Guiding 70 staff to develop, negotiate, and write practices and standards

The Challenge

The general manager of a large quasi-governmental agency asked the general counsel of his organization to develop practices and standards for her office in the four areas of training, productivity, proficiency, and work habits. This was a large office, consisting of 70 people in seven different work areas (lawyers, paralegals, administrative assistants, etc.). The office had been plagued with departures, conflict, and poor morale. The general counsel was concerned that, if senior management developed the standards, the staff would not buy into them and conflict would increase. She believed that her staff was in the best position to know what would work for them. She hired me to work with the agency’s in-house organization development specialist to help the Office of General Counsel develop these practices and standards with significant staff input.

The Process

We divided the office into seven groups, based on areas of work. We facilitated at least eight meetings with each of the seven work groups to help the participants decide what their practices and standards should be and what they needed from the other groups to achieve them. For example, to ensure they could edit and return documents to the attorneys in a timely manner, the administrative assistants asked the attorneys to give them certain types of pleadings 24 hours in advance of the deadline.

Next, we developed a method for each group to communicate with every other group, without having to spend more time in meetings. Each group designated a liaison whose job it was to communicate his or her group’s requests to each of the other groups. Using these liaisons, the groups sent requests back and forth regarding how they were going to work together. Each group discussed the requests made of it, and then had the option to accept, reject, or suggest changes to the requests. All of this was done in writing.

Simultaneously, we facilitated a series of meetings with the four senior managers on the management team to help them understand why groups were making specific requests and, since these four were the ultimate decision makers, to help them decide whether to approve the requests.

Once the negotiations were complete, and the teams had reached agreement on all the topics, we helped the teams draft their final practices and standards and facilitated a half-day meeting with all 70 people to unveil the standards and get final feedback on implementation.

The Result

By the end of the process, the Office of General Counsel had a comprehensive set of practices and standards in all four areas. In addition, we developed a review process to ensure that the practices and standards would remain current and workable.

At times the process was difficult. Because of the high level of conflict and low morale in sections of the department, people raised some issues that were tangential to the final product, but necessary to air and resolve if the office was going to work together cohesively. We ensured that the process included the opportunity to discuss these issues and to resolve them where possible.