This is a bit like asking - who needs a friend? Answer: everyone.
As we said in the second part of this series, a critical friend comes closest to what may be termed "true friendship" - a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique. Someone who is on the side of the person they are working with, who encourages and supports them and also provides truthful and constructive feedback. Feedback that might be difficult to hear but is designed to help you maintain continuous improvement towards your goals.
In a business setting this sort of feedback and support can be invaluable, especially for the obvious group of typical law firm managers we talked about in the first part of the series: namely, senior managers such as managing partners, chief operating officers, department or team heads. In truth, anyone in a senior role in a legal business could easily justify the business benefits of having a critical friend.
âThere are some particular areas where having a critical friend can be invaluable:
The path of leadership and management is always littered with problems, one of the most common being where the individual knows what needs to be done, but is unable to get traction with new ideas or ways of doing things. The critical friend can bring some objectivity to these problems, giving the individual a different lens through which to see things.
This may be particularly useful when someone is new in their role and finding their feet, or at a time when a team, department or firm is going through a major period of change or upheaval, such as a reorganisation or restructure, or during a merger integration. Particularly in times of change, professional and organisational improvement can be impeded when people avoid hard truths, emotionally difficult subjects and frank assessment of their own performance and that of others. The critical friend can help an individual resolve these types of issues constructively, supportively and professionally, thus enabling leaders and managers to improve their firms.
CAN CRITICAL FRIENDS SUPPORT TEAMS AS WELL AS INDIVIDUALS?
The critical friend relationship is not only of benefit in one-to-one situations. As part of
a project team, a critical friend can help to keep a project on track, identify challenges and problems and assist the team in resolving these, while providing feedback and an external perspective, all with the aim of delivering the particular project successfully and on time. The critical friend will not make decisions and will not have any responsibility for either managing any part of the project or overcoming problems in the project; instead, they will help the team find solutions. They may act as an ambassador for the project, but will not evaluate the project nor report on it to stakeholders, such as the management board or partners.
Critical friends can also help with other kinds of teams which need the same kind of help and support â in fact, any management group could benefit from the external perspective and the constructive challenge and questioning of a critical friendâs actions and thinking. Provided, of course, that the critical friend is experienced in providing the appropriate challenge and questioning in a way that is positive and supportive for the business.
In future posts we will look at:
How might I find a critical friend?
How do I get a critical friend arrangement in place?
Richmonte Wells offers a full suite of executive individual and team development: coaching, succession planning, Board Development, Strategy and Away days, high performance team building, First 100 days and Lateral Hire Support. We also work with Senior and Managing Partners, CEOs and Practice Directors and their teams either through mentoring or Critical Friend support. If you would like to know more about Critical Friend support for you or your team, please contact Martin Griffiths.
NB: this blog post originally appeared in a slightly different form in Managing For Success April 2017
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