Most of us like to stay in our comfort zone and after we have had a Collaborative practice for years, we develop a short list of go-to professionals when we need to engage a mental health or financial professional because we know they are competent and we trust them to be good team members. However, the popularity of collaborative divorce is growing and more professionals are joining every day. Many have become collaboratively trained and are interested in entering the field as practicing professionals. Therefore, it’s likely that you will be working with a new collaborative team member in the near future. Adding an unknown member can change tram dynamics and influence how the process proceeds. However, there are some things you can do to minimize disruptions during the early stages of adding a new team member to a case.
Spend One-On-One Time Together.
The best way to get to know and become comfortable with a new team member is to spend time with him or her in an informal social situation, having lunch or a drink after work. During these informal meetings, discuss why and how he or she got into collaborative law, what was their most challenging case to date, and what they expect and like most about collaborative divorce practice. Discussing these topics can tell you a lot about the person and allow them to get to know what you expect from a team member.
Join Them on a Committee.
Another good way to get to know a new potential team member is to join them on a collaborative professional committee. You can tell a lot about a person by observing them handle professional tasks. For example, do they seem organized, are they on time, do they understand emotional signals, and are they empathetic with others on the committee.
Ask a Third Party.
If you have a colleague who has already worked with the new collaborative professional, ask him or her about the new team member. Find out about the new professional’s strengths and weaknesses and what types of cases he or she has handled in the past so you have a good idea of what to expect from him or her.
Explore the New Professional’s Style.
Every collaborative professional will practice collaborative law differently. Don’t presume your style will be the same as everyone else, because it won’t. Try to avoid conflict or surprises by reviewing the protocols of practice and discussing the following items to reach a consensus about how to handle collaborative cases: Should the entire team be included in all communications, and if not, how will it be determined who to include? Should clients be included in all communications, or does the team prefer to keep some e-mails confidential? How is that decided? Should family law be discussed at joint meetings or only between the client and his or her attorney? Who will run the meeting? How will the team prepare for joint meetings? What is the proper procedure for communicating with a client if a team member has a question or needs information? Can any team member contact the client or should he or she communicate through the client’s attorney? Discuss costs and get agreement about how each team member will change the clients so there is no misunderstanding.
Following these suggestions will make for a better functioning team, produce a better collaborative experience for the clients, and build team cohesion and trust.