Every general counsel who has direct reports, by which I mean senior lawyers who manage other lawyers, deals with the different styles of those lawyers in staff meetings. Every general counsel encounters how their comments dampen or direct discussion (See my post of Feb. 1, 2006: how to reduce the chilling effect of a dominant personality or position; Dec. 8, 2006: a GC’s chilling effect; Jan. 9, 2009: ideas are suppressed around a general counsel; and July 12, 2012: two methods to warm the chill.).
To reduce that quashing risk, two techniques from the NY Times, May 13, 2012 at BU2, are worth considering. They were articulated by the founder and general partner of a venture capital firm and they reflect a deliberate effort by her and her fellow partners to foster open communication.
At meetings, “Each person would have time to be heard. And each person would be required to be heard.” On important decisions, this obligation for each direct report to weigh in should be worth trying. I like the additional touch that everyone first write down their position and what they would do before anyone talks. Further, the general counsel should speak last.
Second, “One of our rules is that everybody gets a chance to speak, and they have three minutes each.” That short period is still plenty for people outline their views and neither feel rushed nor monopolize air time.