Intangible Benefits of Collaboration – for Highly Experienced Partners

In a number of articles* we’ve explored some of the financial benefits of collaboration for individual professionals.  But in one chapter of the book, I want to recognize that highly experienced partners are likely get a number of additional benefits.  These professionals have gotten past the nerve-wracking stage when they were unsure whether collaboration would ultimately pay out.  Now that they’re reaping the return on their investment, they can focus on some of the emotional and other less tangible rewards that come from collaborating. Clearly, money is important for its purchasing power and as a status indicator.  But most professionals conform to models of normal adult development: the older and richer they get, the more likely they are to seek meaning.  And that’s where collaboration helps, too.

So far my research has uncovered these intangible benefits that highly experienced rainmakers are likely to get when they collaborate with their colleagues to serve clients.  What am I missing?

  1. Intrinsic motivation of complex work: Most professionals crave intellectual challenge; it’s part of the reason they spent years in graduate school training for a knowledge-based career. Collaborating across disciplinary boundaries allows them to move up the food chain in their clients, advising people whose challenges are increasingly complex and interesting.    As one partner said, “If I’m doing work just in my specialty, then I’m almost certainly talking to clients with a narrow scope and more limited responsibility.  Once I move into more sophisticated work, I move up toward the c-suite, and that’s when conversations get interesting.”
  2. Power dynamics: When a CEO is in crisis and he picks up the phone to seek your advice, it’s a heady experience.  Whether it’s advising the world’s business elite, winning a huge grant as the Principal Investigator in a research lab, or directing hundreds of professionals in a worldwide account team — all are sources of heightened power and prestige, and they are likely the result of a collaborative effort.
  3. Legacy: As the Chair of one major firm told me, “Some lawyers are more partner-like than others.  Just as entrepreneurs want to leave a solid business behind for their children, these partners are motivated to pass on a strong client relationship to the next generation.”  Research has found that building a legacy – that is, leveraging your achievements and values to help others succeed after you’re gone – is a prime source of enduring happiness.  By helping to institutionalize the client relationship across multiple partners, experienced rainmakers build their legacy.

* For example: https://hbr.org/2015/03/when-senior-managers-wont-collaborate

As ever in this Idea Space, please leave your comments below.  If you have a sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share, then please email me directly on hgardner@law.harvard.edu. And please check out prior topics in the Archive section.

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3 thoughts on “Intangible Benefits of Collaboration – for Highly Experienced Partners

  1. Fabulous chapter focus. Here are some thoughts:

    1) Collaboration fits the individual’s style more than working alone–they become more creative, productive and more fulfilled

    2) Expanded creativity

    3) Expanded network inside and outside of the firm

    4) Potential to be more “inclusive”

    5) New learning opportunities on the substantive level and stylistic level

    6) Development of a support system

    7) Expanded awareness of firm dynamics

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  2. A couple of quick thoughts:

    – I think it is useful to distinguish the different Actors who would be involved when collaboration might take place (e.g. partner to peer partner; partner to junior partner, staff to peer staff) because the motivations / rewards (and risks / costs) will be different

    – for example: there is can be a “level” dynamic at play – either status-based (e.g. I’m a partner and you are not) and expertise-based (I’m an expert and you are not) – when people are interacting together

    – people also intuitively do a form of cost-benefit analysis regarding what time they are going to put into collaboration; and this calculation can be different depending on whether someone is expert in a topic area versus someone who is junior (typically the juniors have lots more time to learn and would benefit a great deal with interacting with experts – so are motivated to collaborate with experts; while the experts typically have much less time and little to gain from interacting with juniors so prefer (aside from the “legacy” motivation to spend their time interacting with other experts)-

    – obviously there is also a difference between a situation where people are formally named to a team and given a problem to solve; and some approaches someone else “on the side” to consider a question / idea / issue

    – many professional service firms have much intra-firm competition (starting with the tournament-based up-or-out system for partner selection); as a result, for example, partners can be very wary of including another partner in work on a client file for fear that the new partner may put the relationship at risk (because they don’t know how to relate to the client) or, worse, that the new partner will build such a good relationship that they will “take” the client away

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  3. Heidi – very interesting observation indeed and totally agree that there significant intangible benefits from senior partners collaborating. I think much of it centres round the benefits of openly sharing experiences such as speaking at conferences, mentoring younger partners or younger CEO’s of other firms. I think there is an intrinsic desire among many leaders of firms to openly share knowledge and experience and this is personally satisfying for the senior partners concerned although this sort of sharing will typically be in peer groups that don’t involve competitors. For senior partners too, much energy and focus in many cases is spent on pursuing the purpose of the firm and this is often centred round making a valuable contribution to society and building a legacy firm which benefits the next generation. In what can be a lonely job, managing partners and CEO’s of professional service firms I come across thrive on collaboration for all sorts of intangible benefits not least of all because they find a empathetic ear and other leaders who really understand the trials and tribulations of leading a PSF !

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