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5 Ways To Build a Strong Team Culture

Meeting 2

Our new Leading Teams research continues to generate fascinating insights into what drives engagement, motivation and happiness within law firms.

We previously shared insights into how law firms can differentiate their employer brand on the factors that matter most to top talent.

This new set of findings highlights what makes for a good (and bad) team culture at a day-to-day level.

There are five ingredients in particular that impact partner engagement, and we are starting to get a sense of which practical actions firms can take –through policies and interventions – to embed these features into their firm and specific teams to build a strong, thriving culture.

Let’s take a look at each of the five…

  • Flexibility

A clear message from our research is that partners value having control over how they spend and manage their time.

Our research tracks how the different return to office policies implemented across firms impact on partners’ likelihood to recommend their law firm as a place of work.

Interestingly, partners working in a fully flexible capacity tend to spend the same amount of time in the office as those who are mandated to spend three days in the office a week.

The partners with full flexibility, however, were significantly more likely to recommend their firm.

Chart showing how fully flexible working policies lead to a higher Net Promoter Score

Clearly, providing partners with the flexibility and autonomy to manage where they work really resonates, and materially translates into high engagement.

As our research grows, we are interested to see how associates feel about flexible working – especially the impact of partners not being as present as they might want them to be in the office.


  • Inclusivity

If Partners value a high degree of flexibility, then with that comes a responsibility to lean in and ensure that inter-team communication remains effective.

Another metric we are tracking is the amount of time partners spend in meetings and how much of that time is believed to be effective.

Partners who believe that a high proportion (75%+) of their meetings are effective are much more likely to recommend their firms.

We asked these partners what makes meetings productive: inclusivity was a major component.  

Those who feel they run effective team meetings talk of clear, focused agendas which are structured and facilitated to allow active participation of the whole team. This means everyone having a voice and a chance to share their ideas.

Conversely, partners who felt meeting time was ineffective talked about a lack of structure which led to the same old voices dominating the conversation with the same old points.

The take away from this data tell us that good communication in a hybrid-digital world is defined by how well team leaders create a space where everyone can contribute.

But, for firms to take action they need to be able to understand how this manifests in specific departments, teams and locations. This will highlight those teams which are being run well, and those where change is needed.  


  • Support

This one is arguably the most important ingredient of a healthy team.

We asked partners if they have someone in the team that they feel they can go to for support at work.  

Around half of partners said they did have someone they can lean on for pastoral support. Their happiness and likelihood to recommend the firm is incredibly strong.

More worrying is that around a third felt that there was someone at the firm they could turn to – but they didn’t feel they were able to open up to them. These people were significantly less happy.

There was also 10% of partners who said they didn’t have that personal support within the firm. Although this is a minority of partners, the drop off in happiness was huge.  These partners have a negative Net Promoter Score, of -15%, showing low engagement and a risk of this translating into negative talk about the firm with peers.

Chart showing a Net Promoter Score of -15% for Partners with no one to go to for support

How firms develop support mechanisms is absolutely crucial. There are practical interventions that can work, too; for example, monitoring hours worked, checking what time people are leaving the office, and stepping in to reduce their workload at times when they are feeling overwhelmed.


  • Reward

Specifically, this is about partners wanting their firms to develop more rounded measures of success that look beyond the billable hour.

56% of partners said there are skills in their team that are currently undervalued or going unrecognised.

These fall into two areas: the first is client development. Partners talk about the mammoth behind the scenes effort required to build relationships and build a pipeline of work. This takes time, energy and skill – and firms are not recognising the amount of work partners invest into bringing work in.

The second area is all about team cohesion – things like mentoring, encouragement and pastoral support. We just saw how damaging it is when partners have no one in their team they can go to, but the people that are there to support colleagues and act as the ‘social glue’ within teams are not being valued for their efforts.

Many firms are, rightly, modernising their performance frameworks. These skills – easily dismissed as ‘soft’ and ‘nice to haves’ – are actually crucial to the success and smooth running of teams. Firms cannot just rely on people to do the right thing – these positive behaviours need to be rewarded, with accountability for acting in line with the firm’s culture and values.


  • Authenticity

The final ingredient is all about how authentic firms are in their approach to responsible business.

Our previous blog showed how much of an important driver responsible business was to overall engagement.   It also has a big impact in how proud partners are of their firm.

When partners strongly feel their firm is committed pro bono, that it is meaningfully addressing climate change and that is it committed to diversity, they are much more likely to feel they have chosen the right firm.

Chart showing impact of responsible business claims on partners feeling they have chosen the right firm

For firms, the challenge is going beyond bland platitudes. Yes, a firm’s external responsible business reporting needs to be substantial and genuine, but firms also need to ensure that their own people believe in and experience what it say it is doing. This ‘authenticity gap’ has wider ramifications too; with the client voice growing louder on responsible business, talent needs to be bought-in to, and able to speak credibly, about the firm’s responsible business journey.

We are looking forward to sharing more industry trends in our upcoming blogs. If you want to see how your talent compares to peer firms and the wider legal industry, get in touch! We’d be happy to answer any questions about our Leading Teams research and share how you can get involved.


About the author

Hayley Fothergill

Hayley leads on research design, execution and delivery. A former member of the Acritas and Thomson Reuters team, Hayley has almost a decades-worth of research experience and has led a variety of thought-leadership projects within the legal sector. These have covered topics such as DEI, talent and the future of the legal industry itself. Hayley's specialism is in qualitative research, conducting in-depth interviews and coaching teams to improve their own stakeholder feedback programmes.