Access to resources is crucial for effective coaching, whether in the sports realm or the business arena. A notable comparison arose approximately a decade ago when I began coaching with the Brisbane Lions. Initially anticipating a centralised library of training drills, I was surprised to discover that each coach had a personalised collection of drills. This scenario brought to mind the setup in many law firms, where individual principals or solicitors maintain their own repositories of precedents and specialised documents.
Establishing a uniform playbook for team dynamics on the field or standardised processes in an office is a pivotal measure in fostering stability and cultivating a cohesive culture within a sports team or a professional workplace.
Communicating the Playbook
AFL designates two periods on either side of Christmas, before the commencement of the season for teams to communicate the overall strategy and specific tactics for the coming season. Considerable time is spent on the theory component before Christmas and post-Christmas leading into the season, and on-field training implementation is emphasised. During the season, the tactics can be tweaked either in relation to the opponent or individual players but only a brave or foolhardy coach would throw out his team’s strategy mid-season and teach players a new game style.
In contrast, without the benefit of a break in play or specific seasons to design culture, style, precedents, and systems of work - a legal firm must find ways to communicate on the run. Some valuable methods to use include regular team huddles, combined meetings or workshops, internal videos, written materials, or a combination to update and educate staff members. There is value in asking how communications are preferred on an individual and group basis with some topics received better during one-on-one meetings and others in a group scenario where concepts can be drawn from many sources.
When coaching youth players aged between 13 to 15 years it can sometimes feel that their heads are filled with wool, and they struggle to absorb information readily. This requires consistent repetition of a message and getting it repeated back to monitor the degree of understanding.
Similarly, information or instructions, particularly verbal, given in a busy office environment might require the need for some repetition to ensure clarity and understanding.
A Finite or Infinite Game Plan
Author and renowned speaker Simon Sinek popularised the concept that in sports and business, there are finite games or infinite ones.
A finite result in the game of AFL is a win or a loss, and over a season a premiership win for the team. In a finite game there are set rules and dimensions and you know who you're competing against and what sort of team you may need to build to win.
Running a law firm or business is very much playing an infinite game with no fixed end date or conclusion, the ‘players’ or firms come and go when their will or resources expire and although the law can set the outer parameters, the rules of participating and behaviour can be very fluid.
Around 10 to 15% of the approximately 40 players on a team list at the Brisbane Lions are replaced every year. These change decisions are made based on whether the team can meet its expectations for the following season which can be to generally improve their ladder position or win the premiership.
Although law firms generally do not operate in that manner the critical factors in building your infinite playbook for an innovative and resilient law firm include:
- The courage to lead with a set agenda rather than simply managing day-to-day fires that arise
- Determining the firm’s just cause or purpose and consider how this is communicated both internally and publicly
- Embracing flexibility in changing circumstances – consider the example of Blockbuster’s refusal to change its model of DVD delivery and collection of late fees whilst watching the arrival of Netflix as a challenger
- Identifying worthy rivals and study them as a source of ideas – remembering to broaden the focus beyond simply aiming to ‘beat’ a rival so that any new entrants or disruptors to the game are not missed. For example, in the 1990s the arrival of discount conveyancing practitioners destroyed the traditional “scale of fees” model for conveyancing solicitors around Australia, significantly impacting revenue
- Trusting the teams created within the organisation and give them the agency to fulfill instructions based on the set agenda.
The coach’s playbook is always evolving. Following the recent AFL grand final loss, the Lions will be adding new pages to their playbook and players, to help them strive for their ultimate goal of the premiership cup. In the words of NRL master coach Wayne Bennett, for this team or indeed any law firm, “to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result” would be the definition of insanity.
Read Chapter 4
Written by Geoff Ebert, Your Online Legal Group
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