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Melissa Shanahan

#241: The Root Cause of Your Team Problems

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What are some of the biggest frustrations and obstacles you face as a law firm owner? If your mind immediately goes to your team, whether it’s a specific team member or your team as a whole, you’re not alone.

If, like many of Melissa’s clients, you’ve been tolerating or living with team issues for a long time, the hard truth is that these perceived problems aren’t a team problem. They might actually be a you problem. And on this episode, you’ll learn the opportunities you have as an owner, leader, and CEO to shift the culture within your firm towards greatness.

Listen in this week to discover how your perceived team problems may be a you problem, and learn the primary barrier to law firm owners taking responsibility for these issues. Melissa is showing you why you don’t need a blueprint for perfection in navigating team issues, and how just a little bit of initiative and curiosity can make all the difference.

The doors to Mastery Group are opening on February 7th 2024 for five days. Enrollment only opens once a quarter and only to our waitlist, so click here to join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• What Melissa has observed about law firm owners’ biggest frustrations.

• Why you might be experiencing team problems within your firm.

• How you may not be taking responsibility where you can as the CEO of your practice.

• 2 things you need to solve your perceived team problems.

• The byproducts of tolerating and allowing unideal situations in your firm.

• How you may be putting yourself and your firm at a disadvantage.

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#228: The Power of High Confront: Taking Action and Disrupting Inertia Defaults

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #241.

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.

Everyone, welcome to this week's episode. How's it going? Man, as this airs, we are over halfway through January and halfway through the first month of 2024. I hope your year is starting off really strong. This year started off with a bang here at Velocity Work.

We have hosted five client strategic planning retreats in two weeks, right at the top of this year. It feels good to have those done, and get people started on their right foot as they hit 2024. They've all been such a pleasure. It’s such a blast to be with these clients.

There's one group in particular... Of the five retreats, one of them was a small group that we lead. Man, just all of it fills me up. This is why we exist, to watch things come together and to watch them. Before we make plans for the future, if you've been listening for any length of time, you know that we always look back to the accomplishments and lessons learned.

Just hearing what people have created for themselves and for their firms over the course of the year has been nothing short of remarkable. I mean, it doesn't surprise me at all, their wins. I know our process works, that's why we have the company we have. And that's why if our clients aren’t successful, we aren't successful. We have a really good thing going over here.

But if we didn't have the clients in place that were willing to do what it takes, willing to follow through, willing to be honest, willing to work smart but also hard and really just getting things into place, then we wouldn't see the results. It doesn't matter how hard we try as facilitators and as coaches. So, it's just so cool to see. It is the reason we exist.

I get to, every quarter and throughout the quarters, witness the strides people are making, the barriers they're overcoming, the increase in revenue, the decrease in the amount of time spent in the business, the improvements to the team. It all comes together, and it just is the thing that I wake up and work for, period.

We've had a lot of experiencing that, right at the top of the year, which has been really cool to see. We recently made changes to Mastery Group, all positive changes; adding more value to the group and to the program. We are tightening that circle a bit. All these moves feel healthy.

Change is sometimes hard. But if it's well thought out, and it's if it's super intentional, it's usually worth it. That's kind of what we're experiencing now with the changes we've made with Mastery Group. I'm so grateful to everyone who's ever been a part of Mastery Group, and grateful to the people in there right now.

It's just been such a delight over the years to watch this program evolve, watch the members evolve, and to get to help Mastery Group members. So, for those of you who don't know, Mastery Group is our program that most people enter through.

It's for practices that are, generally speaking, under a million dollars. We do have practices that are doing over a million dollars in Mastery Group, but that is where most people start. Sometimes when people come in, they are at $200,000. Sometimes when people come in, they are at $700,00-$800,000.

It's our way to get to know one another, and it's our way to really help them find their footing with the data that they need to be able to strategically plan well, and the calendaring that they need to be practicing in order to get the most out of their time. So, there's these foundations that we really focus on with people in Mastery Group, and from there, if it makes sense for them to work more closely with us, we can absolutely do that.

But it's a really good first foot forward in getting the basics down, and then we can move from there. Mastery Group is opening; enrollment only opens once a quarter. It's opening February 7th. It's only open for five days, and that's because we only open up enrollment to the waitlist.

So, if you are interested in Mastery Group, if you want to know when the doors open so that you can get yourself in, then go to

If enrollment isn't open yet, you will see a way to join the waitlist. If enrollment is open when you go there, because not everyone’s listening to this in real time, then you will have an opportunity to join. But that URL will give you what you need, depending on the timing of where we are in the quarter.

So, head on over there, get yourself on the waitlist, because we are going to be opening doors soon. I want to make sure everybody who is interested is on the waitlist so that they are informed when the doors open, because that is the place that we inform people, it's the waitlist. I highly encourage you to do that.

We are prepping hard. As I said earlier, we've made some really positive changes that will make the program more useful, more access… Actually, now there's two live events that you can choose to come to in Golden Colorado, which is just outside of Denver. That's included in the membership, there's no extra fee for that.

There's a lot of good things we've added, and we just keep improving the program. I'm committed to that. Same with all of our programs, but this one in particular, is the way that typically we get to engage with people first. So, it matters. It matters a lot. And we care about you all, so when you come in, we want to be as helpful as possible.

Well, let's talk about today's topic. Basically, I decided to do this episode because there's something I've noticed, and it happens enough that it makes sense to talk about. When I'm talking to law firm owners about their frustrations or where they're stuck, oftentimes, they will say something about their team, it’ll be something to do with the team. It'll be that someone isn't up to speed, or they keep making mistakes.

I have been in this boat, oh my gosh, I have been in this boat. So, I do understand when they say that. It's true, what they're sharing feels very true. I know well enough by now to understand that when someone says that there was an issue with a team member or team as a whole, that it's typically a communications problem, or an expectations problem, or a training problem.

So, if you're listening to this, and that is something you feel frustrated by right now, I would just ask yourself: Is it a communications issue? Is it an expectations issue? Or is it a training issue? Just see where that gets you. Because it might start to get you on a productive path to solve your own issues.

But once they tell me that it's a team problem, and I kind of have that in the back of my head, I'll say, “Okay, how long has this been an issue?” Oftentimes, the answer will be something not recent, they will say, “Oh, my gosh, for the last year this is what we’ve been going through. This what we’ve been dealing with for the last six months.”

They may even say three months, but whatever they're saying, it's not that recent. It's something that they've been tolerating and living with and been frustrated by for a long time.

And so, when they tell me it's been however long they say, so often in my head, because it's not very recent, I'll think, “Well, wait a minute, this is not a team problem. This is a CEO problem. This is a problem with making hard decisions and having hard conversations, period.” That flips it.

Often, we think about root cause and root cause analysis, and I deeply appreciate the concept of root cause analysis. Because then you're not slapping bandaids on, or working or focusing on the wrong things. You're focusing on the right things; you're focusing on the root of the of the issue that you're having.

The other thing that strikes me when I talk about a CEO problem, in terms of making hard decisions and having hard conversations… There's an episode we did about a concept I call “high confront” and having high confront. How that is a very positive thing depending on your approach to it. But high confront is a positive, it's not a negative. You can choose to be low confront in certain situations.

But that whole episode, if this at all sounds interesting to you, you want to dig in on this more, go back and listen to that. We'll make sure to put it in the show notes.

But the CEO is the problem. Now, some of you don't think of yourself as a CEO. So, put in whatever word you want there; leader, owner, manager, boss. It doesn't matter what you call it, it's about you and taking responsibility where you can.

Most people aren't thinking, “Well, I'm not going to take responsibility for that, because I don't like making hard decisions.” Maybe some do. Most of the time, that's not the case. Most of the time, it's a blind spot for them. So, I want this episode to serve as an opportunity to maybe uncover one of the blind spots you have.

Allow yourself to have a look at it, and maybe make some changes that’s so necessary and has been so needed for so long, when it comes to a team or a team member specifically. Where you've been tolerating something to do with a team and any frustrations you might have with them.

Okay, now let's say you are awake to this, and the barrier that most often comes up when people start to realize that they could take responsibility for this, and they could take the reins here, the barrier that I hear the most is just how swamped they are. They don't have time to focus on this. They don't have room to deal with addressing these issues.

And yes, they know in the back of their mind that if they don't, the problem is just going to keep happening. But they feel stuck. And so, this is where I said at the beginning, where do people feel stuck? That's one of the questions I ask, and this is one of the things they say. It's because they don't feel like they have the space to give it.

Now, here's what I think is really behind that; we're talking about root cause. I know you all are busy. I know you all have many things vying for your attention. This is why we push for, and we practice and expect to practice, is Monday Map/Friday Wrap.

Because that is a time management system. It's basically about managing yourself, scheduling what's important, honoring those things, and getting stuff done in a way that feels less chaotic. It puts you more in the driver's seat. Inevitably, people always get more done than they normally would in any given week. So, they start to get traction. It is a practice, but they start to get traction.

Now, even though we do address that inside of Velocity Work, the truth is, you will still feel this way. You will still feel like you don't have the time to do this. So, it's almost just a story that you are telling yourself. I think what the real thing is, that's underneath it all, and this is through a lot of work with a lot of people, is that people feel like they need to know exactly what to do in order to fix this, in terms of being a better leader, calling these shots, and when should these shots be called, and getting to this faster.

The truth is, you don't need to know exactly what to do. You need interest and curiosity about what you perceive to be the problem, not only the problem but also the solutions, and that doesn't take a ton of time. It takes a little bit of energy, a little bit of initiative. Just being curious can make all the difference.

As I was sitting down to prepare for this episode, one thing kept coming up that is the same problem and solution in a totally different area of life. When you think about someone who is in an area of the world where they don't have food education and they don't have access to healthy food…

I think about some family that I have, who live in rural Kentucky, and they do not have access to the same kind of food that I have access to being in a city, to healthy food and healthy options. Diabetes is rampant there. Obesity is the norm. I've watched these family members go on this journey where they get these diagnoses, and really devastating outcomes in a couple of instances, and up until that point they didn't really realize the control that they could have over their state of health.

But the second they get these diagnoses, and everything gets pretty drastic, there is an interest that's piqued and there's a curiosity to do whatever they can to improve their circumstances. Even when they are in a health care system that isn't great, in terms of education for them and prevention for them, there is a wake-up call, and it makes them curious.

They start reaching out for resources. They start looking up different things. They start learning. Does their diet become perfect? No. But does it become better in a way that improves all of their health stats? Yes. They don't have a blueprint for perfection. No one is handing them that, despite what you would think would be normal and acceptable. They aren't getting that.

In many ways, they are stuck in a system that serves the sick and is meant to take care of the sick, not cure. Curing is not something that's prioritized there, at least not that I've witnessed. So, my point here is, all you need is your interest piqued, your curiosity to rise. And when that happens, you have ideas and you feel inspired to maybe have a conversation with someone you really trust within this realm. Just to get inspiration and ideas and get out of your own head with it.

But even if you don't know that person, and you don't have someone you would reach out to that, for real, you think that they've got some wisdom to share, sitting down… and I would recommend this anyway before you reach out to other people… sitting down and thinking through what hard conversations need to happen.

What communication needs to be improved? Really, systematically improved. What expectations need to be set or reset? What training needs to be a part of this? And/or what hard calls do you need to make? Get honest with yourself, take the reins, and you will affect positively how this plays out in your firm.

Now, there's another thing that we haven't talked about yet here, that is a byproduct of allowing an unideal situation right out in the firm, and tolerating that for any length of time. It’s that other team members will see what's going on. Maybe you haven't been able to see it in the same way, but they do.

They see that there is some subpar stuff going on, and if it rides out, these people will leave. Because great people, great team members with great work ethic, they want to be around other people with those same values. And if they are in a company, an organization, a law firm, that they see they are not among that, even if you as the owner portray some of those things that they do value and they do want to work on a team…

If they are surrounded by team members that have a hand in creating an unideal situation, and you aren't nipping it, you are allowing it, you are continuing to be frustrated by the same things, those people will leave. Because great people want to work alongside great people.

So, the sooner you can be onto yourself with this, and be onto the root cause of really what's going on, and it probably comes back to you... If you are frustrated, and have been for any length of time, with a team member or your team, generally speaking, this is a ‘you’ problem. The sooner you can wake up to that, the faster you will be able to build a culture of greatness within your firm.

If you let it slide, it's all over, man. I'm not trying to be doomsday about it. But truly, you are putting yourself and your firm at such a disadvantage. It's harder to course correct down the road than if you just nip it. Now, if you find yourself in this situation, there's no sense in beating yourself up and getting all down about the fact that you have been letting it ride out.

Starting now, when you know better, you can do better. So, let's go. These are all just points I'm making. Each of you are in a different place with this concept and with these things. So, I want to meet each of you where you are. I want you to be able to pull something from this episode. And I want you to have a look at yourself in the mirror and identify what really is the problem, and go address it.

Even if you don't know exactly what to do to perfectly address it, it doesn't matter. Just be interested. Be curious. When you sit down to think through with curiosity what really is going on here, what really is the problem, then you can address it more head on, in a kind, compassionate way, but clean and clear.

There's no bending or making lines blurry to people please the people around you, no. You need to have a backbone when you're doing these things, when you're having these hard conversations and you're making these hard calls. But you can still do it with kindness.

Sitting down to figure out what the problem really is, and then addressing that problem head on, is the way that you will start to shift what it looks like to be a team member in your firm. It will reduce your frustration as you move on. Again, this goes back to high confront. So, that episode will be very complementary to this episode.

All right, everybody. Where do you have an opportunity here? Note it, sit down, think through it, have an honest conversation with yourself, and then have honest conversations with those around you.

Have a wonderful week, everyone. I'll 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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