Posted by: johnocunningham | October 24, 2011

Communications, Innovation and Teamwork

As previously discussed on this blog, law firms are in need of innovative products and services if they are to survive the grueling competition with other law firms, accounting and consulting firms, and even with technology providers who are getting in on the legal services game. 

Some firms have already developed creative “flat fee” products or approaches to billing (see e.g., Shepherd Law Group); some have developed e-discovery practices, systems and blogs focused on efficient and skillful mastery of the most expensive aspect of litigation (see e.g., K&L/Gates); some have developed efficient and focused industry service teams (see e.g., Reed Smith); some have produced great knowledge management tools for client use (see e.g., the K.M. section of the Website of Littler Mendelson); and some are working on other client-centric or client-driven innovations.

For those firms who want to pursue “innovation” systematically, there is a great new resource to consider, a book entitled “The Idea Hunter“, which is a study of how to find the best ideas and make them happen.

Co-author Andrew Boynton, Dean of the Carroll School of Business at Boston College, suggested in an interactive session with business managers last Wednesday that there are really three main obstacles to innovation in most organizations:

  1. The total brainpower and experience in most organizations is barely tapped due to hierarchical thinking about who is responsible for “ideas”;
  2. There is a severe drought in quality conversations that involve listening to, supporting and challenging the ideas of others; and
  3. There is a great misuse of time spent on innovation – there is only fragmented and disorganized attention to real game-changing ideas and strategy.

Boynton and co-author Bill Fischer also reveal in another book, “Virtuoso Teams,” the commonalities among the greatest innovation teams of all time (Thomas Edison’s “Muckers”, the Manhattan Project, the Miles Davis musical teams, the Sid Caesar Comedy team, and others).

The authors conclude from their extensive study of innovation teams that great team leaders have a number of important things in common, such as:

  • The ability to trust other members of their team;
  • The ability to listen to other members of their team;
  • The ability to get the most out of individual contributors through creation of a mission and vision, individual encouragement, team focus and passionate inspiration;
  • The fostering of the idea that there are no “subordinates” on a team of knowledge professionals;
  • The ability to create cultures where “push back” and “challenge” to team leaders is not only safe, but encouraged; and
  • The ability to promote team conversations by eliminating obstacles to those conversations, such as geography, time, hierarchies, hoarding of ideas or information, etc.

For more specific information on just how these goals are accomplished on great innovation teams, you can check out “The Idea Hunter” and the recently updated edition of “Virtuoso Teams.”


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