Ahead of her session at this year’s In-house Counsel as Business Partner conference, in association with EY, The Lawyer talks to GSK’s assistant general counsel Rebecca Danby about how she builds effective relationships with her in-house team and the steps she takes to avoid disappointment in the mentor-mentee relationship.

Rebecca Danby

Most in-house legal teams have flat hierarchies, how do you motivate your lawyers in the absence of promotion?

The most useful source of answers to this question is your team members themselves. Don’t assume that there is a single way to motivate everyone. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to motivation. I also don’t think there is a gender or generational divide when it comes to this question.  People tend to be far more motivated by a development plan which is suited to them personally and their own career aspirations. Moreover, at GSK, it’s clear that the way to advance in the legal team is to have experience across different legal disciplines and different business groups (including occasionally those outside of the legal department) so lateral moves are very much encouraged and seen very positively within the team and not seen as just a delaying or pacifying tactic!

What strategies do you employ to support your lawyers in their professional development?

Firstly, I set aside regular discussions for just talking to team members about their development and then keep the focus in those discussions on them and their needs and don’t allow it to slip into discussions about the day job. I also try to give them time and space to work on their own development. Time invested by your team in their own development should lead to benefits to the wider team and the business as a whole so you should help your team make sure that development projects don’t get swamped by the day job. Secondly, I think it is important to be a cheerleader for your own team members, particularly if self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to them or if they are in roles which have less visibility to the key decision makers in the legal department. Development opportunities and promotions are often offered to the most visible members of the team so, as a manager, I believe it is my responsibility to make sure that great work from my team is well-publicised and not assume that everyone will do that for themselves.

What does an effective mentorship model look like?

I think that mentorships work best when they have some structure. For example, an individual should first identify the issue that they need help with, or the experience or skill that they would like to learn more about, and then identify the person who is best suited to fulfil that need, not the other way around. Having a particular topic to focus on makes the mentoring discussions more worthwhile for both the mentor and mentee. Even conversations with your hero can be disappointing if you haven’t worked out in advance what to ask them. In addition, it should be agreed at the outset how long the mentorship is intended to last and therefore when it will be reviewed. This can avoid any awkward conversations later in the relationship if either participant feels that the discussions no longer have focus or value.

How do you build effective relationships with your in-house teams?

Keep talking. I think it is crucial to ensure that there are regular touchpoints, either with the team as a whole or through regular one-to-one discussions. It’s even more important when your team is located across the world or if people regularly work remotely. Even if there is no particular work issue to discuss, the simple act of reconnecting for five minutes can often spark ideas or remind people of information which could usefully be shared, as well as keeping the relationships alive. Don’t let non-essential work commitments get in the way of these regular touchpoints and remember that an online communication is not the same as hearing someone’s voice when it comes to building effective relationships.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far?

Be curious and keep learning. There are always new things to learn and novelty keeps life exciting.

The In-house Counsel as Business Partner conference, in association with EY, is being held at the Hilton London Tower Bridge Hotel on the 5-6 November. If you’d like more information on the event, including the full agenda and speaker line-up as well as how you can register to attend, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017.