Looking at the in-house legal landscape, it’s easy to assume that the big legal teams get the easiest ride. They have the training programmes, the process mappers, the legal procurement support and the technology budgets. What’s more, they tend to get the industry airtime on innovation and new ways of working.
However, smaller legal teams (and by that I mean sole counsel to five people) are in a more natural position to innovate than their behemoth brethren. Here are five reasons that small legal teams have reason to celebrate:
More people means more bureaucracy, processes and stuff that slows things down. When it comes to innovation, Harvard Business Review reports that smaller team numbers are actually more important to success than better processes. If all else is equal, a smaller legal team means fewer postponed meetings, greater consensus and less wasted time.
They’re more efficient
The so-called Ringelmann Effect says that as group size increases, productivity decreases. In other words a small legal team is perfectly formed for getting stuff done. Ringelmann tested this with tug of war teams – the more people added the less effort each naturally puts into the tug. This has been termed “social loafing”, reflecting how it’s harder to assess individual performance when there’s a feeling that the group will pull through.
They’re more entrepreneurial
On-the-ground testing by SAP showed that small teams were more entrepreneurial. People tend to find better ways of doing things given a small team environment compared with being guided from above in a large department. In smaller numbers people tend to find their way to be more productive.
There’s more trust
In legal teams with only a small number of people, members are more likely to come to the aid of others and offer ideas willingly. In bigger teams, knowledge can sometimes be treated as currency. It’s in that sort of environment that creativity and innovation can be harder to foster – in smaller teams trust should come more naturally.
There’s greater autonomy
In small teams, you can get on with things faster. You can build relationships, change your suppliers or do things differently without a six-month change management programme. And if some ideas don’t work, you can simply flip them back again. Lucky you.
As Forbes magazine has said, small teams are the high performance strategy of the 21st century. This doesn’t mean that big legal teams are bad at this, quite the opposite for many, just that it needs more effort. Sometimes that means subdividing a group, Amazon for example, has a ‘two pizza’ rule; any team has to be capable of being fed on two pizzas. For a mini in-house legal team, however, that advantage should already be built in. So, time to be proud of that small team and make the most of it. In future posts in this series we’ll be looking at some tactics for doing this.