Like all organizations, AlvaradoSmith has faced challenges throughout its history, but the global havoc wreaked by COVID-19 crystalized the need to reexamine AlvaradoSmith’s collaboration practices so that it could best serve its clients during an unprecedented time of global uncertainty. As AlvaradoSmith’s Marketing and Business Development Director, Mayra Jimenez leans on the power of collaboration to enhance the firm’s visibility and reputation and analyze business development opportunities. Mayra describes herself as a “human version of LinkedIn” who connects people and resources across the firm. This might mean assembling the right legal team for client pitches, working closely with shareholders and the board on long term strategy, or equipping firm attorneys with the tools, tactics to differentiate themselves to clients.
After 15 years with the firm Mayra has learned that navigating change successfully depends on managing both collaboration and the firm’s collective knowledge effectively. But she also felt that AlvaradoSmith could improve their collaboration practices which is why she was drawn to Harvard Law School Executive Education Smart Collaboration Master Class. To Mayra, leveraging a Smart Collaboration approach offered the opportunity to consider deeply, “How could AlvaradoSmith maximize collaboration to its fullest potential? What was the firm missing?”
The Smart Collaboration Framework
The Smart Collaboration Master Class at Harvard Law School Executive Education gives participants pragmatic, research-based solutions to leverage collaboration strategically within their organization. Heidi K. Gardner, Distinguished Fellow in the Center of the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School and Faculty Chair of the Smart Collaboration Master Class, uses over a decade of research to offer data and insights as to why collaboration is not a “nice to have style” but rather “a need to have” for an organization to prosper in today’s competitive environment. Gardner uses the case study method—a pedagogical tool developed by the Harvard Business School—throughout the program to share real world examples of Smart Collaboration with a special emphasis on the positive ROI of these collaborative initiatives. This instruction style gives participants the tools to identify Smart Collaboration’s benefits for their organizations, meet their clients’ demands for a collaborative relationship, and develop a roadmap for implementing Smart Collaboration at their organizations.
An Action Plan that Works: Applying Smart Collaboration to Your Situation
To build a strategy of improved client team outcomes, service innovation, well-being, and performance Mayra wanted tools, data, and resources to instill AlvaradoSmith’s next level of collaboration. For Mayra, the Smart Collaboration Master Class felt like the answer. Mayra explained, “The program provides both proven growth strategies and also identifies opportunities for client alignment by leveraging what is already in-house. The program helped me focus on connecting the right people and the right actions.”
Mayra left the Smart Collaboration Master Class with an action plan in hand for embarking on several new initiatives applying tools and resources she gained.
Creating Trust and Authentic Relationships
Using Smart Collaboration ideas, Mayra restructured the monthly attorney meetings to create authentic connections and interactions. Meetings now start with questions such as “What is your dream vacation?” or “What have you been watching on Netflix?” To the uninitiated this seems unrelated to “work.” Yet, it is these interactions that build the camaraderie and trust enabling the attorneys to engage honestly, openly name challenges, share cross-service opportunities and celebrate each other’s successes. To further strengthen AlvaradoSmith’s Smart Collaboration muscle, the meeting’s final portion focuses on action-based training for developing business acumen, better client service, equitable DE&I practices, and acting on relevant legal market collaboration trends. Attorneys have enthusiastically embraced these changes as well as the data Mayra has shared illustrating the “why” behind the new collaborative initiatives.
Building Collaborative Relationships Effectively
Smart Collaboration also inspired Mayra to consider how to strengthen collaboration internally and externally with clients. Internally, Mayra conducted a survey that identified the most strategic cross service opportunities by pinpointing potential barriers to an effort’s success as well as identifying whose involvement and what data was needed to provide these initiatives with the best chance of success. Externally, Mayra partnered with clients to understand their concept of collaborative relationships and what they want to get out of them – including quicker decision-making, consistency, leaner costs, and creative outcomes.
Applying Smart Collaboration for Future Initiatives
In the future Mayra plans to apply her Smart Collaboration takeaways to shift firm culture through reexamining recruitment practices and offering trainings that emphasize better client service begins with understanding a client’s business position and goals.
Taking Time to Reflect: Smart Collaboration’s Multi-Level Benefits
The Smart Collaboration Master class allowed Mayra to gain perspective about collaboration’s benefits at several levels. At the firm level, she found the idea of “intention versus impact” an extremely effective concept to share with her colleagues. Through this framework, attorneys saw how their actions affected people’s perceptions of them and their work style. Engaging in this exercise has led to greater learning and performance outcomes for the attorneys. Moreover, Mayra also gained insight into her own workstyle and ways to leverage her collaborative tendencies to mentor others around collaboration.
Finally, Mayra has directly benefited from participating in the Smart Collaboration Master Class. She notes, “My stature at the firm has increased; I am a more effective change leader. Taking the time to be introspective about my own working style has prepared me to take on creating a firm culture that values profitability but recognizes that this can be done both inclusively and more effectively by drawing on the collaborative power of many.”
By Stephanie Gordon and Rachel Gordon