Interruptions from staff and other team members can break up the flow of your work day and seriously interfere with your ability to get your most important work done.
Experts have estimated that we can spend upwards of 40% of our day dealing with--and getting back on track after--unwanted interruptions.
Most law firm settings do require a certain amount of interruption to move at the speed of your clients and their matters--but that doesn't mean you can't set up some simple rules to reduce at least some of the burden that interruptions are causing you.
If you feel like your office is a revolving door, here are a few ways to address it:
1. Educate your staff on the purpose of establishing new communication routines.
Reducing interruptions starts with educating your team on why you're establishing new communication rules. Make it clear that the goal is to help the office run smoothly by bucketing certain questions and communications together and creating more uninterrupted time for everyone to concentrate on individual work.
2. Create rules and define an "emergency".
Identify rules your team can follow when it comes to communicating with one another. For example, if you want the hours between 10:00am-11:30am and 1:30pm-3:00pm to be uninterrupted work time, create a rule that no one interrupts you unless X, Y, or Z happens. Define what's not important enough for you to be interrupted , and also define circumstances where you do want them to communicate with you immediately--for example, client calls, potential new matters, or emergencies (and define what counts as an emergency).
3. Establish times for questions.
If you're going to have periods with no interruptions, then also establish well-defined periods for questions and work-related discussions. Some attorneys who supervise others hold open "office hours" at specific times throughout the day, others will ask that questions are held until the top of the hour. Experiment to see what works best for you and your team.
4. Define what kinds of issues are good for weekly meetings.
Some questions don't even warrant discussion on a daily basis, and are better suited for weekly meetings with the whole team present. So also make it a point to define the kinds of questions and issues that are better covered at your next staff meeting. For example, breakdowns in processes and firm systems, or matters that relate to the entire office, for example.
5. Work the system.
It will take some time to get the rules in place and train your staff, and you will need to be vigilant about following the system you've set up. But the benefits that are on the other side of working the system are well worth the effort.
One of the ways supervisors and law firm owners get bogged down is by trying to make themselves a part of every single process, procedure, and system that happens at the firm or on their team.
But as we know, the problem with micromanaging is that it not only becomes ultra time consuming, it misses an opportunity to empower your team members to exhibit leadership.
The next time a new staff member or attorney joins your team, or you decide to implement a new systems, workflow, or procedure, consider delegating some of the training responsibility to your associates.
The most obvious benefit is the time saving that comes from delegating.
But more importantly, if your associate is the one on the front line working with staff and other associates on matters, it makes sense to have them give at least some of the training—not only to build a rapport but also to work through the nuances that you aren't a part of on a day-to-day basis anyway.
But here’s the MOST important reason: Affirmatively giving your team permission to block off time in their week to teach one another how to improve the firm’s work and systems is critically important. If you don’t provide the time and space to train, then training ends up getting rushed, fit in here and there, or more likely it doesn’t happen at all.
HERE'S HOW TO DO IT
So if you want to start empowering your associate to handle some of the training at the firm, here’s the way to get started:
1. Outline training expectations + materials. Start by giving your associate a clear picture of what the training should look like in terms of scope, content, and time. In other words, spend some time “training the trainer” so that you feel confident in what they’re going to cover and they feel prepared. Have them prepare an outline of what they intend to cover so you can comment, add, and subtract.
2. Set weekly time blocks. Work with your team to establish weekly time blocks that are specifically dedicated to learning. I’m sure you could come up with a list of 50 things you’d like your team to learn or improve—so give them the time to do it by working to establish a weekly “training time.” Everyone can find at least 30 minutes a week to spend on learning.
3. Review what was covered during the training. At your next weekly office or team meeting, spend a few minutes going over how it went, what was covered, and the takeaways from the training. This will allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of their progress but also reinforce that you believe training is important.
REMEMBER THIS: Will the training be done exactly the way you would have done it? Probably not, but the benefits that come from giving your team the space to train is well worth letting go of some control.