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De-siloing Legal

By Chiara Lamacchia.


Every organisation experiences a bigger or smaller presence of silos. These are usually created by internal political dynamics. We, humans, are all political in one way or another. Needless to say that as an “organised group of people” any organisation suffers from a certain degree of politics and therefore of silos.


Furthermore, when it comes to the legal field, politics and silos, it becomes more difficult to spot and eradicated: this is without a doubt one of the most siloed corporate functions.


It is worth exploring this topic and proposing ways to achieve the right dynamics between legal and other departments.


Corporate politics & Silos

People bring politics into the business game. “Politics” occur in any context, whenever at least two people are involved. With this premise, organisations are far from being immune.


Any organisation—such as a company, an institution or an association—is a group of people, who decide to put in place a set of practices to pursue a specific goal, which would be otherwise unlikely to achieve.

Any entity comprising more than one person will be political. And this is quite inevitable.


To get a concrete view of what politics might mean in the business context, let's imagine an organisation as a human body, composed of living cells and extracellular materials, organised into tissues, organs, and systems. To ensure its viability, all systems should continuously interact, interrelate and interdepend. In other words, all organs and processes are correlated and working together to allow us to live. In the same way, to ensure its operability, all parts of an organisation need to work well together, for instance:

  • encouraging cross-collaboration,

  • favouring open communication,

  • putting in place efficient practices,

  • increasing performance,

  • facilitating cooperative efforts,

  • allowing a significant flow of information,

  • increasing capacity to identify red flags, fix issues, spot opportunities

  • gaining competitive advantage

In a human body, if one organ, tissue, a bunch of cells or a system does not work properly, it has repercussions on the entire body.


In the same way, if functions and processes are not well connected within an organisation, boundaries arise, impeding the flow of information needed to make full and optimal use of capabilities.


And here they come the silos.


It is so common that should be considered as business-as-usual. Different business functions operate independently, avoiding sharing information, and fighting for budget and power games, regardless of the effect on the overall organisation. Information and its access become an indication of power.


Silos are just another physiological element of corporations. Let’s ask ourselves—are siloes bad for an organisation?


Given that I always say that “it depends” is the right answer to all questions, I would like to apply it also to this case (despite those who categorically ascribe silos to the list of the bad guys).


In its good meaning, we can think of silos as a synonym for "departments", and "business units". As such, these aggregate people who have specific knowledge, complex know-how or other specialities that enables them to be expert in a unique dimension of the business. The silos as such would serve to repose critical knowledge in a specific place and assign accountability to specific centres of expertise.


In its bad meaning, silos are defined by a specific characteristic: the absence of information sharing. Silos are probably the greater example of corporate politics at its worst. These are the expression of a mindset: a reluctance to share knowledge between employees (or in a wider vision, across different departments). Siloed teams, siloed departments, siloed data, siloed systems, siloed processes. This goes beyond the creation of clusters of accountable expertise – it becomes a default set of attitudes, detrimental to the core of the organisation. Some typical traits of silos are:

  • us-versus-them attitude

  • accumulation of unshared information

  • sharing of manipulated information

  • separation of resources to protect “team” interest

  • the utilisation of partial know-how and experience

  • discouragement of disagreement

Surely, these are only a few examples of what can be usually considered a siloed mentality. Probably, this does not offer a good picture of what it means for an organisation. When silos are involved, the company is operating way below its potential. Let’s ask the question — what is the cost of corporate politics and siloed practices?


It was extremely arduous to decide where to start. Simply put, a siloed approach works against the business agenda and towards the downfall of the organisation. It makes the company and its stakeholders suffer (i.e., employees, customers, suppliers, etc.). This is translated into a situation and an environment characterised by:

  • strong asymmetry of information

  • weak leadership, ambiguous authority, confused roles, diluted responsibilities

  • lack of alignment with the overall company strategy and lack of shared understanding of values and priorities

  • misallocation and waste of resources (i.e., time, money, human, etc.)

  • duplication of effort, inefficiencies and inconsistencies

  • lack of collaborative advantage

  • workplace stress, employees’ frustration and friction

These examples are critical blocks to success triggers, inevitably causing:

  • unresponsiveness to customers and competitive pressures

  • inability to cope with shifting market conditions

  • bad decision making

  • defensive behaviours

  • stifle innovation

  • incapability to recognise business opportunities

  • low employee performance and productivity, high turnover

  • inhibition of consistently profitable trends, with a lack of performance and loss profit company

I could go on and on, but this is not a grocery list for despair! In case you are asking yourselves “what would be then the advantages of breaking silos?”, you can simply read again the list above and turn every line into its exact contrary. Of course, organisations that can reduce politics and silos are usually outperforming those with dysfunctionalities.

But first, legal.

Before laying into solutions, let us go “legal”. We have all been there, at least once. Your organisation is over-demanding with urgent last-minute legal fixes and issues. I dreamt about movie-like speeches: “No worries, there is only one consequence of all this astonishing redundancy and poor collaboration, in a jungle of unaligned conflicting priorities across the organisation, making it very hard to stay ahead of the competition. The consequence is damage to your business outcomes. But, at the end of the day, do you really care?”


Leaving the venting part, after observing e speaking with many professionals, there are a couple of hidden elements of silos worth mentioning when referring to the legal department. Silos in these particular departments suffer from additional problematic layers.

  • Operations > Legal departments are usually understaffed, in some cases incorporated in the finance department. Furthermore, when it comes to operation, the legal function is used intermittently and transactionally. The Legal department is often looked at as an outsider, something the company relies on, a shoulder to cry on, a protection to seek. It is never seen as equal to the other departments. Many organisations, small to large, even outsource the legal function and competencies, while the law is the backbone of any organisation (even the illegal ones find their raison d'être in the law!).

  • Knowledge > The all-things-legal is regarded in a quite standard way – the legal matters are most of the time considered as "lawyers’ stuff". Legal knowledge is most of the time relegated to a different level, regarded as non-understandable, intimidating, too boring. The complexity and consequent inaccessibility of legal topics make many other departments perceive law as a limit, a constraint, a roadblock. They tend to go to legal at the eleventh hour – hoping to tear a last-minute "yes", with the excuse of haste.

  • Attitude > As said, legal knowledge is most of the time relegated to a “different level”. Legal professionals might come out as "snob-ish". I am referring to that general attitude towards and inside the legal field, where legal knowledge is regarded as being on another level – it’s the law, after all! This attitude contributes to the seclusion of the legal function within an organisation.

These peculiarities make it physiological for the legal team to develop a more closed activity within the legal department rather than share it with the rest of the departments. Ant at the same, time, it is physiological for the other departments to marginalise the department and nurture the siloed status. Contrarily to other typologies of silos that are moved by "corporate politics", the resulting silos in Legal are the mirror of the legal marginalisation and isolation that is often more than welcome by all other departments.

Solutions

Every siloed environment has its typology and particularity. In some cases, the human and political matrices are intense, creating a maze of dynamics extremely difficult to reduce. In some other cases, silos are the result of a lack of infrastructure and tools that do not allow information sharing.

There is no one-solution-fits-all and beware of those who propose it – legal silos and political dynamics are specifics of each organisation. To be reduced, each specific situation must be studied and analysed.

This being said, there are some high-level inputs that I would like to share with you. At the very end, it is about piercing the barriers and allowing the so-called "cross-pollination” – meaning exposing other departments to new ways of conceiving legal and working with legal.


A. Educate departments on the "whys" of the legal function. Describe the consequences of silos with real department-related examples – no thin air, but rather very concrete and relatable cases even better if taken from past experiences. Gamify silos dynamics [1] to allow your teams to experience the problems and touch issues first-hand. Let them become aware of their unconscious cognitive biases around legal.


B. Simplify processes and be sure to involve legal from the start. Map your current processes: what is the journey for a department to ask for approval? When are you usually included in the loop? What are your pain points? What are theirs? How do you simplify it?


C. Keep practising experimental collaborations. Let your teams experience de-siloing by encouraging teams to work together with the legal one on company-wide problems. Sometimes, when we frame a problem, maybe with the help of an external consultant, we are left with “theory”, a couple of "exercises" and a detailed pdf. Be sure teams are putting into practice what they learn. Employees get to know each other, gain exposure to other areas of knowledge and become more aware and open to collaboration.


Looking forward

This is just an “ABC", but what is the very first step? Get the buy-in from top management.

Usually, braking-silos initiatives should be directly embraced by top management. Once leaders understand the incentives and advantages in terms of business and culture, they are usually pervaded by a voracious will to start de-siloing as soon as possible.


However, when Legal is in the picture, this might be slightly different (were you expecting something different?!). Top management rarely decides to tackle siloed dynamics in connection to legal – also counting that many times this department is quite isolated (or even outsourced). Therefore, the incipit must come from the legal department itself, which needs to sell it and get the buy-in from top management. In legalese, this means advocating and lobbying.


They say companies will not be moved until they truly understand the connection between silos, politics and performance. Be sure to make this connection sparkling clear.


Learn more

[1] Gamify silos dynamics, available at https://bit.ly/3CykBFL

 

About the Author Chiara Lamacchia is a consultant in legal, marketing & legal forecasting, working in corporate strategy for global organisations across different sectors, after an LL.M. from Bocconi University (Milan, Italy) and an MSc in Marketing from Edinburgh Napier University (UK). Chiara is the Founder of lawrketing.com and withoutconsulting.com, promoting the adoption of ground-breaking ways of using the law for innovation and competitive advantage.

Besides, among other things, she authored and published the book "Lawrketing – What Business Never Realised About Law", introducing a new concept, lawrketing, combining law, business, marketing and innovation.


Connect with Chiara on linkedin.com/in/chiaralamacchia


For more articles see The Legal Edge Series at Legal Business World




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