Summary: Learn the four stages of group development, how each stage applies to groups in law firms, and how to develop effective teamwork strategies in law firms.
Effective teamwork is critical to law firms. Increasingly, clients expect firms to work effectively across departments, offices, and even jurisdictions. The greater complexity and size of legal matters requires more frequent collaboration and sharing of resources. Firms themselves have evolved from loose collections of individuals to a more unified structure. They have grown so much that they need groups of lawyers to run management teams, compensation committees, and client and industry teams.
But at many firms, teams detract from performance. We believe that is because too few team leaders and members sufficiently understand how groups work. A team's success depends on the constructive engagement of its members. But lawyers often retreat from teamwork and revert to solitary productivity when the behavior of the other members seems confusing and destructive, objectives and roles are not clear, and progress is minimal. By understanding the way that groups operate, lawyers can both lead and effectively contribute to the groups in which they work.
Many firms that have successfully built and managed teams provide their lawyers with training and support in teamwork. Such firms recognize that effective teamwork doesn't just happen by chance. Rather, it is a skill that can be taught. By increasing the effectiveness of their teams, these firms have freed lawyers from unproductive meetings to focus on client work. This, in turn, improves the firm's productivity and, ultimately, profitability.
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Research in the field of group dynamics has produced psychological frameworks for understanding teams. The most established conceptual model is one proposed by organizational psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Dr. Susan Wheelan, a professor of psychology at Temple University, has undertaken more recent research into the stages of group development. We have drawn from both models and applied them to law firms.