Career & Practice

Grit and growth mindset boosts work of teams, new ABA report finds

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Can teams operate in a gritty and growth mindset-oriented way, and if so, does that make them more successful?

That’s the question behind the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s new report, “Leveraging Grit and Growth Mindset to Drive Team Success.” It analyzes data from more than 550 diverse lawyers through a survey, focus groups and interviews to examine the relationship between grit and growth mindset and the success of teams in the workplace.

“We really wanted to undertake this research because we know that most lawyers work on teams most of the time,” Milana Hogan, the lead researcher for the Grit Project and author of the report, said during its virtual launch event on Friday. “It is important that we all do what we can at an individual level, but it is also really important that we understand how to work together in the most effective way.”

An ABA press release is here.

In 2014, the Commission on Women in the Profession introduced the Grit Project and its related toolkit to educate female lawyers about the science behind grit and growth mindset. According to the project, grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” while growth mindset is “the view that one’s abilities can be developed.”

Three years later, the commission published Grit, the Secret to Advancement: Stories of Successful Women Lawyers, a book written by Hogan that delves into how grit and growth mindset influenced the careers of nearly 5,000 lawyers.

Hogan, the chief talent officer at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, pointed out during Friday’s discussion of the commission’s latest report that strong evidence suggests gritty and growth mindset-oriented teams are successful.

About 97% of its respondents agree that when working with gritty, growth mindset-oriented teams, the quality of work produced is excellent. The report also shows about 95% agree that team members developed new skills and that teams delivered excellent service to clients.

When asked to describe their general experiences working with teams, only 19.5% of respondents said they had a very positive experience. However, according to the report, that number increased to about 58% when asked about experiences with gritty teams and to about 62% when asked about experiences with growth mindset-oriented teams.

“They were almost three times more likely to have this very positive experience, which is, of course, the experience we want anyone on any team to have,” Hogan said. “We would want that experience to be very positive.”

“Part of it is because it impacts whether they stay or they go, ultimately,” she added. “If we are interested in retaining women lawyers, that is something that you’re really going to look hard at—if you can dramatically improve the quality of experience on teams.”

The Commission on Women in the Profession sought to understand how team experiences directly connect to respondents’ overall job satisfaction and future career plans. According to the report, about 65% of men and about 71% of women describe their work with a team as an “extremely” or “very” influential contributing factor to job satisfaction. It also shows that about 46% of men and about 63% of women describe team experiences as a “high” or “essential” priority when deciding to stay with their current employer or look for other opportunities.

“Women are likely to react to negative team experiences by leaving more often than men,” Hogan said. “But it’s going to be influential for all. Even if you’re not focused on women in particular as a retention strategy, this is helpful for everybody.”

The commission additionally asked respondents whether they had worked on a successful team, a gritty team or a growth mindset-oriented team. According to the report, about 90% said they had worked on a successful team and about 80% said they had worked on a gritty team. However, only about 45% said they had worked on a growth mindset-oriented team.

During Friday’s discussion, Hogan introduced a leadership-development model lawyers can use to develop these types of teams. It includes asking team members about their interests; planning shared learning opportunities; focusing on the purpose of the work; helping team members understand their work is worth the effort; and creating a psychologically safe space for the team.

Wendy Shiba, a past chair of the Commission on Women in the Profession’s Women of Color Research Initiative, joined the virtual event to discuss scenarios in which a gritty and growth mindset could be helpful. She also spoke about her own experience on teams and the importance of approaching them with those traits.

“For women who rise in their careers, intuitively, we have grit—even though we didn’t call it grit—because it’s that perseverance and ‘stick-to-it-ness’ that allowed us to move forward even in the face of some adversity,” said Shiba, a principal with the Red Bee Group who previously served as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of KB Home.

“What I love about your model for gritty teams, and especially the growth mindset, is that even though I think all of us probably do some elements of the model intuitively, in order to do it with intention and to really follow the model, it was helpful for me to see it all mapped out in the way it is presented in the report,” she added.

For more information on the Grit Project and the new report, visit the Commission on Women in the Profession’s website.

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