What I learned from my colleagues: part 2

How do you learn? I tend to learn from the example of people around me.

Anthony Inglese on 31/10/18

If I think it’s good, I follow it or adapt it. If I think it’s questionable, I can still learn from it. As an in-house lawyer for nearly 40 years in government I had plenty of colleagues to learn from at all times and levels, including lawyers, civil servants and government ministers. In an earlier viewpoint, I wrote in tribute to my line managers about the examples they offered of how to develop my legal skills as an in-house adviser. This time I am writing about what I learned from colleagues all around me in large organisations about some people issues, specifically behaviours, values and personal development.  To be properly effective we have to work well with and through others. Every day we have large numbers of interactions with people at work and we make scores, if not hundreds, of “people” decisions. Does that surprise you? Think about it. 

The diversity of people’s lives, their ambitions, their abilities, their personality types and working preferences ensures that there are no pat answers to “people” questions. For myself, I learned to develop my self-awareness and my awareness of others, address my deficiencies where I could, play to my strengths and learn to be more myself.

Here are some of the other things I learned.

Behaviour and values

  • Be open with people, build trust with work colleagues, be a good listener
  • Offer thanks, praise and credit when I see good work
  • Be visible and accessible, especially in times of difficulty
  • Deliver all promises, however small
  • When chairing meetings arrive in good time, welcome new people and go round the table at the start, giving time for personal introductions
  • Draw out and enjoy the humour that naturally arises in our work, even in the difficult times
  • When doing a slot at a staff induction event, stay for the whole event – and indeed chair it - rather than attend just for my slot.  If I see it as important to spend my time welcoming you, you can see that that’s what I want you to do for others
  • A legal group will almost always include some people who are not lawyers: aim for equality of esteem between the various groups; never talk about “non-lawyers”
  • Acknowledge and speak to the people who make the building work for me and everyone else: front desk, security, cleaners and all others.

Development of self and others

  • Understand the value of team development work: strengthening awareness of self and others, including by the use of available tools such as Myers-Briggs and Belbin, so team members can learn about each other’s complementary skills and help each other to flourish
  • Acknowledge the great value that comes from mentoring: get myself one or more mentors and spend time mentoring others
  • Maintain contact with all colleagues with whom I have enjoyed a good working relationship even if our paths have now diverged.
  • Hold regular conversations with my senior team members about their development and don’t just focus on the tasks in hand
  • Try to value people for what they offer rather than obsess about what they can’t do
  • Give instant feedback where I can, eg to a colleague on the way out of a big meeting at which the colleague has performed well
  • Aim for “no surprises” at appraisal meetings
  • Have as clear views as I can about the people who work for me but triangulate them with others to ensure my judgement is sound and always be open to changing my mind about people
  • Don’t overlook the personal development that comes from giving training to others and spending time on the recruitment of others.

These examples don’t set out to be comprehensive. They are personal to me – things that work for one person don’t always work for others. Nor have I found them all easy to do. I hope some of them will strike a chord with readers.

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