Google recently undertook an internal study around the question: What are the key traits that distinguish their most successful teams?

The main finding was: A team’s dynamics are more important than the talents of the individuals who make it up. Teams that were most successful were able to establish ‘psychological safety‘. This means that people in the team had a shared belief that the team was safe for interpersonal risk taking. Accordingly, teams were most successful when their leaders and members were able to create an environment where no employees were afraid that one of their questions or suggestions would reveal them to be out of the loop.

keyIn other words, in teams that are most successful and effective members trust one another on a fundamental level and they are comfortable about sharing their weaknesses, mistakes, fears and behaviours. They can be completely open with one another without filters. They feel safe because they do not fear rejection or conflict. Therefore, members of successful teams feel free to come up with new ideas, challenge others, embrace change, take risks and be accountable for their actions.

Trust has nothing to do with soft touchy feely, trust is about courage. Trust is about not being afraid of being vulnerable in the eyes of colleagues. For many of us this is quite a difficult thing because we have been conditioned to: “Be perfect!”, “Have the solution!”, “Have the better idea!”, “Be tough and have always everything under control!”. – Yet, trust is about admitting, when true, that: “I don’t know”, “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, “I need help”, “I am not sure”, “You are better than I am in that” and “I am sorry”.

The good news is, that it is almost never too late to help people build up trust in their organisations and between themselves. The bad news is that it takes time, but can be accelerated by team and trust building measures. Yet, trust in a team as well as in an organisation as a whole is never completed – it must be maintained over time.

glueHere are some practical tips for behaviour that will help you encourage trust in your team:


Teams that smartly invest in trust building will develop a strong culture which acts like a glue holding them together especially in challenging times. Moreover, it’s more fun to work in such a team as its members will not going to engage in nasty politics that waste everybody’s time and energy.

What do you think? What are your experiences? What is the trust level in your team on a scale from 1 to 10? Amongst management? Amongst staff and managers? What are you willing to do to increase the trust level in your team? – What will you do today?

In times of economic crisis you cannot afford to sit back and let someone else do the rainmaking for you. What truly puts you in a strong position in your law firm is a client base which supports not only you, but also others in the firm, and which your firm does not want to see leave. – Therefore, if you are a lawyer and you haven’t made business development a priority, now is the time to reconsider.

Over the last six years of my training and coaching practice with lawyers I have observed that business development is not always an easy thing for lawyers. Many struggle with it. Here some examples I have encountered in different settings:

imgOne of the insights I got from the numerous sessions with lawyers around these issues is, that these lawyers often have thoughts around business development, that limit them to be more active and successful in client development. Mostly, these thoughts are underlying assumptions and beliefs that the lawyer is not consciously aware of, but which are drivers to his or her motivation and behaviour. As long as self-limiting beliefs have not become conscious they can create strong resistance and act like negative “self-fulfilling prophecies”. Let me give you some typical examples of such self-limiting beliefs: “I cannot sell; when doing client development I have to sell”, “I am too shy to do networking, it’s not my nature”, “only outgoing extroverts can become rainmakers”; “I cannot talk about my achievements and grand talk”, “I am a lawyer, not a salesperson; I have to do what I have always done and what I do best, provide excellent legal work and not sell” etc.
You can easily understand that such beliefs are not a very powerful blueprint for a proactive business development behaviour.
One aspect of my work is to help lawyers become aware of the blockages caused by such thoughts and find a more empowering way to approach business development. After some work around these issues my clients generally come up with a different view on business development. Which thought is powerful depends from person to person: what works for one lawyer does not necessarily work for another lawyer. Here some examples of empowering thoughts that have given great results to some of my former clients: “Client development is about creating high-quality trust relationships”, “business development is a discussion with a person who might have needs for my services to evaluate if what I have to offer is of value to that person”, “I love to discuss with other people and share my experience”, “client development is fun”, “I am genuinely interested in and care about other people”, “I deserve it to represent this case/this client” etc.
Changing your thinking gives you the key to change your behaviour. When lawyers change their thinking about business development they become highly motivated and naturally active in client development.
Let’s end this article with a quote from David Maister. I think for lawyers seeking to increase their business development activity it is valuable to contemplate his advice on how to sell: “the best way to sell is not to sell, but to care.”.

Imagine one of your junior people comes into your office for advice: “I have a problem in this file, what shall I do?” What happens if, instead of telling him/her what to do, you ask “Well, what do you think?”

Precisely, coaching is about resisting to telling what to do and how to do it. Instead you ask your people for their opinion and approach and you help and support them in developing the solution themselves.

In other words, the essence of coaching is about:

See your collaborators as persons on their way to get better and better. Your are their support. You become the catalyst of their performance improvement. Your job is to help the person become not only more competent but also more confident. In building up the self-confidence of your people they will become more responsible.

For this to work you have first to build a trust relationship. Trust is the most important ingredient. If your subordinate doesn’t trust you, you can’t coach him or her. Make the conversations confidential and do not disclose to others what you discuss.

carrotThese are the keys to coaching people management style:


Here a concrete example of questions you could use to structure the discussion with one of your people:

Always make sure you have a clear commitment to action at the end of the discussion.
Incorporating a coaching style leadership is a powerful way to develop your team and ultimately to improve performance. The use of a coaching style has also been shown to have a very positive impact on your company or law firm culture. This means that people feel more listened to, respected, empowered, valued, more confident and free to come up with new ideas. A true leader will have impact because he/she will make his/her people and the team see what they can become rather than what they are today. – The competence to coach your people becomes as a result increasingly a competitive advantage.

Why not test with a junior person of your team a coaching style discussion today?