I normally don’t go negative. Meaning that, like most of my law practice management colleagues, I like to list all sorts of things you should do and even sprinkle a few exclamation points in my explanations!! Y’know, the whole “Top 5 Things You Should Remember Occasionally.” But theoretically there are things big firms should not do, such as spank clients or add a law firm taco bar. Or at least not do them without having consulted an expert like me. Which gets us back to my thoughts on the worst team-building exercises for law firms. Sure, most team-building exercises work well, like tailgating in a parking lot before a partner’s big ERISA trial. But others are not such a good idea. Here are five.
Law Office Ropes Course
Folks, it doesn’t work. For liability reasons, law firms refuse to put the ropes more than six inches above the floor, often just laying them on the floor and throughout the office. That leaves associates and staff having to “pretend” to be on the ropes course and, as the morale-building coach suggests, “animating your distress.” After a half-hour of pretending to fall and pretending to catch people, even the firm’s stash of warm Hamm’s in the staff kitchen looks good. If it hasn’t alreay been raided.
After Hours Arts & Crafts
Don’t get me wrong, law firm arts and crafts is typically a great idea, and we keep a handly supply of popsicle sticks in my office. But it’s only good on a small scale. And just by calling it “After Hours” arts and crafts doesn’t somehow rescue this bad idea from the trash, unless it’s the art and craft of mixology. Besides, with true crafters now infiltrating many law firms, nitpicking lawyers will end up debating the “true craft” movement. Is it pine-cone bird feeders and macaroni picture frames? Or designer purses made out of discarded soda cans and neon plastic bags.
Law Office “Hot or Not.”
This grew out of older managing partners completely misunderstanding a younger generation of attorneys, which partners often call “Generation Whine.” While this exercise combines two awesome things, a overhead projectors with Facebook profile images, it always ends badly. First, most senior partners pull rank and get their profile images removed from the pool. And second, for the most part everybody already knows who’s hot and who’s not in the office. Why go through a formal exercise? Seriously. This activity will not build compassion and communication in the office, a top goal of any legitimate effort to boost law firm morale.
A standard team-building exercise employed by many of my colleagues, it’s not so great in a law firm setting. If you don’t know what this is, an amoeba race is a group exercise to construct an amoeba, made up of protoplasm, a cell wall, and a nucleus. Starting to get the picture? Sure, young associates form the protoplasm, a mass of people surrounded by a cell wall, typically the IT guys, librarians, and paralegals, who surround the associates, lock elbows, and face outward. In the middle, the nucleus, a group of partners sitting on the shoulders of some of the protoplasm. They try to look over things and provide direction. The kicker? Once you’ve formed several amoebas (or split one into two), you keep your own amoeba together and race. Or chant things. Or race and chant. While we can see a bunch of metaphors at work here (team-building gurus love this shit), the end result is embarrassment, especially if you typically take it outside, to race along, say, the Avenue of Americas.
Mention the game Twister to a 50-something law firm partner and he will actually get a bit excited. I don’t know what it is, but I imagine that he sees himself being entwined with young associates on a vinyl floor. Twister, by itself, is not an awful morale-building exercise. After all, it gets you interacting, even in suits. But a Cleveland firm’s indecisive managing partner couldn’t decide on whether to do Twister or to have a chili potluck. He chose both. Too bad. Twister, combined with a chili-themed potluck, is a natural disaster. Don’t do it, no matter how hard the team-building consultant suggests it.
Originally published Sept. 6, 2011