This past month, the ABA Law Practice Division Executive Committee and staff joined for a team-building exercise during the ABA Section Officers Council Fall Leadership Meeting by attending a cooking school and preparing our own meal.
When you think about it, creating a successful team within the ABA Law Practice Division is a lot like cooking. We have to add certain ingredients to the pot—a little of this, a little of that, more of another thing to make it sweet or to add just the right touch of salt. The temperature and how long we cook it has to be watched carefully, otherwise we risk it coming out undercooked or burning it. Some people are naturals at cooking, others not so much. Some can’t cook to save their life.
So, is there a secret recipe for the ABA Law Practice Division to build a team this year? Absolutely not! There are far too many different ingredients (some limited in quantity). Often, we end up working with what we have. But we do have to pay close attention and make sure our ingredients (our team members) work well together.
For us to successfully “cook up” a team, we have to be good at a variety of things. Here’s a quick list:
- Know yourself. How well do you know yourself? I’ve taken a lot of criticism and compliments over the years. I’ve spent countless hours reflecting on what I do well and what I don’t do well at all. It is important that we each understand our individual strengths and the value that we bring to the LP team table.
- Know other people’s strengths. This is sometimes quite difficult; I have erred on occasion by delegating the wrong tasks to the wrong people because I didn’t fully understand their strengths. We need to know what each of us does well, and how our individual strengths and weaknesses align with the goals we hope to accomplish for the Division this year.
- Develop resilience. One key trait of most successful people is they don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves when something bad happens. We have to learn to deal with setbacks, failures and disappointments, and move on. If we put too much salt in a particular recipe, we learn from our mistake, mark it down, and use less salt next time.
- Learn how to work through conflict. In retrospect, I see where I have fallen short by not taking action when other members of my team had a disagreement. Sometimes it may seem easier to ignore a problem rather than to work it out. This is where many teams lose their most valuable members. There will be times when members of our team will disagree. This is a critical phase: if we get our team members through it, they will often become even more committed to LP. No one should quit at the first disagreement, and sometimes we have to help members of our team work through the conflict.
- Love them, help them, love them. Everyone makes mistakes. Heaven knows I have had my share. We have to allow people to make mistakes. Help them through it and then be sure to show the love again. People won’t stick their neck out for us or the team if they know we will cut it off. They will simply play it safe. And as Bob Young, our immediate past chair, has often said, if we want to grow the ABA Law Practice Division, its programs, its membership, and its service to the profession, we have to allow those that have been delegated the responsibility to make the decisions even if it’s not necessarily the one we would make.
If we remain focused on these things, the Law Practice Division team we cook up this year will be one of tremendous success to which we can all be proud. I look forward to building upon our past successes and enhancing our team this year as we have a bit of fun, get know each other better, and build a great Law Practice Division team.
About the Author
Tom Bolt is the founder and managing attorney of BoltNagi PC in St. Thomas, USVI, and is the chair of the ABA Law Practice Division.