘certainty’ culture with traits of an ‘innovative’ culture is not a simple task, particularly for leaders. Cultural change is often lengthy, met with resistance and uncertain to succeed the first time.
This article provides a useful guide and self-assessment for leaders. Of course, these approaches are not exhaustive and like most things there are several ways to reach an outcome, but they will certainly hold you in good stead as you approach your transformation journey.
What is the Acceleration Workshop?
Start with a half-day workshop that brings together key stakeholders from your team with our G+T Innovate experts to jump-start your transformation journey.
Let us guide you…