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The learning curve

13 August 12

Concluding article in the advice series for trainees focuses on how to achieve effective teamworking

by Ritchie Whyte

“The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts” is the famous quote of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. He was talking about metaphysics, but could quite easily have been extolling the virtues of teamwork, the importance of which, in the modern legal environment, cannot be overstated.

Common goal

The ability to work effectively with others towards a common goal is a skill which is becoming increasingly more valuable in a workplace which continues to evolve. Whether it be a specialist team within a department, a team of advisers working on a transaction, or simply the bond among colleagues, you are surrounded by people who should all be pulling in the same direction.

There will always be competing interests to balance. Appreciating this and understanding your role and the role of others is imperative to contributing meaningfully to the success of the team. As a good teamworker, you will understand the dynamic of the team and recognise the effect that your input can have on others (and vice versa), and the importance of harnessing this in a constructive manner.

Being a team player and engaging positively with those around you will be sure to impress your colleagues and improve your chances of being offered an NQ position with your training firm.

Proving yourself

The first questions you should ask yourself are, what is the team’s objective? Within that, what are my responsibilities and objectives and what is my role in the team?

The answer will sometimes be the general dogsbody, I am sure! When this is the case, bear in mind that we all have to take a turn shovelling sand from time to time for the greater good, but that doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t be ambitious and, in time, once you have proved your reliability beyond doubt, you will begin to climb the ladder and be trusted with more involved and interesting tasks.

It is crucial, in my view, that you do the simple stuff well and the rest will follow, so don’t fall into the trap of underestimating the basic tasks as each will be a piece of a very important jigsaw and, if not completed properly and in good spirit, you will inevitably find your progress up the ladder rather slow.

It is a prerequisite for any successful team that each team member shows respect both for their own role and the roles that others play, from top to bottom. While undertaking your own tasks, you should have regard for what you can do to help others; this is especially true for a trainee who will be sure to require support and guidance from colleagues in the early days of their traineeship.

Communication is key

Perhaps the most crucial element of good teamwork is the sharing of information and knowledge through clear communication. This is particularly the case in the legal industry, where transactions and projects may be complex and require detailed input from several different sources.

You must, especially when lacking in experience, make sure that you are “on the same page” as your team mates and not working at cross purposes. There is nothing more disheartening for a team than wasted time and effort, especially if you are up against the clock. It is worth, therefore, taking extra time at the outset of any given task to make sure you are on the right track.

Some forget that communication is a two-way street, and listening to others is just as, if not more, important than your output, especially when you are learning the ropes. It never fails to amaze me how often a task goes wrong due to a simple failure to listen to the detail or nuances of a particular case.

Aspire to be a “go-to person”, someone who can communicate and operate well under pressure and can ultimately be relied on to get the job done right and on time. If you feel sometimes as if you are always being chosen to get involved in various tasks and projects (perhaps more than you would ideally choose to be involved in!), this is a good sign as it shows your input is valued.

With practice areas becoming ever more developed and specialisms ever more narrow, the need for seamless teamwork at all levels of the profession is only going to increase. Regardless of where your career path may take you, in a competitive jobs market, those who can demonstrate a proven ability to operate effectively with others will be attractive candidates for any organisation.

Ritchie Whyte is Training Partner with Aberdein Considine & Co 
t: 01224 589 700 w: 
Earlier articles in this series were published in February, April, June and November 2011 and February 2012.


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