My best team: Helle Asquith, Harper James

February 13, 2023
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As head of marketing for legal firm Harper James, Helle feels like she's working with best team she's ever had. The reason: they all understand their collective purpose.

A collective agenda

"Having worked in marketing for legal firms for what is fast approaching 20 years," says Helle Asquith, "I can honestly say I’ve seen both my fair share of – let’s just call it ‘people having their own agendas’ – as well as the very real experience of proper isolation, and not actually feeling like part of a team at all. In previous jobs, I’ve worked for practice heads, where it has often been very lonely. You often didn’t know what marketing colleagues for other heads were doing, and so ultimately you never really got a feel for what the business was trying to do as a whole."

It’s why she feels that in her current role – as head of marketing at Harper James – "I really do feel like I’m working with the best team I’ve ever had."

For a start, they are a proper group of people. "There are eight of us now (ranging in age from 20s-50s), but what I really think makes the difference is the fact that I know we all understand what our purpose is. In addition to this, there are no egos; no finger-pointing, and none of this ‘I know better than anyone else’ mentality that can often appear."

Values and empowerment

Asquith doesn't believe this has happened by accident. "I joined in October 2021, and I have made sure I’ve recruited people who I know have the values I want. When we interview, we do so using techniques that identify team players. We question people about what qualities they value in a team, and what experience they think they’ve gained from previous teams they already been a part of. Very quickly, and (with practice doing this), you start to sense who is really going to be a team player."

But hiring only goes so far. "I also think it’s through empowerment that the team is solid as it is today. Each day we have meetings (either virtually or in-person), where we outline our priorities and things we have in the pipeline. But I make sure that, each day, someone new runs this part of our meet-ups. We also use online collaboration tools so that everyone can see what we’re doing, and when we expect work to be finished. This – I feel drives a culture of autonomy, but also responsibility."

The how and the what

"I’m not saying that good search and selection always guarantees good teams, but in our case what it does help shape is that we are a body of people who understand how we work, and what good work interactions should be. I call this a ‘culture before competence’ approach. As an example of this, every Friday we hold something that we call our ‘highlight of the week’ – where a member of the team tells the rest of us the one key thing they’ve learned that week. I feel this gives us a reflective persona, and also ensures learning is shared – which once again boosts our mission for wanting to be collaborative."

In having this approach, Asquith feels one of the best qualities she has fostered is the total lack of any blame culture. "Sure, we have differences of opinion, but they never turn onto loud and argumentative creative differences. If things don’t go so well, we, of course, reflect on how we could have done better. But there’s genuinely no blame, and by having shared goals, it’s almost like we succeed or fail together. Here, because we know what we’re trying to do, we constantly talk, and we constantly try to measure our successes."

Trust and belonging

"Because there is autonomy, accountability but also appreciation for us as a function (and marketing professionals), I sense that we all feel like we belong."

"Feeling trusted has, I feel, such an important bearing on any team’s ability to perform. It’s not always the case that teams are given the support and recognition they deserve. Here though, we genuinely support the business (we’re actually trusted to speak to clients, for example); and as such, the business feels supported by us. That’s a real win-win position to have got to, and one that means we all feel we can give our best and flourish. Because I feel valued, my team feels valued too. Being properly regarded as the professionals we are has a big influence on people. It filters down to everyone."

"It may sound bizarre, but I feel we really have hit upon a real sense of team Utopia!"

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