Communication and Influencing skills Enhancing in house lawyers’ business impact

What the client wanted (Part 1)

Avanade is a global technology consulting company created in 2000 as a joint venture between Accenture LLP and Microsoft to combine deep industry and business expertise with the best enterprise software solutions. Today, Avanade operates in over 20 countries with some of the world’s largest companies, including Pepsi, L’Oreal and Cable & Wireless. Avanade’s focus is to help clients realize results in a digital world through business technology solutions and managed services focused on Microsoft technologies.

Impromptu was asked by General Counsel Legal EALA (Europe, Africa and Latin America) could we help build the team’s communication and influencing capabilities. Avanade’s in-house lawyers are spread across the EALA region and often interact virtually with their colleagues.

The team and the wider Avanade Legal Group are responsible for all of Avanade’s legal affairs, in particular for empowering Avanade to grow its business while effectively managing the associated legal risks. They are required to demonstrate sophisticated communication and influencing skills across a range of senior stakeholders.

The EALA Legal Team gather on a regular basis for a face-to-face meeting, to share best practice, focus on forthcoming priorities and receive training. Our client wanted an intervention at this event that would:

  • Develop an improved sense of individual’s communication style and enable them to leverage this style and adjust it outside of their comfort zone (i.e. learn to play on a wider spectrum of the piano);
  • Increase understanding that other people may require a different communication style in order to generate understanding, buy-in and action, and help individuals learn how to adapt her/his own style accordingly;
  • Deliver measurable improvement of influencing and communication skills for each individual
  • Encourage participants to become open to communication training and action-oriented learning techniques
  • Develop a greater sense of the importance of and pride in a successful team, build unity and encourage learning from each other.

It was important that the participants enjoyed the experience, that it was fun and energetic – it would be the first time the team had received an intervention of this type.

What we did

Impromptu designed and delivered a day-long workshop to provide insight into communication and influencing skills and provide each member of the team with a substantial opportunity to practise a current challenging conversation.

We started with a forum theatre session where the team observed a conversation between the Legal Counsel and a customer director. Impromptu role players played the characters; the scenario was very real and based on research in the Avanade business. The participants were invited to share their observations on the Legal Counsel’s effectiveness and then coach her to be more influential and improve her communication style. As part of this session we were able to explore some key tools relating to assertiveness and managing conflict.

The rest of the day was spent in smaller groups, working on personalized scenarios. Each member of the team had brought a situation/conversation they are currently finding challenging. After briefing the role player and group, each individual had a substantial opportunity to practise their conversation, with regular time outs for review and reflection. Everyone received supportive and insightful feedback from the role players and their colleagues.

The outcomes

  • The day had a significant impact on the team. The learning outcomes for the delegates have been:
  • A deeper insight into their personal communication strengths and challenges;
  • Practical strategies for improving the impact of their communication;
  • Greater understanding of effective influencing techniques;
  • A deeper appreciation of the communication styles of other members of the team and by extension, the wider stakeholder community;
  • Increased confidence to flex communication style in order to be more influential.

What the client wanted (Part 2)

Following on from the success of the Communication and Influencing Skills workshop, Impromptu was asked to help with a further intervention around written communication to help develop the following aspects of email communication:

  • Clarity of message;
  • Succinctness;
  • Tailoring for audience;
  • Accuracy and style that will have a positive impact on the recipient;
  • Delivering difficult messages that are more likely to land.

The team had already received some training in the technical aspects of written English and the client wanted to build on this through Impromptu’s engaging and interactive training delivery style.

What we did

Working closely with the client we created a high stakes, evolving simulation that reflected the real world of the team. Included in Impromptu’s delivery team was an author and ex-newspaper editor. The participants were tasked with advising on an integration programme, following a recent acquisition. The task required them to engage with and influence three critical stakeholders – a GM, CIO and CFO. Their only means of communication was via email, with brief presentations to the stakeholders of their recommendations at the end of the day.

The simulation was fast paced, with live email exchanges between the participants and their stakeholders and a tight deadline for completion. Working on the task involved the team in the following activities:

  • Analysing and summarising complex material for an audience that requires succinct, clear messages;
  • Reviewing written communication to understand both what it says about the style and needs of the individual sending it and the impact of that style on the recipient;
  • Creating written communication, reviewed by peers and stakeholders for clarity and impact;
  • Delivering a tough message via email and face to face in a follow up meeting;
  • Participants received written feedback on their email communication produced during the simulation.

The outcomes

  • A deeper appreciation of how to structure written communication for greater impact;
  • Further insight into the varying uses/interpretation of the English language across cultures and nationalities;
  • Enhanced confidence around tailoring written communication to match the style/expectations of the recipient;
  • Greater understanding of techniques for gaining and keeping a reader’s attention.

Avanade’s view on Impromptu’s role

“Nigel and his team played an instrumental role in improving my team’s ability to communicate more consciously and with more impact. I knew I was taking a risk when I exposed my team to acting and a third party provider in general – but it turned out people loved the sessions. The engagement level was very high, people deliberately and playfully dared to leave their communication patters and their comfort zones. It was delightful to see how much fun everybody had.”

“Most remarkably, the fact that we all got unbiased feedback on how it felt to communicate with us, made many of us rethink even fundamental ways we counselled our clients every day. I also enjoyed to see that this training benefitted all levels of my organization, from rather junior to very senior, effortlessly mixing up teams and established roles. A good training requires tailored briefing material for Nigel’s team but then I comfortably left the sessions in his capable hands, enabling me to participate and benefit from the training while people established their own coaching relationship with Nigel’s team.”

Julia K. Jessen Vice President, Legal & General Counsel EALA, Avanade