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Abridged Docket Feature
Original Publication: Optimizing Your Global Legal Team, March 2016


Are you leading a global team or is your team just global? As leaders make the leap from national or regional status to establishing a global presence, their challenge is to maintain their companies' core identity and culture while supporting the inevitable "melting pot" of growth and talent. The evidence for globalization is strong: In April 2015, Ernst and Young's Capital Confidence Barometer reported that in addition to 83 percent of executives viewing the global economy as improving, 84 percent of companies plan to expand outside of their home country in the next 12 months. Ensuring that their leaders demonstrate global perspective and diversity of thought will be key to their success. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are fundamental for leaders in building trust and credibility. A global perspective and some thoughtful approaches to makeup and structure are key. Keep in mind that remote employees can feel disconnected, even disenfranchised. Although the corporate cultural recipe is often born at headquarters, it's important for dispersed employees to feel they have a role in helping shape the future of the organization. This diversity of talent, perspectives, thought and ideas is, after all, what helped make the company great in the first place. The business case for this optimization is clear and compelling, due to the increasing importance of and investment in expansion and globalization. Recognizing that integration is critical but so is diversity and localization of the brand, as leaders shift out to multiple locations they will want to maintain connection and collaboration.


Structure your team in a manner that reflects the global nature of your business.

Establishing senior leaders outside of the home office who are involved in the strategic decision-making for the broader team is a way to capitalize on the global perspective of your team members. Once those team members are in place, empower them to contribute in ways that are both valuable and locally relevant. Further, expose them to opportunities to vary those locales, truly equipping them to work as international business leaders. For example, our regional team leads in the legal department at Hilton are based in Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Watford, England; Singapore; and Dubai. In 2015, our general counsel instituted an international rotation program that allowed the leaders in Watford and Dubai to switch locations, and one of them had the opportunity to work out of the corporate home office this year. We also have office "intersections," a program that allows team members to work from another office for a week.

Emphasize localization rather than replication.

Law departments exist to help companies achieve their business objectives while minimizing legal risk. By making people part of the changes that affect them, rather than inflicting it upon them, legal operations initiatives stand a greater chance of success. Rather than importing wholesale new processes and procedures formulated in the United States, allow for remote employee input up front. Don't forget it can be helpful to ask team members in your regions what could be done better. After you have listened, following through on the appropriate suggested changes that will be critical in building trust.

Be both a visionary and an ambassador of culture.

Leaders must find a way to strike the balance between promoting the winning aspects of the company - the core values - and the living, breathing culture that has contributed to its success and enabled the new regions and cultures to help evolve the company to the next level. There is a natural tendency to want to stay true to what has made the company successful in the past, but we must resist the temptation to cling to it. Fearlessness is required to allow organic growth in context of culture; no cookie cutters allowed! Cultural richness is part of why your company expanded to that new geography; we must embrace it. But it is a matter of nuance. Once we created opportunities to have in-house lawyers and staff work temporarily from international offices, it totally helped change their perspective and made them much more empathetic to the challenge of trying to keep up with business partners and their colleagues in multiple time zones. One of the best practices became scheduling emails in Outlook to send several hours later. That way, recipients weren't feeling compelled to respond in the wee hours. I will admit that this has been a benefit even when messaging colleagues in the same time zone. It is helpful to alternate the inconvenience of difficult time zones and goes a long way with the team. I often schedule meetings, such as focus group conference calls, at later times when team members in Asia or the Middle East can participate. I want to ensure that our international team members provide input and feel integral to the work. My projects have always been the better for it.

Act with global perspective - all the time.

Departmental actions and requests should be considered for how they will appear to those located outside of the corporate HQ. For example, some holidays and traditions have no meaning or relevance outside of the United States. Although copying everyone on the email about the baby shower or bagel breakfast may be done with positive intentions, consider how they land with members of the team who are not co-located. Similarly, when sending an action item with a request for turnaround "within 12 hours" or "by COB Friday," have you considered the recipient's location and whether this is feasible? Be aware of things like religious holidays and Sabbath observances; for example, in Dubai, the workweek is Sunday through Thursday. This process should become second nature and part of how business is regularly conducted. It also offers your team members the opportunity to learn about the people, geography, and cultures of other countries. Consider hosting lunch-and-learn training sessions about cultural differences, as well as online learning opportunities to address this concept.

Invest in teambuilding

Don't underestimate the power of having "all hands on deck" meetings as often as possible. It's possible to hold these activities even on a shoestring budget (see sidebar), and it's well worth the investment. At Hilton, we try to hold these meetings every other year, far enough from the headquarters location so that people can truly immerse themselves in the event. Feedback shows that people leave these meetings with much stronger connections to the team: No matter how fabulous the programming we deliver, employees value casual networking time the most. Resist the urge, driven by expense panic, to jam the agenda and eliminate downtime; the opportunity for serendipitous connections rates more highly with our people than any other offering. Unscheduled time also permits leaders to get to know their team members on a more intimate, personal level and learn what makes them tick as contributors. Delegating portions of the meeting content and execution to cross-regional and cross-functional members of your team encourages cooperation and can produce groundbreaking and long-lasting results. For our event in 2014, we asked team members from different groups in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Dubai to work together to plan the entire attorney content for a two-and-a-half-day meeting. Planning these off site meetings can be a burden on everyone, but this approach divides the work and increases buy-in among attendees and participants. It also lends an authentic global character to your meeting.

Overcome Budget Constraints for Team Building Activities

Face-to-face team building activities are crucially important for building morale, camaraderie, and cross-cultural sensitivity. However, many law department operations are constrained by shrinking budgets for these activities. You can still be successful in your team building goals by using other creative approaches when having an "all-hands" meeting is just not in the cards. Combine on-site meeting opportunities with other departments in the company. For example, combining Legal with Finance is a good way to promote team building - not just between members of the Legal department. It can be a wonderful opportunity to provide cross-functional learning and often results in better business partnership. Encourage leaders of the law department areas to invite other legal teams to join them for monthly/weekly or off-site meeting opportunities. Having members of the teams do short presentations on a legal subject of interest is not only informational and helpful, it is a great opportunity to raise their profile and develop presentation skills.

About the Author

Susan R. Packal is Director of Legal Business Operations and Strategy at Hilton Worldwide and serves on the senior leadership team for the global legal department. A key advisor to the General Counsel since she joined the team in 2012, Susan directs the legal department's global business operations and strategy.

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