Departmental change and restructure

In this article, we look at how to define your role in the context of departmental change and restructure. We set out the seven critical stages of managing change and emphasise the importance of ongoing evolution to reflect the dynamic nature of business, the law and organisational development.

The organisation you work in is unlikely to stand still in the face of business or regulatory change. Almost every function will evolve, which means yours will too.

You’ll need to work with your own team members, adjacent departments and key stakeholders to plan and manage change and keep your services relevant to the wider strategy and business plan.

Internal change: business as usual

You open your inbox on Monday morning and there’s an email from the VP Regional Sales. It reads:

“We’re going to start selling one of our products in the US. We’ve signed the heads of terms and want to start in three months from now. Please can you do all the legal stuff in the next couple of weeks?”

It’s not an unusual request for an in-house lawyer to receive, however it may mean restructuring your team or implementing some internal change.

Managing internal change

A good way to plan and manage internal change is through this seven-stage process.

1: Where are we now? Establish your starting point. What tools, skills and systems do you already have in place to meet the VP Regional Sales’ needs?

2: Where do we need to be and why? Define what the end point of the change process will look like. This will make it possible for your team to understand and deliver it. Think about it from the VP Regional Sales’ viewpoint and make it specific to issues such as:

  • Board advice;
  • Governance;
  • Licences;
  • Approvals;
  • Contracts; and
  • Local office presences.

Prioritise by importance, risk and lead times. Pay special attention to things which are outside of your organisation to control - either in terms of getting a plan delivered, such as getting a trade licence, or when running which are different to what you are used to in your home office, such as trading restrictions in a US state in which your organisation plans to sell. Think "there is the Same As here Except For... your "SAEFty check".

3: How do we get there? The key points here are:

  • Timings;
  • Activities;
  • "Firebreak thinking". Adjusting existing work and unquantified historical issues (e.g. unanalysed contracts, possible but not yet made claims, lack of historical corporate filing records etc.) to new methods can complicate or delay your transition to the new arrangement. "Firebreak thinking" simplifies this by separating issues into three criteria:
  • New project starts: use the new method from this point on;
  • Existing live activity: transfer this at defined break points (e.g. end of project phases, contract renewal dates); and
  • History: deal with these items separately as a prioritised, structured and resourced programme. Consider this as draining the swamp after you have re-routed the river feeding the swamp!

 4: What do we need to get there? Consider:

  • Resources;
  • Skills;
  • Systems;
  • Budget; and
  • Permissions.

When you plan for change, it follows that your resourcing capacity will have to change too, especially if your existing resources are overloaded. In this situation, it’s unlikely that you or your team will be able to manage change on top of the day job. Similarly, if people are resistant to the change, poor resources are the ideal excuse to withhold their cooperation.

Almost all organisational projects, processes and tools are interlinked, so find out where the connections are and agree mutually beneficial initiatives with colleagues. If they have something that’ll work for you, use it. They’ll get kudos and you’ll get the quickest solution. And having been proven, it’ll probably be harder to block, too.

Align yourself with other corporate projects and funding sources. For example, the M&A project, the governance review, the new product launch, or the VP Regional Sales’ US venture. Everyone else will have built and submitted cost and resource estimates with reasons to support their submissions. Have you? If your change will help someone else’s project, people may thank you for taking their money (especially if it is a tax allowable change or a restructuring or capital allowance permitted product development budget) to solve their problems as well as yours.

5: Getting buy-in and commitment. Consider the "change curve" and the stages of people’s emotional response to change:

  • Curiosity;
  • Confusion;
  • Passive blocking;
  • Reluctant engagement;
  • Active engagement; and
  • Gradual loss of enthusiasm.

Communicate the changes to key stakeholders internally and externally. Explain the changes at length to your team members to ensure they understand the reasons for the changes and how they’ll work. This will help build a sense of inevitability, get people on board and generate momentum in your programme. People will realise it’s better to get behind the changes and take some credit for their success than to try and block them.

Similarly, manage politics by spotting and ring-fencing the blockers and understanding imposter syndrome. This is where someone thinks they’re not good enough and are waiting to be found out, whether it’s justified or not.

You may have to decide how to remove anyone who has the potential to block or poison your project, whether actively or passively. This is a real challenge if you’re a new manager taking over a team that includes any well settled, longer term imposters. Blockers believe that if they wait long enough, they can make the boss fail and let everything get back to normal.

A key to getting wider corporate buy-in is to inspire stakeholders to share your enthusiasm and commitment to the change for their own reasons as well as yours. This will ensure the benefits are mutual.

6: Delivering. Ensure you have the skills you need in place. This is where your good relationships with other departments will pay off. As you prepare to roll your change programme out, work closely with:

Remember to align your priorities and resource management.

Many legal projects are stalled or delayed, whether on purpose or by accident, by the lawyer’s natural instinct for perfection. To overcome this tendency, try making small, incremental moves towards a bigger outcome when the opportunities arise. This approach can break the project down into more achievable milestones and give you more successes to celebrate and shout about.

A business mentor may be able to help you and your team create an incremental approach.

7: Demonstrating success. The key here is to decide what to measure and when to start measuring it. Work this out at the start of the change process and set performance metrics for:

  • Internal progress;
  • External perceptions and results; and
  • Enduring benefits of the changes.

Avoid metrics that could drive undesired behaviour. Setting targets for the number of days without a reportable accident, for example, can lead to people simply not reporting accidents. Instead, look for measurements that will drive continuous improvement. And finally, apply this principle the metrics themselves. Outmoded legacy metrics can have a distorting effect.

Deleting the r

Business is never static, nor are the laws or the regulatory frameworks that govern the organisations we work in. So, it’s impossible to assume that our legal department can stand still and avoid change.

If change is ongoing and improvement continual, we need to manage permanent evolution, not the occasional revolution. We need to delete the r.

The implications of this are that we’ll need to:

  • Align our functional role, strategy and resources to the organisation’s goals;
  • Review them constantly and adjust our measurement metrics accordingly;
  • Deliver change in line with the organisation’s culture as well as strategy;
  • Tie our resources to the parts of the organisation we serve; and
  • Define our approach to small, medium and large projects as well as crisis response, so that our teams see all change projects as business as usual.


As your organisation evolves to respond to change and exploit new opportunities, so too will your in-house legal department. You’ll find yourself working with others across your organisation to refine your services and support growth and compliance. This will also mean defining and redefining your own role as a manager of change. Aim to get your team to see change projects, whether small, medium or large, as simply business as usual.

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