There are numerous statistics about how 1+1 does not necessarily equal 2 where teams are concerned. Intelligent people don’t necessarily come together to make intelligent teams. The smartest groups don’t necessarily have the highest combined IQs.
There are numerous factors at play when you set about creating a high-performing team. Today we are going to explore one of those factors: embracing diverse thinking. For us, not only does it have an important part to play in creating collective intelligence, but it is also key for future transformation in the legal industry.
What is diverse thinking?
Diverse thinking is what comes from having a team formed of individuals who have distinct ways of thinking and processing information. They have different ways of looking at the world and its challenges.
Differences might come about because of different life experiences; here diversity in terms of education, background, and culture all play a role. However, differences might arise because of differing behavioural preferences or styles. Different thinking might also arise because of different technical learning; here parallels can be drawn with the notion of consilience and the scientific approach of drawing from different disciplines.
Why should law firms embrace diverse thinking?
Most teams in law firms who work on problem-solving – particularly client problem-solving – tend to be formed of professionals who tend to think in similar ways. All are trained lawyers; many have chosen to specialise in a particular niche and live and breathe that practice area. Some teams might comprise different specialists, some might involve teams of lawyers with differing degrees of qualification. The best teams embrace ideas brought by all and trust is high, the trainee in the room can offer an opinion that is considered equal to that brought by the most senior partner present. Notwithstanding, few bring in other experts.
Where the client's need is centered in one practice area, having a legal team work on that legal need makes sense. However, not all needs are one-dimensional. Many are multi-dimensional and complex. Where there are different layers, a different approach is perhaps the best way of addressing it.
All legal need exists against the backdrop of what the client is seeking to achieve as a business, charity, or individual. No legal problem will exist in a vacuum. How often do firms ask: how does the legal solution help meet that higher client need?
Let us take the example of a company looking for a lawyer to support them with a commercial agreement. The need and solution at first glance appear to be legal; they need a contract. However, whilst that might be delivered by a lawyer, there might be technology that could support the firm in achieving that delivery, or which could enhance the experience for the client. Perhaps the contract is one that will be widely used by the client’s customers and there is a need for it to be amended and signed regularly. Here the contract forms part of the experience that the company has with its customers. It is perhaps one of the key touchpoints. Here the lawyer might want to work with other disciplines to enhance what is produced for the client's higher need - customer loyalty.
Law firms are comprised of lawyers, but other experts make up a firm. There are marketing and business development experts, larger firms will have pricing experts, project managers, and innovation specialists. Embracing different disciplines and creating multi-disciplinary teams to help solve the challenges facing clients, is one way that firms can embrace diverse thinking. This is likely to lead to more innovative solutions and our discussions with GCs show that they would welcome this way of working.
But clients just want lawyers to be excellent lawyers, don’t they?
For a long time, it has been said of firms that technical excellence is a given. Clients need that, but they are also looking for something else. They are looking for a partner. They are looking for help to solve some of the bigger challenges that they face. Each client will be different, but alongside the legal need, there will be other pressures at play. This might be support in reducing costs, it might be help in driving growth in the business, and it might be the need for the internal buyer to look good before their stakeholders. Understanding these needs expands the brief but provides an opportunity to truly delight clients.
Legal design – diverse thinking in action
An approach that is leading the way in shaking up the legal industry is legal design. It is an approach that recognises the advantages that diverse thinking brings. Legal design brings together legal expertise and design thinking. It provides a legal solution, but it goes further and elevates the solution for the benefit of the user.
Lawbox is one example of a Legal Design agency that is using the approach to elevate the client experience. Lawbox has taken a rigid area of law – regulation – to the next level. They work with finance businesses, for whom regulation is non-negotiable. In applying design thinking, the contracts that sit at the heart of their client’s businesses serve not only their regulatory purpose but also delight their clients’ customers. The contract becomes part of the branding of the client and this important touch point can serve to tell the history of the company and demonstrate how things are done differently. By bringing in design thinking – diverse thinking – the end user becomes more of a focus. Compliance with regulation can become something that works for the user and not against it.
Legal design shows us that legal expertise is elevated when combined with other approaches and other ways of thinking.
Diversity & Inclusion and diverse thinking
Diverse thinking challenges the notion of what good looks like and what you are looking for in your team. If this becomes the starting point, then it drives change in other areas too. Teams become more inclusive and more diverse; they have to in order to achieve this new notion of good.
The in-group is expanded.
At the heart of making diverse thinking work is the accompanying word "embracing". Trust and bravery are needed in equal measure. Bravery to open up the table and to challenge with a different view. Trust in acknowledging that everyone comes with something different and that it’s okay not to think in the same way as someone else; knowing that you will not be excluded for expressing a contrary view. Trust also brings us back to where we started, with collective intelligence. Trust is fundamental in increasing collective intelligence and creating high-performing teams.