How To Create Belonging On Hybrid Legal Teams

One of the lasting impacts of the pandemic will be the hybrid work model – a work model that combines both remote work and some time in the office. Implementing hybrid work arrangements has been complicated for many companies. One of the biggest challenges legal professionals mention when it comes to hybrid work is consistently mentoring, providing feedback, and building relationships that sprang up spontaneously when everyone came together. Legal leaders need to foster a sense of community among members when they are geographically dispersed. Belonging is the need to feel connected to others, to feel part of groups that are important and meaningful to you, and to build strong relationships. belonging is such an important psychological need for lawyers that it has been shown to rank among the top three factors in lawyer well-being and motivation. It is particularly important that career starters quickly feel a sense of belonging.

A good first step is to think about the goal you have for the interaction and the type of information to be discussed so you can choose the channel that will best nurture the relationship. Communication experts call these channels Rich vs. lean media. Rich media includes social and collaborative tools, video, and face-to-face interactions, often used for discussions that require back-and-forth dialogue and/or when team members need to discuss and interpret information and come to an agreement. Lean media are documents, emails and texts and are often effective means of communication when new information needs to be passed from one person to another (e.g. telling someone that the meeting time has changed to 10:00 am). Phone calls fall in the middle of the media continuum between rich and lean media.

This list will help you think about specific strategies for fostering hybrid team membership:

  • A group of general legal advice recently found that these strategies have helped new hires build strong relationships quickly: allow new attorneys to accompany older colleagues to meetings; Scheduling meetings with key partners across the firm, which also helped the attorneys appreciate the broader corporate culture; Plan extra time in 1:1 meetings to discuss non-work related topics; and set up virtual coffee chats to celebrate personal and professional accomplishments, ask questions, and get feedback on legal matters attorneys deal with.
  • Schedule regular 1:1 meetings to provide feedback, mentor, and check in, and consider the best type of media (rich vs. lean) for the conversation.
  • Use “magic feedback” when you can. At its core, high-performing legal teams are about solving difficult problems together. To do this effectively, feedback is a must. In one to learn, a team of psychologists asked a group of students to write an essay. The teachers then gave different types of feedback. One type of feedback increased student performance and effort so immensely that it was called “magic feedback” and consisted of this simple phrase: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can achieve them.” This sentence is powerful because it provides clear indications of belonging: you are part of this group; this group is something special – we have high standards here; and I believe you can achieve those standards.
  • Say a thank you “Plus” – the plus part describes the behaviors you observed that led to the good result (e.g. say something like “The way you read the first page of this Structuring briefings was excellent – I was able to clearly see our position and it helped me have a better conversation with our client” instead of just “thank you”)
  • Give more junior lawyers more responsibility for tasks that are both visible and important to the organization; Give them the opportunity to lead or develop new programs or training and to speak or write on behalf of the legal organization
  • Structure unstructured time so that team members can talk about non-work related topics so they get to know each other further.
  • Ask remote participants to speak first on calls so they aren’t forgotten or left out.
  • Watch out for “side calls” in the conference room. Remote participants can feel unintentionally left out when they join a call only to see several people huddled together in conversation.
  • “Fill the bleachers” – the ease with which people can be added to a remote meeting creates a free opportunity for observational learning. Name a few “Grandstand Seats” on important calls or meetings for employees and others interested in seeing and learning more.

The pandemic has changed the way many lawyers and legal professionals choose to work. Hybrid teaming is the expectation of many talented professionals today—a model (and skillset) that legal leaders and teams must continue to embrace and practice in order to retain top talent.

Paula Davis is CEO of the Stress and Resilience Institute and is the author how to fight burnout at work: why teams keep the secret of well-being and resilience.

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