Coaching a Team to Embrace Conflict
We were asked to coach the legal department within a large US technology company. The legal team was staffed with extremely talented attorneys, and led by one of the most highly regarded General Councils in the industry. The attorneys were involved in multiple aspects of the business including negotiating major contracts, acquiring companies, protection of intellectual property, and international expansion. The GC noticed that his team members were not standing up for themselves in meetings with executives and therefore, not playing their role as "legal guardrails" as well as they should. The GC wanted his team to be more assertive so that he did not have to spend time fighting battles they should handle on their own.
The GC asked that we do an engagement over several months to:
improve the cohesiveness of the team
help them be more assertive with company executives,
help each team member learn their personal strengths and weaknesses in relation to their work, and
help the team become even more respected and integral to the operations of the company.
We worked closely with the GC to:
Conduct 360 interviews with all team members to assess existing team dynamics
Give personality profiles to all team members, support staff and the GC, and reviewed those personality profiles together as a team
Hold regular weekly individual coaching with all team members,
Conducted weekly team coaching with all members of the legal department together.
One of the clear discoveries in our work was that the legal team was very much afraid to initiate hard discussions and engage in conflict. They loved playing the role of problem solver, but did not like being seen in the "guard rail" role. The source of this common challenge went back to the GC's hiring practices for his own team. We specifically worked with them to grow more comfortable with conflict, and to honor that job as a sacred role in the organization.
In addition, the CEO asked us to conduct workshop for the top tier managers and leaders in the entire company (48 executives), which took the form of a half-day leadership retreat focused on healthy conflict. As the workshop developed, we discovered a need in the organization to see and acknowledge unseen minorities within the organization, recognize institutionalized marginalization, and reach deep empathy for those unseen and marginalized minorities.
The GC and the Legal Department dramatically increased team cohesiveness and often used the tools and materials we provided to initiate and lead conflict conversations across the organization. They improved their interactions with one another, and their comfort level in acting as the "legal guardrails" of the business. The CEO and the leadership team initiated efforts across the company to revise long-standing dynamics with marginalized groups that before, they did not even know existed.