What does collaboration mean to you?

In-house legal teams are specialist functions with unique knowledge, expertise and skills within their respective organisations.

Steve Bynghall on 25/04/19

Therefore, it is inevitable that collaborating successfully with other stakeholders, functions and even other organisations is an important factor in their ability to deliver maximum value. In-house legal teams may also be working with other lawyers or contractors and, for larger teams, collaboration within the team is important.

In my experience successful collaboration is not necessarily a given. Things can work well without much effort – things can click between the people involved, and the tools can work optimally – but  this is not always the case. There are also almost always things you can do differently to improve the way you work.
How do you collaborate and how could you do it better? It’s always important to give proper thought to: 

  • What you’re trying to achieve
  • What sort of “collaboration” this involves
  • Any barriers that might impede successful collaboration.

What are you trying to achieve?

Many teams make the mistake of thinking about collaboration as a concept, value or a prescribed behaviour, rather than starting with the use cases. Yes, perhaps “you and your team should collaborate more” was on your appraisal targets, or was among your new year’s resolutions, but this is so high level it is largely meaningless.

Start with the use case or the specific project or the objective that you want to reach and work back from that. This gives real-world focus and keeps you tied to value through a specific outcome. It’s amazing how an idea that might start with “Let’s collaborate better to improve the way we produce contracts” can turn into a grand scheme that will create some kind of “hub” to revolutionise the way you work.

At this point it can be easy to lose the plot and things become too  ambitious and onerous to implement. Far better to collaborate on something that works, learn from this and then see how you can apply successful approaches to other areas. And if you don’t apply approaches at least you’re collaborating on contracts better.

What sort of collaboration does this involve?

Another issue about collaboration is that it’s actually an umbrella term for a number of different ways that people, teams and organisations work together.  What do you mean by collaboration? In our Article, Seven shades of collaboration we explore some of these types:
  • Teams and projects
  • Communication and co-ordination
  • Document-based collaboration
  • Communities of Practice or Interest
  • Ideation and innovation
  • External collaboration 
  • Meetings

Again, it’s important to unpack the term and think about the nuts and bolts and the way you may work.

Think about the barriers

Any consideration of how to collaborate also needs to look at the potential barriers. Identifying any issues is the first step to removing them. 
Barriers to successful collaboration can include:

  • Lack of time – in-house legal teams, and everybody else for that matter, are incredibly busy
  • Lack of scope and focus – trying to achieve something too high-level has the habit of never coming to fruition
  • Organisational culture – some cultures particularly where there are rival cost centres or a lack of transparency do not support collaboration
  • People and politics – tricky individuals or difficult functions can get in the way
  • Tools and facilities – you just may not have effective tools or even a dearth of meeting rooms
  • Confidentiality – realistically this can make externally-focused collaboration very difficult
  • Proximity – time zones and multiple locations can make effective collaboration that much harder

What does collaboration mean to you?

There are no hard and fast rules around collaboration. Every use case, every organisation, every team and every individual, and even the tools they use, have different rules and variables. The point is to think about what collaboration means to you. Unpack the term, tie it to the real world and work from there. Good luck. 


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