It’s absolutely true that the Collaborative process is only as good as its team. We’ve already talked about how good communication is critical to a team’s success, as well as other qualities that make a strong team, but even a strong team may not see success if they don’t start off on the right foot.
What’s the best way to do that?
Allow time and space for the professional team to come together. Namely, schedule a meeting prior to the first client meeting and use that time to establish structure, set tone and develop cohesion. This is not a step to be glossed over and it isn’t simply a formality.
A quality team fulfills the following preliminary goals in the initial team meeting:
1) Prior to first team meeting, each professional should fill out engagement agreements that allow for disclosure of relevant party information to the team. This will eliminate roadblocks to candid dialogue. The agreements should be brought to the meeting and given to the records keeper (if one is determined during role discussion).
2) Meet in-person if possible (but utilize conference-call capability if this facilitates holding future team meeting(s)).
3) Establish a note-taker for future meetings, means of disseminating/reviewing notes, and if one individual will hold the role throughout or if it will rotate throughout the team (or alternate b/w counsel).
4) Determine methods and patterns of communications among team members; compile all contact information and preferred forms of communication for each team member.
5) Discuss and clarify roles for each team member. Start by asking each person to describe how they perceive their role.
6) Discuss how each member views team work and determine guiding principles for team conduct.
7) Discuss team member’s view of who drives the process.
8) Discuss the role of the coach(es) within the process.
9) Share impressions of the parties as well as perceived blocks to progress.
10) Develop a strategy for addressing concerns voiced by team members or either party.
11) Clarify billing practices.
12) Talk about feedback. Discuss, candidly, how and when each member prefers to receive or give constructive feedback within the team.
13) Plan structure for future meetings.
- Length (in Alaska the first team meeting is typically set for at least one hour. Future team meetings are typically set for either ½ hour or one hour depending on the meeting's purpose and goals; six-way meetings are typically ninety minutes).
- Parties to attend
- Check-in/preparation between all team members
Each of these tips can be broken down into more detail, but these guideposts provide a good way for coordinating team members to think about the value of the first meeting of the professional team. The first meeting will thereby set a productive foundation for the collaborative case.