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Get out of your silo

Dylan Brown considers how the public sector lawyer can embrace collaboration.

When the lockdown first came into play, we all made an effort to stay in touch – virtual drinks, quizzes, escape rooms and the like became so widespread that by the time the second lockdown came into effect we were all feeling fatigued.

The benefits of interacting with your colleagues, both professionally and socially, have long been proven – increased productivity and reduced overlap, higher employee engagement scores, better opportunities for innovation.

However, as organisations throughout the public sector permanently adopt remote or hybrid working models, collaboration opportunities could easily slip off the agenda for some teams. This is particularly the case for legal departments, which are often siloed from other departments within their organisations and operate on extremely tight timescales.

Improving collaboration and communication doesn’t have to equate to daylong workshops and corporate team building retreats – nor does it mean yet another virtual quiz (unless you like them). There are a number of easy to implement approaches you can use to increase communication and collaboration amongst your team and across departments.

1) Introduce regular meetings

If you were to catch up with a friend every week compared to every few months, chances are you’d have much more to talk about because you’d have a much better idea of the day-to-day goings-on of each other’s lives. It’s essentially the difference between “How did that job interview go the other day?” to “Are you still at the same job?”

The same applies to how frequently you communicate with colleagues. By introducing regular short and sharp meetings into everyone’s calendar, your team can keep others updated on major projects, highlight blockers, and increase the opportunity for collaboration. It may seem counterintuitive to teams that are time-poor, but if you set a clear agenda and 10-to-15-minute window, they can be incredibly effective. It is also a good way to reduce the need for other one-to-one meetings, which can easily suck up more time.

2) Create clear communication guidelines

You’re used to working under pressure, operating to tight deadlines, and managing a truckload of cases and projects at once.

But when you move things to an online environment, a previously high-functioning team can easily lose direction and end up wasting time.

There are dozens of communication channels at your disposal – decide as a team which channel is the preference (Slack, Teams or even WhatsApp) and stick to it. Also establish clear guidelines over when to message (ideally within working hours) and when to expect a response. For instance, Merck have created acronyms for their internal response expectations, like “Four Hour Response is 4HR” and “No Need to Respond is NNTR”.

And instead of firing over short and sharp messages, which can often waste other people’s time by trying to interpret your messages, encourage your team to take the time to write things out properly – you can never be too clear.

3) Use real-time project management tools

Ever find yourself making an edit to a document with “v13” or something similar tapped on at the end?

Going back and forth with changes to legal documents and accumulating feedback can easily eat up time and decrease productivity - it’s so much more efficient having tools in place that you and your team can operate in real-time. Some organisations use more complex project management tools like Asana to manage their projects and workflows, while others prefer the likes of Google Docs or Trello. Not only will this approach reduce mistakes, but it will also improve your productivity.

4) Promote learning opportunities

For many of us, one of the upsides of the pandemic has been more time to get things done – the time saved from the commute alone has been a godsend.

However, the downside is that learning opportunities have plummeted, which is especially worrisome for junior or new team members.

You may not have time for day-long brainstorming sessions, but you can incorporate learning opportunities into your day-to-day. For instance, host lunch and learn sessions where someone from your department or even another department shares the results and learnings from a project or case they’ve been working on. Or host virtual brainstorming workshops using sites like Miro which allow you to create virtual brainstorming walls.

It’s also worth getting your team together on occasion to discuss what they’d like to learn more about or get involved in – this will be incredibly helpful for junior or new team members.

5) Dedicate time for your people

Last but not least, make the time to share successes and milestones, whether they’re work-related or personal. You can’t expect your team to work towards the same shared vision or purpose if you don’t connect them together on a personal level.

It’s also worth encouraging healthy habits by investing in mental health and wellbeing sessions like meditation, yoga or Pilates. While it’s not always easy, try your best to promote a positive work-life balance – which has become increasingly difficult when working from home. Block out time in everyone’s calendar over the lunch time period, for instance, so that people know not to book meetings then.

Collaboration requires a great deal of time and effort, but the end result will be worth the investment – your team will be more engaged and more effective because of it.

Dylan Brown is the Content Marketing Manager at LexisNexis UK.

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