What makes a team

What makes a successful team and what can we learn from the sporting field for the practice of law? There are a number of common factors in successful teams both in the sporting and legal arenas.

There is so much sport going on at the moment. For a sports tragic like me, I am definitely in my element and loving it! The Ashes and Netball World Cup have recently concluded and the NRL and AFL finals are in full swing and the Rugby World Cup has just kicked off. Teams are competing on the domestic and international stage and striving their best to claim the ultimate prize.  But what makes a successful team and what can we learn from the sporting field for the practice of law?

A great sporting team is much more than just a collection of highly talented individuals. An effective team must combine well, focus on the game plan and rely on the particular strengths and attributes of every member.  A good team player is not just technically proficient, but must be able to add value to the group as a whole.

So too, a legal team requires lawyers with more than just black letter legal skills.  A lawyer must be able to apply their legal knowledge in a commercial context to achieve solutions to meet the needs of their client or business, in the case of an in-house lawyer.

A successful sporting team is well led and works harmoniously to achieve the common goal. Similarly, in the legal field a productive legal function must have an experienced, well regarded and respected leader.  A General Counsel or Partner must be able to motivate others, mentor, delegate work appropriately and be a trusted sounding board to their team members.

The composition of a sporting team works best when there is a combination of different skills and body shapes and sizes, rather than a collection of clones.  A cricket team is made up of opening batters, exciting middle order strokemakers, a wicket keeper, fiery fast bowlers and a wily spinner. The football codes have a mix of attacking players, solid mid fielders and sturdy defenders.  Netball has tall and accurate goal shooters, fast and skilful centres and imposing defenders.

A successful legal team must have lawyers with sound technical skills but also those lawyers with strong business development, interpersonal and relationship skills. Each lawyer can bring their own skills and talents to ensure that the needs of the business are met.  Like a sporting team, it is ok for the lawyers have different backgrounds, specialties and approaches to their work style.  Some of the lawyers might be strong on churning out the documentation and contribute in the engine room, whilst others may be more effective as communicators and facilitators and building strong relationships with the business. A law firm needs a combination of the rainmakers and business developers and the back office workhorses.

Like any sportsperson, you must continue to improve your skills by undertaking the necessary training.  Whatever your role is in your legal team, hone your knowledge and skills by taking additional courses and undertaking relevant training workshops.  Know your particular role in the team and ensure you contribute in a positive way to the team’s overall success.

John Egerton, Manager, Corporate, Mahlab (NSW)