Managing a high-performing in-house team
When it comes to managing a team in an agile business, this GC says that communication is of the utmost importance – and that in-house environments are constantly evolving.
Luana Melis is the general counsel and company secretary at Time & Place. Speaking recently on The Corporate Counsel Show, she discussed managing high-performing in-house teams in a small, agile private business and how to get the best out of your team.
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Time & Place is a private property developer based in Melbourne and Sydney – and Ms Melis said that working in the property development space has been particularly interesting in recent years.
“It is really the tough market conditions. You’ve got construction costs that are rising supply issues, you’ve got contractors and subcontractors who are going into administration. You’ve also got a social housing affordability crisis. So, you’ve got all of these competing factors,” she said.
“On one hand, it’s: build the houses, get it out there to market. And on the other hand, it’s very hard to do that when the feasibility doesn’t necessarily work how you initially thought when you purchased the property. So it’s about being agile and innovative and coming up with creative solutions to that. And it puts pressures on the team broadly and also then the legal team and how they react to those pressures.”
In these tough market conditions, Ms Melis confirmed that team management is her “number one priority”.
“I spend a lot of time working on [our] team and how we can be a better team and how I can support the team and their wellbeing. I think when you’ve got an environment like the one that we’re in, together with a high-growth business, that’s like a small privately owned business, priority of the team and management of the team and building their soft skills and their ability to be sort of broader than just their expertise is critical for me.
“I think your experience of managing a team and who you are as a leader comes from your experience in the past. And I probably have not had the best of mentors, to be honest, in many times. And I think it was a bit sink or swim out of law school, which was, it built resilience, and it was great,” she explained.
“But for me, my number one saying the team is based on the ‘Ubuntu’ philosophy, which is, I am, because we are. And I honestly believe that as a team, we can achieve far more and be far more productive rather than us individually running off and doing our own things. Take that as well. And for me, and in all my strengths reports, it’s always about people. So that’s why the focus has been there.”
In terms of best practice when it comes to team management in-house, Ms Melis said that it’s continually “evolving” and will never necessarily be perfect.
“I don’t think [that] you ever achieve a ‘best state of play’. I think it’s evolving to the individuals within your team, working within their strengths. And we spend a lot of time, we have our monthly insights meeting, where we often have externals and consultants come in, and we’ve had a happiness coach come in and deliver a brilliant seminar. We’ve done the soft training,” she added.
“It’s about always keeping connected to each other and communicating and having those conversations about, are we working, are we achieving what we set out to do? We have a value statement, we know what failure looks like, we know what success is for us, so we’ve got those clearly defined. So, we’re continuing to work on that and also to monitor, given the industry, to monitor workload and to keep checking in. So, for me, I think that’s just an evolving landscape. I don’t think you ever achieve a point of perfection in team management.”
Therefore, Ms Melis outlined, open communication is embedded in good team management and being agile within changing markets and environments.
“It’s regular and consistent communication and consistent processes and consistent listening. I think you need to create an environment where the team feels comfortable to be able to come up and say, this isn’t working for me or this is too hard. Lawyers, we’re highly conscientious people and on top of that, we also tend to be perfectionists and want to do it all,” she said.
“So, it’s about recognising when your team members are doing that and pulling back and having that open communication. We have processes in place, and we have certain things that we have put in place to assist the team. But it’s really, to me, it has to be more agile, and it has to be communication that’s honest.”
For Ms Melis, this agility means weekly check-ins, as well as switching up priorities three times a week.
“I think the conditions that we’re in means a lot of our work has been a little bit reactive, and we’re sort of playing the role of the corporate firefighter, as they say. I think, given that agility is the ability to be able to reprioritise and to give the team the ability to know they don’t necessarily have to do everything, but we’re working towards what adds value as opposed to achieving all the business as usual that we would try and get done,” she opined.
“I honestly think that agility is about working with the business, checking in on their critical actions and then aligning those. And each of our team members is responsible for a project and attends those internal meetings to be able to do that, to have that communication flow.”
All of this can mean a high-performing team, which Ms Melis said is then able to deliver on valuable tasks.
“The team we have here are all technically excellent at their job, so that’s not the issue. It’s not like we need to send people off for further training in the law. High performance for me is about developing some of those softer skills and sort of having a broader understanding of the business and being able to have the courage to have conversations in terms of priority and what’s being done and what’s important for the business and where value is added,” she concluded.
“So high performance is delivering outcomes in the areas that add value. I think it’s really important to be able to let go of things. So, it’s a high-performance team when you know they’re working on the right work.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Luana Melis, click below: