In-House Legal Innovation: How one legal team used a boardgame to business-partner more effectively with their organisation.

March 12, 2018

I recently sat down with Salah Mostafa – Head of Legal META for Takeda Pharmaceuticals to discuss how he and his team used an innovative idea to create stronger relationships with their business partners: a boardgame.

Salah, I guess the first question is, why a board game?

It’s a good question, and I appreciate how odd it seems initially.

In today’s world, reactive “lawyering” is a luxury that companies cannot afford. Given the ever-increasing pressure on resources, the uncertainty of the external environment and the constantly changing regulatory landscape (especially in Emerging Markets), a wise and frugal in-house lawyer will try to equip the frontlines – and by “frontlines” I mean mainly the decision-making layers of the company, together with the sales and marketing functions – with “legal essentials” such as how contracts are formed, the legal set up of the entity they are working under and what it can and cannot do, tips on confidentiality and so on. 

The rationale for me has always been: the less “routine mistakes” are made, the less the company is exposed to legal risks and the more the legal teams can focus on strategy, growth and managing the relationship with key contractual counter-parties.

So, to your question, “why a board game?”. We wanted to engage as wide a crowd as possible. Written advice and traditional training are inherently limited in their scope and impact. In addition, legal education of this type does not fit squarely into a classical compliance program. So we had to look for something that is engaging and that does not look like a compliance program. I think the point is, communicating in the corporate world can be fun and engaging if you allow it to be.

What gave you the idea in the first place?

Like most innovations, this developed over time. As a legal department, we always want to address the “recurring” questions and areas for improvement, essentially before the fact rather than after it. We started off with a series of very short training sessions (5 – 10 minutes) rolled out across the region. We called them “Legal Bites!”. We would use a short video, a photo or a cartoon to make concise and fun interventions.  This format was very well received by the business and, to our satisfaction, other functions were asked to follow the Legal functions format, and we were asked to do more. This encouraged us to think about putting the smaller bits together in a way that is faithful to the principles of (a) engagement and (b) wider reach. A board game offered all of the above. And that is how Pharmanomos was born! I worked on this very closely with one my team members, Dalia Sarhan, who was absolutely instrumental in bringing it to life.

How does it work?

 –         The board itself features: key countries in our region, a disciplinary chamber and a do’s and don’ts space. 

–         Players are split into teams of four members each. Various functions should be represented in each team. 

–         There is also a “Mastermind” who guides the players through the game, hands over cards and money. The Mastermind always has to be a lawyer.

–         Each team receives a mission (say to set up a rep office in the UAE and appoint a distribution network across the GCC) and some cash – a currency we call Takedos. During their turn, each team rolls the dice and tries to acquire the relevant countries. 

–         Each turn the Mastermind hands over a card that is appropriate for the mission of each team from 4 sets: corporate vehicles, commercial contracts, manufacturing and business development.  The role

–         0of the card is to trigger a discussion around a particular issue we face (e.g. raising awareness of what a rep office can and cannot do).

–         Legal issues that fall outside the scope of the above categories (e.g. anti-trust, data privacy, anti-bribery and confidentiality issues) feature in the Do’s and Don’ts cards which are handed over if a player lands on a do’s and don’ts space on the board.

–         The team that completes its mission first AND gets the highest number of correct answers wins![BC1] 

Was this about trying to find a fun way of communicating with your business partners – perhaps dispelling the myths of the legal function as a policing unit?

Absolutely. Being close to the business, speaking the language of the business, and offering practical advice based on a deep understanding of each client’s needs, places any in-house lawyer in a much better position to manage liabilities and pre-empt risks.  Also, when the time comes to exercise some “policing” tasks, lawyers will need to have cultivated some equity with their stakeholders that can be leveraged economically.

How has the response been internally at Takeda? Have you found it more useful with particular departments?

Overwhelmingly positive. Most functions are busy with their day-to-day work and – apart from compliance issues – they lack visibility of what others are doing and what that means to their own work. Playing Pharmanomos helped raise the awareness and create a platform that triggered discussion between the various functions. The impact was much higher with mid – senior level managers who are involved in the initiation and management of key projects (e.g. launching new products, expanding into new territories, negotiating commercial contracts, forging strategic relationships etc).

What have you and your team learned from this exercise?

Perhaps the most relevant lesson was the importance of using innovation to embed the concepts of “proactive lawyering” and “business partnering” in the organization, both legal and non-legal.  It was also an important milestone in the maturity of the legal team and helping the team cultivate business acumen and an “entrepreneurial spirit”. Not only did it help other functions understand their roles form the perspective of the legal function, it helped us better understand our clients. The boardgame was as useful to us as a legal department as it was to the business.

Can you apply the mechanics of the board game to other businesses?

Definitely. The underlying concepts will be the same. The in-house teams working on this will just have to adapt it to their companies’ corporate structure and business set-up. We presented Pharmanomos during one of the meetings of a group of pharma lawyers here in Dubai. We will be more than happy to share our learnings with those who ask. It’s opensource!

Beyond tools like this, what else can In-House Counsel do to have a more effective relationship with their business partners?

The relationship between in-house lawyers and the business cannot work properly if it is not based on a solid foundation of trust. To build trust, there is no substitute for giving prompt, practical and reliable advice in a consistent manner. Tools like board games are very helpful in breaking the stereotypes and softening the assumptions that some lawyers are rigid and theoretical.

In addition to gamification, in-house lawyers can consider the following to name a few:

(a)    infographics simplifying processes

(b)    mobile applications streamlining day-to-day requirements (e.g. recurring basic contracts) and disseminating legal information

(c)    role-plays

(d)    I mentioned “Legal Bites” above as an example of succinct and focused interventions

(e)    focus groups around an issue

(f)     efficient contract management tools