By Parul Patel with insights from five Olympic athletes and sports professionals!
Are you part of a legal team or do you work in a silo? Do you see a team as beneficial or something that holds you back? What do you think is the measure of a solid team?
If you’ve been an avid reader of the Fuel+Move blogs for a while now you’ll know how passionate I am about bringing more love and less fear into the workplace, and how limiting I think it is for lawyers to continue to work in silos when their colleagues (at every level) have so much value to offer!
In my capacity as a lawyer I’ve advised some of the world’s most influential sports brands including Nike and Speedo, and I’ve found it exhilarating to learn success mindset strategies from some incredible Olympic athletes and champions.
This blog is the first of a four-part series on the theme of “team togetherness”. We’ll explore what team togetherness means, why it matters and most importantly how you can unleash the power of togetherness in your team today! You can listen to the podcast here.
The guests featured in this week’s blog include:
Solicitor and double Olympic medallist Georgie Twigg MBE who represented Team GB Hockey.
Former Head of Legal and Special Adviser to the International Olympic Committee and four-time Canadian National Wrestling Champion Howard Stupp.
Solicitor and former professional footballer Josh Low who is now a commercial property solicitor at CMS.
Associate General Counsel for sports marketing at Nike, Eryn Potempa, who is responsible for supporting North America sports marketing.
Speaker, people performance expert and double Olympic champion (rower) Mark Hunter MBE.
By the time you finish reading this blog expect to feel inspired, refreshed and ready to explore creating a stronger team, or helping the team you lead (or the team you’re in) to go to the next level.
The first thing I wanted to find out was what part “team togetherness” played when you’re not even competing as part of a team! Former Olympic wrestler Howard Stupp shared a brilliant insight.
Howard: “It’s important to be close with your coach and it’s especially important to be close with your teammates because we spend hours and hours practising with each other. It’s really great to have good team spirit because that spurs you on. If there are winners on your team and people who have a good attitude it rubs off positively on you; negative people rub off on you negatively.”
Josh Low has a very different experience of “team togetherness”.
Josh: “In football we are a team; we’re together all the time. Much in the same way as you do when you work at a law firm you often spend more time with your teammates than your family! [See my earlier blog to help redress that balance]. I’ve played in teams where team ethic and teamwork was good, and not so good. When things don’t go well, that’s when you notice how strong your sense of togetherness and your team ethic really is. It can quickly fall apart if you don’t have the right trust and support.”
Team sports raise an interesting dynamic because at some point there will be at least one person sitting on the subs bench, but according to Nike’s Associate General Counsel, Eryn Potempa, they also have an important role to play.
Eryn: “How you lead from the bench can help change the energy. You might not be the captain or you might not even be a starter, but you can help shift the energy by leading from the bench.”
The idea of leading from the bench brings a whole different dynamic to a team. How might that work if you’re a sub for a team but you really want your chance to take the limelight? What happens if you’re part of an amazing team but you’re not one of the athletes selected to go to the Olympics? Double Olympic Medallist (hockey) Georgie Twigg MBE explained that the sign of a successful team is appreciating that every team member was instrumental in its success (even if they weren’t physically there on the day).
Georgie: “It is tough if you’re not selected and your teammates come back with a medal because of course everyone wants to be on the plane heading to the Olympics.
When we competed at the Rio Olympics in 2016 [hockey] there were 16 players representing Team GB, but back at base there had been 31 of us training together day in and day out, right up until those selected got on the flight. The wider support network that gets you that point is so important; we’re all working towards a collective vision and in a really successful team, everyone contributes to that.”
A shared vision is clearly fundamental to creating a cohesive team, but interestingly retired double Olympic champion rower, Mark Hunter, gauges the success of a team not by how well it works together, but by how well it responds when you add a new dimension.
Mark: “If somebody external comes in, how quickly can your team bring them up to speed? Can everybody explain the process and culture that your team has, or does it take people time? In sport you might have to bring someone new in and you need to quickly bring them up to speed. Each member of the team has to understand as an individual, and as a collective.”
I love this idea of gauging a team’s level of success by how it copes when it’s faced with change. After all, in a legal environment how often do things go according to plan?!
Points to ponder
If you work alone you might like to take a few moments to reflect on what might change if you worked as part of a team. What benefits would there be? Would there be any pitfalls?
If you’re in a team, consider what happens in your team when things don’t go well. Do you point the finger of blame or pull together to find a way through, trusting you can have a debrief once you’re back on track?
Who do you consider to be on your team? Have you heard the anecdote about Former US President John F. Kennedy who is said to have encountered a janitor mopping the floors during a tour of NASA headquarters? Apparently he asked the janitor: “Why are you working so late?”, to which the janitor replied “Mr President,“I'm helping put a man on the moon.” Look beyond the traditional hierarchy and job titles, and think of all the individuals who help you to be successful.
Once you’ve reflected on your team and the wider contributors, you might like to revisit my recent blog or podcast with UK Government Commercial Lawyer Riyaz Hazi, who explores the importance of supporting people to work to their strengths.
Join us next week for the second instalment of this four-part-series which draws on Georgie Twigg’s experiences of resurrecting team togetherness (and performance) when you hit rock bottom!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think makes a great team, send me a message, or if you’re amped up and raring to transform your legal team why not explore my full range of training opportunities?
P.S. In case you struggle with unnecessary suspense, part three will focus on the power tool that high performing teams won’t do without, and part four will explore common debilitating behaviours that are often “excused” in the corporate world but would be unheard of in modern sport.
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: