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Creating a Team Culture In-House

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 07, 2017 3:04 PM

There is no "I" in "team," but there is one in "In-house" counsel.

So how do in-house counsel build a team culture in their departments? Well, it's kind of a like building a sports team because everybody has a role.

But success comes when the individuals put aside personal goals for a common goal. Then everybody -- general counsel, managers and staffers -- can focus on the end result and not on individual achievements. Sometimes it takes flipping the organization chart or setting aside the in-house hierarchy.

Basketball -- a high-profile team sport in the midst of March Madness -- offers some comparisons. For the moment, let's hear it for "Defense!"

Two-Way Players

In basketball, everybody loves a scorer -- that player who can put the ball though the hoop. But coaches, whose job it is to manage a team, love two-way players. Those are team members who play both offense and defense. Because, as they say, defense wins championships.

In business, it's not all about the top dog. Everybody needs to work for the company's common goal. By doing whatever-it-takes, everyone on the team can succeed.

"This creates a culture where teams are pushed forward, rather than individuals," says Ilya Pozin, founder of Pluto TV. "When everyone feels like they're on the same team, responsibility is shared throughout the entire company."

She said team leaders can encourage this through team goals. This means flipping the organization chart and setting goals together that align the team, the client and the company.

"At my company, we have a team goal that we make sure is measured and improved upon every two weeks," she says. "Essentially everyone becomes a valuable asset. If even one person does not hold up his end, the entire goal (and organization) will be affected."

Team Defense

Sometimes in basketball, the offense runs plays to create mismatches on defense. For example, a play may cause defenders to switch places so that a bigger player has an advantage over a smaller player.

That's where team defense takes over. It requires other players to help out, often to double-team the offensive player who otherwise would have the advantage.

Likewise, in-house teams have to help each other. Rather than following a hierarchy of help, attorneys need to step up for each other across the board. Eric Esperne, counsel for Dell, says staff attorneys should look for opportunities to volunteer and help other lawyers in the department.

"If you are working as a staff lawyer in a law department, look for opportunities to make your reporting into the department as "flat" as possible, by volunteering for committees, taking on special projects, and offering to help other lawyers in your department," he said.

Drawing wisdom from Phil Simms, a former NFL quarterback and now a commentator, Esperne said "don't chase the points." He said it's not about scoring big, but scoring wisely. "It's the same with your career," he said. "Don't chase the money. Develop good contacts, learn how business works and enjoy being a lawyer."

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