Insights from the Cowen Cafe

Each Thursday, David Cowen and his colleagues at The Cowen Group convene as many as 100 legal innovators and mavericks for the 100% virtual Cowen Cafe. I participated in my first Cowen Cafe Zoom call this week.

An effective structure

First, a little about structure. With the COVID-19 crisis, group videoconferencing calls suddenly are everywhere. Some of them are ad hoc, others loosely organized. The Cowen Cafe call followed a tightly defined and timed structure, making effective use of the full 90 minutes allocated for the meeting. David Cowen moderated, as expected with a event from The Cowen Group, and brought the same energy, inquisitiveness, and ability to foster discussion that I have seen at his in-person gatherings.

To spark discussion, David began by reporting results from their Q2 Critical Trends Survey. He moved quickly to the topic of the day, resilient leadership, calling on individual participants for their thoughts. At a preset time, we went to preassigned breakout rooms (well worth trying, if you have not used them before) where we explored key thoughts and concerns amongst ourselves. At the end we reunited as a group of the whole, with a spokesperson from each breakout group reporting on that group’s discussion.

“Less with less”

Early on, one of the corporate legal department participants offered a phrase – “doing less with less” – that resonated with many on the call. Especially now, she said, we need a mindset that focuses on delivering only those things that provide great value. “Think about what you need to achieve and only do that.”

Others agreed. An association head said, “I like the idea of doing less with less – not the phrase but the idea.” Someone from a software provider concurred, saying its “not about doing less” but “about doing the right things with limited resources.”

The notion of “less with less” can be especially challenging in legal, as one person remarked. The idea that work product would be anything less the the best is anathema to many of us. Right now, however, in many ways being timely is more important than being best.

To meet this goal, another person commented, leaders need to pare people’s responsibilities down to the essentials. As someone else noted, we have to make sure our people focus on what is most important. None of our folks can keep 26 items at the top of the to-do list. Instead, we need to have them pick their top 10.

What else did participants feel we can do to make “less with less” work? Prioritize attitude and aptitude over skills, competency, and experience. Give team members a big mission with bold goals and then drive a laser focus on the key things needed to make the mission succeed. And foster trust at every step – giving trust to get it, leading by example, and following through on what we say we will do.

Leave a Reply