Before the kind of team we’re talking about can function sustainably, its sponsors must make sure that the firm is sufficiently committed to the mission to remain steadfast when the inevitable difficulties arise.
Step One was to deliver a heavy dose of reality to the two founding sponsors (who were the relationship leaders for this client) to make sure they understood exactly what they were getting into. The concept — a self-directed, self-governing team that accomplishes great things without management or supervision — is understandably attractive. However, the reality is that we’re transforming a deeply-embedded and powerfully-reinforced culture. There will be real struggles between now and when we start popping the champagne, and they’ll have to show real leadership to get through them.
They spoke with the now-retired chairman of the firm with whom we’d done our beta. He shared his experiences with them and helped them understand the reality of the journey, and the leadership necessary to get through the expected rough spots. He said it wasn’t as draconian as I’d described, but that it was probably a good idea that I’d presented it that way to make sure I got their attention. His final words: “It’s messy, but it works.”
Next, they had to get the firm to buy into the idea, not so much from the standpoint of the investment required, but because of how radically different the process was from what law firms are used to. Fortunately, I had trained a number of the senior lawyers in the firm some years ago, so I had personal credibility that, combined with the enthusiastic endorsement of these two leaders, was enough to get it approved. The biggest reaction, it seemed, was genuine curiosity about how this would work.
We put together a GANNT-style chart showing the progression of activity, and correlated it to expense so the firm could project the pace of expenditures over the year it will take to effect permanent change. Now, with our green light, it was time to start delivering on the excitement and promise.
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