Term of business project partnering has been created to describe functional teams members (primarily Finance and HR) working alongside business teams to work together in projects or operations and create value adding partnership. The concept of finance business partner working with project teams to support financial maters, budgets and financial analysis of the project has proved to be very beneficial for both project managers and project success. What needs to happen for legal, tax or compliance teams to become project business partners?
First of all project business partner needs to understand the business operations and its context. It needs to be proactive understanding, which means also anticipating and exploring business project teams needs. It also means developing common language and understanding with business project teams.
Second, legal/tax/compliance specialists need to grasp the idea of business value added (the bits the client is willing to pay for…) and that it comes mostly through problem solving or creation of business opportunities.
Third legal/tax/compliance need to get the project risk management right. Often legal or tax functions in their daily jobs tend to eliminate legal/tax/compliance risks to the level which makes it impossible for business teams to conduct their project or business operations. Proper project risk management is done through understanding of necessity of taking reasonable and well managed risks in order to create business opportunities.
Fourth – aspects which I call “expert mindset” and “readiness for being coachable”. “Expert mindset” exists in all professions performing “knowledge work” in short words high level specialists experience sometimes difficulty to accept other approaches or methodologies if not compatible with expert’s opinion. “Readiness for being coachable” means being open to development and change (including limiting the impact of “expert mindset”).
For legal/tax/compliance specialists being open to communicate with the business / project teams and open to reasonable risk management does not mean abandoning their principles. Quite the contrary – valuable legal business project partner knows when to stand the ground and defend values and principles of his specialization.
To sum up – I believe that legal/tax/compliance functions can be very efficient project business partners, especially for large and complex projects involving lots of legal or tax issues, or in business operations which are heavily regulated. In order to do so legal/tax/compliance specialist need open up for communicating with business projects, learn how to create business value but in the same time be focused on defending the values and principles coming from their specialization area.