Why the silo mentality is a slow road to ruin

Blog by Julian Summerhayes. 858 words.

Let me make one thing clear: a Silo mentality in legal practice stifles growth – both individually and collectively.

Look about you.

How many lawyers work for ‘their’ clients?

How many are working against an individual target?

And how many are prepared to pass on work which is better suited to someone else in the firm?

I see no discernable difference in legal practice since starting my professional life in 1996. There appears no lessening of the ‘I’ approach (“One for one and all for one …!”).

It goes beyond hoarding.

We like to say otherwise but far too many firms are allowing a culture to pervade the firm where solo-ism is tolerated, and in some cases fostered. We all know that this (insular) mentality makes it very hard to make things happen. You see this in the sporting arena where teams that are full of individuals simply do not gel and are the poorer for it.

Just imagine what would happen if everyone worked as part of a team?

A good example of where the team approach works flawlessly, is HTC Columbia, the cycling team that has supported Mark Cavendish to innumerable stage wins at the Tour de France. How the hell would a lead out train work if it was every man for himself?

The other issue that often manifests itself is acting in the best interest of the client. How many times have you queried the fact that a particular person ends up dealing with a matter when (a) they don’t have the technical competence, (b) they are overqualified or (c) the client isn’t getting the best advice?

The problem is the problem.

No one wants to tackle the issue for ruffling too many feathers, halting the billing or seeing an exodus of your stars. And no time is a good time to address this sensitive issue, but unless the firm’s culture is altered then, in time, it will be impossible to redress the balance.

I have previously raised the issue of succession. Allowing the silo approach to develop eventually causes firms to find themselves with only one partner who has garnered the trust of key clients so that once that person retires, there is no one who is deemed suitable to manage the client’s affairs. There is also the issue where your key person upsets the client and they decide to take their business elsewhere.

Integration is key. It is not sufficient to merely talk about it. It is important to ensure that the person(s) concerned participates in the firm’s internal management, business development and cross-selling activity. Nothing should be off limits no matter how much tension that may lead to. After all, the firm’s future is at stake (no Less).

It also raises that other topic of mine, namely Managing by Wandering About (“MBWA”). This goes well beyond Guru speak. For me it is basic manners. For some reason those people who work in Silo World feel they can behave differently to everyone else.  Of course, they are usually the first ones to shout if thinks don’t get done quickly enough or someone has let them down.

In an amongst this should be a strategic listening exercise. You need to sit down and understand what lies at the heart of things improving. You need to paint a picture of the outcome you are seeking and not just talk in the round or be ultra critical just to make your point.

I have no doubt that one of the major issues will be a lack of trust. You know the old saying: “If a job is worth doing …”. Most people who I have come across who have hunkered down have a fundamental problem with letting go. They don’t trust people enough to let go. If that is the issue, then you need to get to the bottom of it pretty damn sharp.

Like all change, no one is going to embrace anything unless they can see the upside. In Silo World you need to reflect upon the work and billing you have come to expect set off against the wider good for the firm. If you are not prepared to let go of one for the betterment of the whole then don’t even begin to raise the issue.

Quality of life is in the mix somewhere. Or certainly spending less time at the coal face.

Perhaps that should be the message. Whatever it is don’t expect others to change unless the firm is prepared to meet them more than half way.

The future is in working as a team. No great business ever became great by allowing to people to paddle their own canoe.

4 responses to “Why the silo mentality is a slow road to ruin”

  1. Jonathan Lea says:

    Nice post Julian. I think what clients really want (and is what I look for when hiring services) is someone very well connected and collaborative (which you can increasingly judge from their online presence) who can project manage/coordinate their matter for them by calling in the support of a range of experts through their relationships, aka crowdsourcing. If necessary or more expedient, they should also be willing to pass the client straight onto the expert (whether you get a referral from it or not). This approach doesn’t fit well with the physical confines you get with the traditional law firm model, as it calls for a more virtual/digital mindset. It also doesn’t require overheads such as property and retained employees.

  2. Jonathan Lea says:

    Nice post Julian. I think what clients really want (and is what I look for when hiring services) is someone very well connected and collaborative (which you can increasingly judge from their online presence) who can project manage/coordinate their matter for them by calling in the support of a range of experts through their relationships, aka crowdsourcing. If necessary or more expedient, they should also be willing to pass the client straight onto the expert (whether you get a referral from it or not). This approach doesn’t fit well with the physical confines you get with the traditional law firm model, as it calls for a more virtual/digital mindset. It also doesn’t require overheads such as property and retained employees.

  3. Thanks Jonathan. I am not sure if you have read Stephen Mason’s latest piece but he makes the point that lawyers will have to think much more creatively about how they charge for their services. I think the virtual lawyer will grow in importance as social networks become more readily accepted together with a lack of face to face contact that so many hold on to as a USP, which very often is counter-intuitive to what clients really want. I hope things are going well for you, and it would be great to catch up and grab that coffee (I have passed that bloody Starbucks so many times now).

    Julian

  4. Thanks Jonathan. I am not sure if you have read Stephen Mason’s latest piece but he makes the point that lawyers will have to think much more creatively about how they charge for their services. I think the virtual lawyer will grow in importance as social networks become more readily accepted together with a lack of face to face contact that so many hold on to as a USP, which very often is counter-intuitive to what clients really want. I hope things are going well for you, and it would be great to catch up and grab that coffee (I have passed that bloody Starbucks so many times now).

    Julian

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