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Melissa Shanahan

#227: Connecting with Your Team: Strategies for Play and Work

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If you’ve been a regular listener of the podcast, you’ll know that Melissa has been on leadership journey lately. She’s been thinking about how she wants to foster deeper connections with her team, and she’s here this week to offer her top tips and strategies for getting out of the daily grind and changing your focus to make surprising headway in your firm.

However big or small your team is, and whether they’re virtual or in person, what does your firm’s team dynamic currently look like? The truth is, it’s your job as owner to provide a container for deep connection with and amongst your team, and Melissa is here today to illuminate how paying attention to connection goes a long way.

Listen in this week to discover the value of consistently showing up for your people by prioritizing team connection. You’ll hear strategies for both work and play that foster innovation, creativity, and collaboration, the ripple effect of having a healthy team that experiences joy and fulfilment, and what’s required of you to foster deep team connection.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• The value of connecting differently with your team than you do in your typical day-to-day.

• A team workshop exercise Melissa and her team recently tried.

• Examples of ways you can foster team connection in your firm through work and play.

• What a team sprint can look like and how to run one.

• Why prioritizing a healthy team matters.

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John Grant

Tara Gronhovd


Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara

Frasca Food and Wine

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #227.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast powered by Velocity Work for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I'm thrilled you're here. I'm thrilled you're listening. This has been a crazy week. I am coming off of ClioCon and it was an incredible event. I'll say a little bit more about that in a moment.

Now I'm on the road hosting a retreat for a private client tomorrow, and rounding out the week with Tara Gronhovd. If you don't know her, she's an expert in all things team, team dynamics, and people strategy. She's excellent. So, I’m rounding out the week with her for me to focus on my business. It was a big week on the road, a long time away from home, but really worth it, really special.

Last week, also, which I will say a little bit more about in this episode, but this has been a big week because before I left for Nashville, for ClioCon, I got to be in a room for two days with John Grant. Agile Attorney Consulting is his business. He's incredible with workflows and understanding lean methodology, Kanban, Kaizen, all things workflow, making work visible, which increases efficiency and increases effectiveness.

And so, we got to really dig in on things, not just for my business, certainly we did on my business, but then also thinking about his world and his clients as well. So, it has been a really big, high level on the business work week. It feels good to have that stuff every once in a while, right? Just to have it sprinkled in, have it scheduled, have it on the calendar so you can take a look at some things.

Which makes it really easy to segue into what we're talking about today. So today, I want to talk to you all about team connection, connecting with your team, and allowing your team to connect with one another. We all have different team sizes, varying sizes, some virtual, and some in person. I want you to just get one takeaway from today's episode.

Depending on where you are on your journey with your team, what it looks like, what is one thing you can do today that will make a difference moving forward, based on some of the things we're going to cover today?

The reason I'm doing this episode now, I'm inspired to do this episode for you all, is because I have noticed… Certainly a lot lately, and certainly if you've been listening to the podcast, you know I've been on a journey with leadership. I feel like this has been a slow revelation but it really seemed to all come together this week.

When you take time to connect differently with your team than the typical day to day, it builds trust, it fosters cohesion, and it helps to make sure that everyone is rowing in the same direction inside of your firm. Now, let's be clear when I'm talking about when I say, “team connection.”

Because I think that, and I used to think, it meant what I'm getting ready to share with you. I think that people assume that team connection needs to be no work and all play. So, there needs to be team bonding activities. Like, going to do an adventure together, an escape room, or going out to eat together. Basically nothing to do with work, just all fun.

Now, that's certainly an option, and I think there's a time and a place for that. So, I'm not saying don't do those things. Real connection can happen through work, but it does require to get off the hamster wheel. It does require you to change up the scenery, change up the focuses, infuse some fun, but also get to work.

Let me give you some examples of what this could look like. And then, we'll talk about what comes of it when you actually take the space to do these things. Alright, the first one I want to share, is workshops or training sessions, or retreats, work retreats of some kind.

So, workshops and training sessions, I think of these as more kind of rolling up your sleeves, with a workshop in particular, and making some headway, thinking high level, using some tools and exercises to really create some flow where there isn't currently flow.

Or create improvements, where there really needs to be a more effective route, or a more efficient route, with an element of the work that happens day to day. There are all kinds of things, that at any given point, if I asked you or if you asked your team members to make a list of all the things that need to be improved upon, or need to be more organized, things that just need your attention, but we don't have the space for it in the day to day...

You can take space to workshop the stuff and to map out what needs to change. To figure out, ‘okay, if this is what needs to change, then what are all the things that need to happen in order for that change to be the new way of doing things?’ You can work backwards and work together.

This is collaborative, it's fun, it gets input from different people, and everyone works together to solve for the things that you are looking to have solved. So, that's how I think about the workshop side of things.

A perfect example was last week, when John Grant worked with my team and we workshopped some things. He had three huge Post-Its up on the wall, and at the top of each one… One of them said, what do we need to keep doing? Or what's going well?

The next one, what do we need to stop doing? What's not going well? The last one was, what are some new things we could try, new ideas? And so, each of us had to write down, on a Post-It, answers to that; he gave us two minutes to do it.

We filled out as many Post-Its as we could. Each Post-It had its own idea. And then, we took turns walking up there and placing the stickies on the huge Post-It and explaining, just in one sentence or less, why we wrote this on a sticky and why it's coming up here.

Wow, how illuminating that exercise was, to hear from team members, their responses, and then mine. And of course, which was fascinating, my responses were much more high level. Theirs were very much in the weeds. He made a comment like, of course, because that's where I work versus where they work.

There's a beauty in that, all these things come out that I can't see but they can. I offer perspective that they can't really see, and I can share that here. So, it was such a cool exercise. We came to some really important decisions, as a team, because of that. That, to me, is workshopping. That's one example.

I also sort of clumped in with workshops training sessions. This is something we're going to be much more cognizant about getting on the calendar for our team. Training days once a month. Maybe it's four hours, maybe it's two hours, maybe it's a full day, depending.

But we're going to set aside time to train our team on things that will be important, so that we are moving the needle with what really matters in the firm, and giving the ability for people to be able to do that. So, they understand new processes, or new software or new ideas or new procedures; the list could go on.

So, giving space to train the team on certain things that will help them be better at their job and connect the dots differently for their role. This is something we're really focused on. With the little bit that we've done so far, it's amazing the connection that happens between them during training.

Again, this goes back to getting them out of, and you too as the owner, getting everyone out of the daily grind and into a space that fosters innovation and creativity and a different level of thinking and is collaborative. So, training sessions are another way to think about this.

The other that I sort of clumped in here, was retreats. Strategic planning retreats, for example. Any sort of planning retreats can be really valuable for people to put their heads together and form this vision, crystallize this vision, together and determine how they're going to get there, how they're going to bring that vision to light.

Retreats are typically done outside of your four walls. That's an important element of a retreat, where it really lets you think outside of the box. Changing up the scenery can be really important for types of events where you're focused on the long game. You're focused on vision and forward thinking. Figuring out ways that you can really let that vision pull you forward and what are you going to do to get there.

And so, I feel very strongly that getting out of your four walls for that kind of work is important. I don't think you can go wrong with getting outside of your four walls for any of the examples I just gave; workshops, training sessions, or retreats, but retreats specifically. It's hard to really sink deeply into vision kind of work when you're inside of your normal four walls.

Okay, something else you can do that would be great to get on the calendar, make plans for ahead of time, is to go to conferences. It could be conferences that are related to tools that you use inside of your business, inside of your firm, or it could be related to the practice of law.

But either way, getting out with your team to be able to learn some new things, network with other people, share ideas and share notes, and visit vendors at the expo that might have really great solutions for you all; even if it's not the right time, you know that these things exist as tools that you can work towards.

There's something about being away from work, and being with a whole bunch of other professionals that are there for the same reasons you are, and plugging in and connecting and learning and soaking it up. Not just the content, but the vibe and what's going on. That can be really powerful.

I just got done with ClioCon, as I mentioned at the top of the podcast, and I saw this left and right with teams at ClioCon. So, owners that brought a team member with them, or maybe several team members with them. Such an opportunity for them to connect. And really, really cool to see lots of conversations with other teams.

I brought a team member with me; I brought Mika. Mika is amazing. I tell you what, I got to know Mika in a better way and in a more in-depth way. I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed talking to her about some of her life experiences and the way that she views things. She had some, like two or three, really good ideas that came out of conversations that we had at the event, that would not have happened in the day to day; our heads are not in the right space, they're focused on the day to day stuff.

It was through conversations, and really just kind of letting ourselves go in conversation over dinner, walking to and from this huge conference. It's a real walk in places. And it was delightful, absolutely delightful. That's an opportunity that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Now, what I'm describing here, and what I witnessed with other teams that were together at this conference, all of that strengthens a dynamic. It's a ripple effect of that. Even though we had some long days and late nights at that conference, we're going to go back to work refreshed and invigorated and feeling full of ideas and excitement to actually execute on those things.

So, there's a lot of ripple effect from just taking space, being together, getting to know one another, having conversations, letting those conversations just drift and see where they take you. It was pretty invaluable.

I got to witness that with other teams. Again, it wasn't just me and my experience with Mika, it was more than that. I watched other teams do this. Standing around and talking to them about ideas and hearing what they're up to. Then you can see light bulbs go off, and team members talking, and it’s just so cool.

Okay, another idea is having a sprint of some kind, that you all are really rallying around one cause, and it does feel like getting to the finish line was something. There is a sense of teamwork that happens when you declare a sprint around something. Actually, right now, I can think of two different private clients that have each run a sprint inside of their firm for something really specific.

So, a sprint is a short period of time where you're going to… It's like a blitz. You're going to do something and really go all in. And then, there's a finish line where you can take a breath. This could look like one of two ways. One way, is that you're going to prioritize one element of work over other elements of work.

And so, what wins, and what's going to be happening more of, because you all decided that's what needs to be happening. More attention needs to be given to this one piece of work. Everything else, it doesn't mean you have to neglect it fully. Maybe there's just a short period of the day where you give attention to the other things.

But to this thing, we are going all in, in the sprint. So, it's almost like where you’re focused is with the work that you have to make a push that's going to make a difference for the firm. That might help, for example, increase cash flow, or work on a collections problem. There's a focus to the work that matters for your firm.

And so, you all rally, you all get together, you all have a part. It's a focus for everybody. It's mentioned at the top of the day. Maybe it's mentioned before you close out the day, the progress that was made. But it's really focused effort for one element of work.

An example that comes to mind, is templates that just need to be done and dialed in so that work flows can be easier. It's like, “Okay, we are pushing at this from this date to this date. We're going to make a mad push to get these templates done.” So, that's an example.

But this work can be really powerful, it gets you ahead. You guys all work together, everybody's on the same page, and that does bring a sense of camaraderie and teamwork to it.

A sort of similar idea here, is themes. So, you can have a period of time where you're focused on a particular theme. This could be a theme around a core value that you really want to bring to life, that really needs to be the top core value that matters.

And so, every single day, everyone is going to drop into a channel what thing they noticed, or how that core value was exemplified that day, or what is one way that they were going to practice that core value that day. There's this theme that is paid attention to, which doesn't take a ton of time, but it's the focus. So, there's a themed focus over a specific set period of time, and everybody is participating in that.

Another example I've seen that teams do, is for Google reviews. So, if they have a goal to get X number of Google reviews, there's a themed focus for a certain month or a certain quarter, and everybody's pushing for it. Everybody is making sure to ask for the Google reviews when appropriate, and when you guys have decided that that's when it gets asked, and this is how it gets asked. Everyone is focused on it.

You can tie prizes and contests, internal contests, for these things if you wanted to. But there is a themed focus that's really going to make a difference to get you from point A to point B. And because of that focus and intentionality, it gets you to a new normal.

Another idea that can foster this team connection, is to bring in guest speakers for things that will develop your team. It doesn't have to be around work skills, it could be around personal development. But what is something that you can do where you bring in an expert? Maybe it's just for lunch-and-learn, it doesn't have to be an all-day thing.

Bringing in outside experts for certain things can be fun, and be a chance for someone to learn more deeply about themselves so that they're showing up better for themselves. A healthy team that's taking care of themselves makes for a great place to work; the culture is good, y'all are taking care of one another, and you work really hard.

There's a ripple effect that comes from being able to take care of yourself. If you guys are burnt, and in the daily grind, then that's all you know; that's all you do. You can imagine, you don't show up quite as effectively with anything. Oftentimes, in those scenarios, people's attitudes are lackluster and need a little adjustment, for ourselves.

But that's really hard to do when all you're in is the day to day grind. You cannot expect somebody to have joy and fulfillment when all they're in is the day to day grind.

If you do give some space for some of the ideas I've shared here, or even maybe having someone from the outside come in for a small exercise, just giving yourselves attention and taking care of yourselves goes a long way.

The final idea I have prepared for you today that allows for team connection, with not just play but some work, is to have some sort of mentorship program inside of your firm. Meaning, you pair up some newer team members, or some team members with less experience, with those who have been around for a while or have a lot more experience.

This can be a lightweight program inside of your firm. But that connection between two people for mentorship and guidance can be really valuable. And, you give them space to do that. Maybe the firm pays for lunch once a month, or once every couple of weeks, for this pair to connect and foster growth.

All of the ideas I've shared with you here today, was sitting down and really thinking through them. I have done some of this thinking for myself. So, we are planning some of the things that I've just shared with you here. I've also seen and shared things, here on this episode, that I've seen others do with success. Then, brainstorm what else can we do. What else could happen?

So, hopefully this is helpful. I bet you have your own ideas; just you knowing and understanding your firm and your people. What ideas do you have that you could implement, that fosters team connection but it doesn't have to be all play?

Now, there's nothing wrong with all play, and I'm going to give you a few ideas that have nothing to do with work. There's no work involved at all; there's no, necessarily, skill development or planning or any of that; that could be fun.

I really wanted to do this episode to open people's eyes to team connection, and what truly can be fun but doesn't have to be all play. It can be centered around the firm, making headway for the firm and the sake of the health of the firm. But there's a time and a place for all play.

So, I'm going to give you a few ideas. Some, I'm sure, you've already thought of, maybe you've already practiced. Others maybe will inspire you to implement something as well.

Lunch or dinner gatherings. For example, I know a firm that does a family-style lunch every single day. They order lunch, and every day they provide lunch to their team members. That's just a thing that they do. Now, you don't have to do it every day. But what if you did do something like that on a regular cadence? That can be really valuable.

Another, is dinner. Maybe, on a certain cadence, you take your team out to dinner and just catch up. It’s a relaxing way to provide a meal and let people just hang out, get to know each other, talk, catch up, etc.

Okay, another idea for all play, some sort of team building activity not centered around work. So, it can be like problem solving challenges, puzzles, escape rooms, outdoor adventures. These kinds of activities, they do foster trust and teamwork in a really fun and engaging way, and nothing to do with work.

My husband's company, they have a monthly team hike. It's not mandatory, but their team is about 15, at their company. There is always between about 5-8 that go on a hike. My husband talks about who he hiked next to, and how he got to know this new person. A person that’s been around for four months, but he's never really had a conversation with them like he got to have today. He learned some things about him and how cool they are.

Every time he goes on one of those, he comes home and he's like, “We need to go to dinner with…” he'll say that the person's name. I'm like, “Yeah, let's do it.” But that's because he got a chance to finally really talk to them. So, that's an idea. When I think of outdoor activities... I live in Colorado; this is something that people do here.

Another thing I've seen people do, is go to a really cool museum exhibit. They take the whole team and go check it out.

Something else that I actually decided to do at the end of this month, I just got done reading, actually, listening to, the audiobook of Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara. Oh my gosh, it's such a good book. If you care at all about providing exceptional customer service to your clients, and making their experience with your firm so smooth, where they feel so taken care of, it is an excellent book; very entertaining, as well.

Anyway, that book got me thinking about what I wanted to do for our team retreat. Our team retreat, the big retreat, the biggest that we have every year, is at the end of October. Okay, so it's coming up. I read that book and I got inspired. I guess I should give a little context.

This gentleman was eventually an owner of the restaurant that was rated the number one restaurant in the world. It was a big deal because it wasn't the stuffy, typical fine dining that would get put in those slots. They were appealing to a younger crowd, where there was a little bit more of a relaxed vibe that was filled with joy in the restaurant.

They got to number one in the world. And so, it was all about the team dynamics that had to come together, the flow that had to happen, and the seamlessness that's created because of the dynamics and the flow between the team. It's remarkable to hear the stories about how that actually comes to light.

If you've been anywhere, if you have an appreciation for foodie level experiences, it's all a part of it. It's not just about the food that's put on your plate in front of you. It's about how this all comes together, and how dialed everything is. I mean, that is hard to do.

And so, I decided, at the end of this there's one evening I'm going to take them to dinner. We're going to sit at the “chef's table” of a Michelin starred restaurant in Boulder. The restaurant’s called Frasca. We are going to just observe and watch and take delight in the work that goes in to create the seamless experience.

It's not going to be like you have to stay focused and take notes kind of thing. But let's go experience it and really appreciate it, and observe. Just observe and be delighted. And so, that's a team thing that we're going to do.

That's a cool experience that I hope can open up all of our eyes in new ways, about how we think about serving our clients. Watching how they communicate with one another, watching the handoffs that they do, watching the care and the detail that they give to nearly every element that we're going to be experiencing. I think there's just something really special about that, when you're that dialed. It's a pleasure to watch it all come together.

The last thing I'll say is, anything to do with community service. Is there something in your community that you can all take part in? Helping in some way, giving your time, or donating some things to an organization where there's need. I think, really coming together for that cause can definitely be a bonding experience.

I hope this episode has given you some ideas. Again, just one thing that you can pull from this episode to implement. Because, really, the whole reason I'm doing this, there's such value in connecting with your team, or having your team connect; yes, with you, but also with one another.

When you provide the opportunity for this, it fosters better collaboration. It helps your team begin to trust one another more. Mostly because they get used to communicating with one another in a more relaxed way outside of the normal jargon of work. All of that leads to working together more effectively, sharing ideas, really coming together to find solutions for things, morale gets boosted, and the team is more loyal to the firm.

When you connect, when teams connect on a personal level, they tend to stay together longer. That's a beautiful thing, anyway. But also, that means that you have reduced turnover, which means you aren't spending resources on hiring, recruiting, training, and all of those things, because you've got a team that wants to be there. They get to have space, it's not just the daily grind.

Also, a connected team adapts better to change. So, even if you've got one person that doesn't like change, but they're on a team and they're really connected with a team that embraces change, because that's what's best for the firm, then it can kind of help those team members move through their discomfort and come along anyway.

If you have a team that's disjointed and disconnected, and you introduce change, you can imagine they don't all grow in the same direction. They are just all in the grind of the day to day, and all in almost like silos, in some respects. And so, you introduce new change and some are going to get on board, some are going to be dragging their feet, and some are going to ignore it until you make them not ignore it.

But when you have a team that really is connected, because they aren't just in the day to day grind, it changes the game. They adapt more easily and more quickly. And at the end of the day, it's just more fun. It's more fun to work on a team where you do feel really connected. The team is always stronger when you're connected.

The way that you create a connection among a team is to provide a container for it, to provide space for it. Again, the main reason I wanted to do this podcast is because providing a container for it, or a space for it, does not have to mean all play. It doesn't have to mean Dave & Busters every month. That's not what this is.

You can absolutely create connection just by changing up things, just by giving a new focus, just by dedicating a training day or a workshop. The consistency of showing up for your people like that will change the dynamics of the team. It will create connection.

And honestly, actually, there's one more thing I should say here. It will weed out, faster, the people that don't fit. Because in the day to day grind, people can hide. Maybe not forever, but they can for a bit. That happens, right? And so, by having, especially where it's work and play, there's workshops or training sessions, you really get to see people step up.

You get to see how they voice their opinions. If they have nothing to say ever, what's that about? It just sort of brings to the surface any issues that are hidden among the team, when you have days like this. That's good. The sooner, the better; to know some of those things that you want to come to light. This is a way to do that. This is a way to allow for all that to surface.

So, all of these things that I mentioned can be a way that you provide a container for your team to connect, some through work and play, and some through just play. But it doesn't have to be just play. That's what I really wanted to get across.

I think people, when they think of team building, they think of trust falls and obstacle courses and escape rooms. And sure, you can do those things, but that's not what it means to connect with the team. It isn't just about that, you can find ways that really add to the health of the firm, and add to the health, of the strength, of your team.

All right, everybody. That's what I've got for you this week. Thanks for hanging in there. I can tell I'm losing my voice from being at that conference for two days, and talking loud for two days over the music and the crowds in the hotel. There are waterfalls everywhere, so you have to talk loud everywhere in the hotel. So, anyway, a little raspy today, but we got it done.

Thanks, everyone. See you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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