Client teams fail to deliver on their promise for many reasons, but I put these two at the top:

1. No meaningful purpose.
2. No role clarity.

Client teams became the new bright, shiny object for law firms in the early 2000s, with big firms predictably aping each other in the rush to create teams, then outdoing each other in the team declaration race. ”We have 50 client teams!” “Oh, yeah, well we have 100.” ”That’s nothing, we have 150,” and so on. I've searched the literature and can find no public evidence of such teams delivering the benefits either to clients or firms that the grandiose initiatives suggested were expected. There is, however, ample reporting of client teams’ failures and shortcomings.

Too many of these teams’ missions were noble intentions to improve, strengthen, broaden, deepen or otherwise affect client relationships in some vague, and comfortably unmeasurable, way.  With no way to assess current relationship strength, depth or breadth, it’s hard to know if one has impacted it or, if so, to what degree.  Since it’s impossible to measure progress, it’s very hard for team members or leaders to discern initial direction or recognize the need to change it.

The result was “planning to plan,” i.e., an endless series of subcommittees, steering groups, and team planning meetings, during which members argued about the relative merits of various tactical actions.  

With no useful mission as a framework, all ideas are good enough, so the opinion-driven discussion becomes enervating, causing team attrition.  In many instances, they devolve to parochial discussions of potential pitches for new business, with partners seeing the team as a potential entry point into a client they’ve previously been unable to convince the relationship partner to introduce them into.

Finally, the teams’ leaders functioned as Dad or Mom, with the team members as the kids, waiting for parental direction, without clearly defined contributory roles that would allow them to operate independently.  As a result, you had a lot of people hanging around, awaiting their next assignment.  Of greater significance than the obvious waste of talent and initiative, having no role is demotivating and discouraging.

Next: An audacious goal that attracts motivated team members, sustains energy throughout the effort, and causes clients to join the team.