Philip Hall, Legal Counsel at RBS, shares what his recent move in-house has taught him about the importance of vision, strategy and coaching.  

After 10 years in private practice, I crossed the Rubicon and joined the Outsourcing, Technology & IP team at The Royal Bank of Scotland. The team I joined was not new to me but it represented my first move into an in-house position, involving a subject matter that was fairly new to me. Aside from coming to terms with the enormity of a large corporate entity and getting to grips with having a large and demanding client base on tap, each day has provided new learnings and opportunities for self-improvement. My new team places a strong focus on vision, strategy and coaching. Although these concepts themselves are not novel, the focus applied to them in private practice can often be a bit blurred and in some cases entirely absent. The following represents the three key things that I think would helpfully benefit private practice if adopted in the right way.

Have a team vision

A team vision is important. This was something that I was immediately introduced to in my new team and is something that has been notably absent in previous roles I had. Our team vision ensures that everyone knows the common goal that we are pulling towards. It gives a sense of purpose to those within our team. It would be easy to assume that those within a team are all pulling in the same direction and therefore must share the same common goal. If you were to stop and ask yourself, what is the team vision, would you immediately know? I suspect a common answer for those working in private practice would be no. Leaders have an important part to play in communicating the vision and reinforcing its purpose. To be effective, not only must everyone know what the vision is, they must know the actions that will make that vision possible and be able to implement those actions consistently. Our team vision sits at the fore of what we do and is a consideration in any task that is undertaken. Without that, we are just individuals pursuing our own agendas.

Encourage feedback on performance – coach your peers

Constructive, regular and two-way feedback is a common occurrence in my current role. It is encouraged and expected. Not just from junior members of the team but from the top down. Our trainee will coach our team head and everything in between. Coaching is part of continuous development. From a personal perspective, it has helped me address how I deliver a presentation to an audience. Coaching encourages inward reflection and I have been able to iron out longstanding bad habits that have previously been left unaddressed. Private practice encourages self-reliance and individual confidence in one’s own ability, but shies away from constructive, structured and positive feedback. Leaders provide the mantra which others sing to. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a senior member of a private practice team ask for or expect feedback from a junior member of the team. This should be encouraged.

Increase team visibility on current and targeted clients

Clients are the lifeblood of legal firms yet knowledge of the goals, ambitions and drivers of those clients isn’t necessarily openly discussed and addressed. In private practice, there can be an aura of suspicion and internal competition surrounding clients. Clients (or stakeholders) are equally important in-house. However, in a way that differs to private practice, as a team we regularly review stakeholder maps setting out how we could learn more about a stakeholders business area and how we can build and maintain positive relationships with those people we deal with regularly. Mapping this out and discussing as a team creates an inclusive and open environment and ensures we are all aligned in how our stakeholder objectives can be achieved. Discussing clients with colleagues, encouraging open dialogue and maintaining a regular review of that position is key to ensuring lasting and effective relationships with those clients. Rather than being protective or defensive of client relationships, being candid and open about intentions and targets is the key to ensuring success as a team.

The new focus on vision, strategy and coaching has added colour to those things that I felt were lacking from my previous roles. Developing and promoting these concepts is not difficult and does not require a huge amount of time. Success can be achieved without them but for those that take the time to invest in these concepts, the rewards in terms of team morale, performance and buy-in pays dividends.