Currently, Prime is running a documentary on this famous flight demonstration team from the US Navy and Marine Corps.  You might have seen them (or their Canadian counterparts, the Snowbirds) perform at an airshow.  The documentary highlights the selection process, training, and performance pace of the team over a one-year period.

Around the same time that I watched this documentary, I was coaching a lawyer who was having difficulty managing his support team.  He was finding it hard to balance between being nice, and ensuring that the work got done.  He felt he was coming across as overly demanding, or too soft, depending on the day.  He asked me for advice on how to better communicate with his staff.  As they were on my mind and they so perfectly illustrated teamwork, I told him about the Blue Angels.

They consist of six aircraft, six pilots, and a total of 140 personnel.  Each aircraft has a team of supporters, starting with co-engineers responsible for the team keeping that plane in perfect working order. Team members are allowed to be part of the Blue Angels for two years only.  To get invited onto any part of the team is like winning an Olympic gold medal.

The goal of the Blue Angels is to increase awareness of the aviation corps, and to demonstrate the precision and power of Naval Aviation.   The goal of the pilots is to – with practice – move closer and closer to perfection while ensuring all team members remain safe.  The goal of the ground crew is to ensure that every time each plane goes up, it is in absolutely perfect working order.  This is no small feet at the planes go up to and above 6 g’s during their routine, and sometimes are only 18 inches apart.

The goal of a lawyer should be to have the most efficient, helpful and productive practice possible.  They need a large support team to do this, but their immediate support team consists of their assistants.  The role of the assistants is to help the lawyer to be as efficient and productive as possible.  Think of the practice as the plane, the lawyer as the pilot, and the assistants and junior lawyers as the ground crew.

It can be challenging to find and keep good assistants (just as it’s also challenging to find and keep good lawyers).  We want to ensure that the assistant feels valued, that their contribution is noticed, and that they are truly helpful.  Sometimes, a seasoned assistant can be worth their weight in gold, ensuring their lawyer is running as efficiently as possible and even making great suggestions for how to further improve their processes.  Other assistants seem to feel that they are doing the firm and the lawyer a great favour by showing up for work each day.

Ideally, the lawyer is able to form a team environment with her or his assistants.  This means that they communicate regularly, that it is two-way communication, that they are constantly striving for improvement, and that they each recognize the other’s value.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about improving the lawyer’s production (either by quality or volume).  During training season, the Blue Angels go up three times a day.  The engineers don’t go to the pilots and say “it would be so much easier on us if you only went up once a day so why don’t you do that from now on?”  Instead, they understand that their role is to ensure that, three times a day, that plane is in peak condition.

This means that the lawyer’s goal is the most important one, and that everyone is a support person toward reaching that goal.  The Blue Angels pilots don’t achieve excellence by congratulating each other after each show and then walking away.  They each leave their plan and stand by their lead engineers, then they shake the hands of the full ground team.  Every time.

The best teams are very clear on the goal, they work together on how to better achieve that goal, they value each other, they recognize each other.

My advice to my Associate coachee?  Meet with your team.  Set the goals.  Ask for advice on how to achieve those goals.  Work together, regularly, to monitor progress and make any other needed adjustments.  Work together as a team, with the understanding that it’s your goals that need to be pursued, but also acknowledging that you couldn’t do it without their support.