Transparency Through Collaboration

Posted: March 22, 2022

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • For Legal to achieve transparency (which we define as how you are doing things, and why they are being done) there must be collaboration up (with the C-Suite and board), across (with other departments and vendors), and within the Legal Department itself.
  • Upwards collaboration requires that the C-Suite and board communicate a clear vision to Legal, who can then develop strategies which align to that vision.
  • Cross collaboration demands that departments consult with each other in shared processes to support the organizational goals and visions.
  • Collaboration within the Legal Department requires that Legal Management communicate the department’s strategies clearly, so that the department can complete work which is aligned to that strategy.

Transparency & Collaboration

In our previous article, we discussed including Legal at the decision-making table. This allows for Legal to move From Reactive Entity to Consulted Partner, which streamlines the introduction of new business decisions into the organization.

This introduction is critical for Legal to function as a business and provide value to the organization. But to find success here, there must be transparency, and this is achieved through collaboration at the top, across departments, and within Legal itself. As we discuss these three areas, consider your own organization and where your Legal Department’s collaborative efforts fall. To get to where you need Legal to be, you must first clearly understand where Legal is.

Collaborating Up – Legal at the Table

Including Legal at the decision-making table is the first step towards upwards collaboration, which creates transparency across business functions and enables a holistic approach to achieving organizational goals and objectives.

Legal joining conversations and contributing to business decisions means that Legal will be participating in discussions beyond their typical scope. It also demands that Legal becomes engaged in prework –analysis on various outcomes and potential solutions, instead of only reacting to a decision. Discussions around Compliance, Ethics and Privacy, Business Risk, Environmental Social and Governance, and even Cybersecurity, will now actively involve Legal.

For Legal to be successful at the decision-making table, there must be a relationship between each party which allows for free, uninhibited communication. There can not be hesitation to discuss issues and threats, and there can not be resistance against these communications. Legal should be attending board meetings and discussing operational issues, business decisions, and strategy development with the C-Suite.

Legal’s role in these discussions is to help make better decisions by addressing legal concerns pre-emptively. Proper implementation in this role will reduce risk and streamline processes by preventing rework; decisions will be made with the legalities in mind, instead of to be considered later. Improper implementation will result in repercussions in the form of rework or risk to your reputation when legalities have not been adequately considered.

This intention must be clearly understood by all parties, as collaboration demands mutual effort. Resentment and misunderstanding will work against the organization, but once universal buy-in is achieved, upwards collaboration enables transparency.

Collaborating Across – The New Scope of Legal     

Where upwards collaboration is about understanding how the Legal Department can support the goals and vision of the C-Suite and Board, cross collaboration is about how the departments support the organizational goal through shared processes. Transparency here is about what Legal doing and how this supports what the other departments are doing. If there is no transparency, departments will fall victim to being siloed – doing work independently of each other, likely resulting in practices which don’t fit into the overarching plan.

In these silos, the flow of information between departments becomes trivial. This restricts knowledge and, in turn, restricts the ability to make sound decisions. Changes to a shared process in one department won’t be readily addressed in neighbouring departments, and so the process itself becomes ineffectual.

Cross collaboration also includes communication between the Legal Department and any external partners or vendors. In these channels, collaboration hinges on Legal’s ability to communicate requirements clearly and in an ongoing manner. There must be an open flow of information to ensure a valid product is delivered.

Again, it is critical to achieve the buy-in of all parties involved. Information must be readily exchanged and available, and there can not be a sense of secrecy or distance between departments. Transparency here means making decisions known, consulting with related teams, and notifying related departments of changes. Eliminating the silo/serial/waterfall approach to business decisions, and instead making them collaborative and fluid in the exchange of information, ensures a cohesive approach to organizational goals.

Collaborating Within – Managing the New Legal Department

The evolving perspective of Legal demands that there is a change in the operation of the Legal Department itself. There will be a trickledown effect – revisions to the operations and strategies within the department will result in changes in responsibilities, workflows, and attitudes.

Legal should be reviewing and revising its existing practices. Are we only doing something because it has been done this way historically? Is there a better way? Is there a need for change? Transparency here is about understanding why and how these changes are happening. You must look at your operations from a fresh lens, revise appropriately, and effectively communicate the reasons to the department. Continuous improvement demands the revalidation and redevelopment of existing practices.

If Legal doesn’t make these efforts, the department is likely to be doing extra, outdated, or unnecessary work. In the best-case scenario, there will be an over-utilization of resources, which can result in issues such as employee burnout. In the worst-case scenario, you will be employing obsolete practices which do not align with organizational goals. While these obsolete practices were likely valid at one point, as the organization evolves, the processes must evolve with it. What worked before may not serve the same purpose today, and it is important for this to be clearly communicated to ensure collaboration and a unified strategy within the department.

Transparency Achieved

A recurring theme in our Legal Operations Series is that of achieving transparency – discovering why you are doing things, and how those things are done. In our next article, we will discuss trends in technology in the Legal Department, and how these tools can be used to support collaboration and transparency.

Until then, be sure to check out our infographic on Collaboration Through Transparency, which highlights the relationships Legal has within the organization, and summarizes Legal’s role in supporting collaboration up, across, and within. Download the infographic here!

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