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June 22, 2015 Blog 2 min read

Recently, Bill Bufe, a retired partner and former HR director of the firm, reminded me of the origin of our Morrison award, which we give out each year at our firm conference to the one or two staff members who best epitomize firm spirit. It’s an interesting story, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

Shortly after Bill became HR director, firm co-founder and then managing partner Frank Moran came to him and said, “I’d like to talk to you about developing an award for team spirit.” It was very difficult to say “no” to Frank, but Bill summoned his courage and told him he thought it would be impossible to manage. The concept was so nebulous—how do you define team spirit? How do you select a winner? And how do you do something like that without hurting people’s feelings?

Frank let it go, but six months later he was back. “I’ve been thinking about this again,” he said. “What do you think?” Once again, Bill said, “No,” but he was starting to come around. After another couple of conversations, Bill was finally convinced it was the right thing to do.

They named the award after Doug Morrison, who had been a partner at the firm and was known for his selfless and team-oriented nature. Then Bill went about putting it into practice. It couldn’t have money attached to it, and to nominate, you had to describe a specific story demonstrating team spirit.

The program took off immediately. Nominations were plentiful, and winners were easier to select than Bill had anticipated. Frank reveled in the nominations, and they proved inspirational to staff across the firm. It was such a great success that Bill was almost embarrassed—“Why hadn’t I seen the potential value?” he wondered.

As Bill recounted this story to me, he pointed out that Frank could’ve just said to him from day one, “We’re going to do this,” but that was never Frank’s M.O. Instead, he applied gentle pressure, relentlessly, every six months like clockwork until Bill saw the value. Frank was a leader, but he rarely imposed his will onto others. He preferred, instead, to invite dialogue—and he wanted you to challenge him. And while the Morrison award has become an annual tradition at the firm, so, too, has that kind of leadership.

What about you? Do you celebrate team spirit at your organization? Do you give out awards for anything special?