What Lawyer Teams Can Learn About the Power of Collaboration from Rowing Crew

JD Supra Perspectives

There is much value from working in teams. Whether it's an administrative team, a practice group, an industry team, or a key client account team, good things happen when people come together to achieve a common goal. 

Team-based coaching programs create stronger relationships and achieve more than individual coaching programs. For best practices in creating and leveraging successful teams, let’s look at what we can learn from one of the oldest team sports around – rowing. 

Relationships develop from shared experience

“Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also be as one.” – George Yeoman Pocock

One of the managing partners I work with calls it “the glue” – the ubiquitous something firms need to be a true partnership, a high-functioning team. 

Not much else can replicate the bond created from a shared experience. When you join others to work on a project, digging into details, managing uncertainty, and seeing it through to conclusion, it's memorable. What you often find is it is less about the thing you were working toward and more about the journey you took together to get there.

Some of the blame for the amount of attrition from associate ranks in law firms today is due to many firms, during and after the recession, discontinuing the practice of hiring classes of associates straight out of law school. Not having this "pledge class" bond with a group of fellow lawyers has left many associates feeling isolated, or at least untethered. Nothing holds them at their current firm. A team coaching program can create that shared experience associates used to have by entering law firms at the same time.

The team can achieve more than the individual

“Where is the spiritual value of rowing?... The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole.” – George Yeoman Pocock

Team-based coaching ensures more progress than individual coaching. Teams going through a program together are more apt to identify cross-selling opportunities because they get to know each other, exchange information on representative experience, and discuss who knows whom. They share their individual challenges and learn from each other how to overcome them. They generate new ideas and follow up with one another on tasks identified in previous sessions. The team approach fosters accountability and leverages collective brain power, allowing for more positive outcomes than programs with an individual approach and emphasis.

At the Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Region Conference this past September, Jordan Furlong noted we must adapt our law firms to a client-first world. To do that, he says it is essential to focus on strengthening the enterprise, on supporting the firm over its lawyers. We must generate revenue from new sources and build a one-firm culture. Team-based coaching provides space for that mindset to be encouraged. 

A noble pursuit requires a certain type of person

“In a sport like this – hard work, not much glory, but still popular in every century – well, there must be some beauty which ordinary men can’t see, but extraordinary men do.” – George Yeoman Pocock

Mr. Pocock could be describing the legal profession here. Though some lawyers enter the profession for the siren’s song of money, status, or prestige, many more labor day in and day out for those things they value and for which they believe the profession stands – values like justice, liberty, and opportunity. There is beauty in a contract that sets up a founder’s exit. Beauty in representing a small business against a large company which stole IP assets. 

Team-based coaching allows for the sharing of these stories, the celebration of and pride in the profession. 

Nothing important happens in the world without a lawyer present. From courtrooms to boardrooms, professionals advocate for clients, advise decision makers, challenge existing law or write new ones. It’s a noble pursuit and one worth acknowledging from time to time.

Whether striving to be the best crew in the next regatta or working to position your law firm for future growth and success, build and leverage your team. Foster an atmosphere for connectedness and expect to achieve more. 

PS – For more from George Yeoman Pocock and about rowing, check out Daniel James Brown’s excellent book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics


[Society 54 Co-Founder Jill Huse is renowned as a trusted professional services advisor. Jill, a certified Worldwide Association of Business Coaches Coach, is highly regarded for her progressive ingenuity, research-based strategy and, most importantly, her ability to deliver results for clients.]

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