How to assemble a team of finance superheroes

It’s easy to talk about building a successful team.

Making it a reality, however, can be more challenging. I know this from first-hand experience: I’ve worked in and with finance teams for over 35 years. Here are some key considerations that will contribute to the success of any finance team.

Why does your team exist?

There are some tasks that are important to any business, such as paying suppliers and staff, budgets, reporting, year-end accounts and tax, to name a few.

You are expected to oversee all of these. But have you ever stopped to think about the purpose of the finance team, in terms of the business? Having a purpose makes sure everyone is heading in the same direction.

Goals are the stepping stones towards achieving that purpose. They work best, in my experience, when you start at the department level, move down to the team and sub-team levels, and then move down to individuals. As progress is made in achieving or moving towards goals, motivation rises.

For example, you may judge that the primary purpose of your team is to provide rich data and expert advice on the organisation’s performance to help upper management make informed and strategic decisions about the future of the company. Goals in that case might include effective budgeting across the organisation, monitoring of cash flow, and efficient credit control.

Great expectations

There are two key strands in terms of setting expectations. The first is being clear about what each individual and team needs to deliver.

Many finance and professional staff really struggle to articulate what their three to five deliverables are. Teams and individuals then spend time trying to figure out what should be delivered, rather than focusing on what matters.

The second strand is being clear about behaviours, and particularly how people interact with each other. Deal with the inevitable conflicts and disagreements, listen, communicate and collaborate.

The culture and environment that you create can make or break a team. Research by Team Coaching International identified trust as one of the key contributors to successful teams. The best way to build trust is to simply delegate and let people get on with it. When I was leading a team of management accountants, I didn’t get involved in the monthly accounts until they had what they thought was a good first draft. This sort of behaviour sends a strong message that you trust your team.

Avoid getting locked into thinking that someone’s not right for the job unless they have a decade of experience in a particular sector or industry

Get hiring right

Diversity of skills, experience and knowledge is vital in any team. It broadens the perspective and value a team can offer. It’s crucial not to make the mistake of hiring people who are all the same. When I worked at what is now PwC, I brought in specialist internal auditors from the public sector – some who were qualified, and others who were part-qualified.

At the time, most people at the firm came from top universities. This move helped to bring in real sector experience and was well received by clients. Avoid getting locked into thinking that someone’s not right for the job unless they have a decade of experience in a particular sector or industry.

When I was a chief internal auditor in the NHS, I brought in someone from BT who wasn’t qualified and had never worked in the public sector. What he did have was brilliant experience of how organisations work, and he was great at operational audits.

Focus on people’s strengths

No one is brilliant at everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses. When seeking to create a successful finance team, you should get people to focus on their strengths as much as possible. I started out in the days before computers, when things were done on A3 analysis paper.

I was never great with Excel, so, rather than trying to be an expert in it, I would scribble out on paper what I was looking for and get the right person to do the work and produce what was needed.

Never stop improving

Building a successful finance team is a never-ending task. You need to keep learning and looking for ways to make life easier. Key to this is creating thinking time. Team meetings are a good opportunity. Take an aspect of your work and explore how it could be delivered differently.

Ask internal customers for feedback periodically and use that as a basis for change. Something as simple as a staff suggestion scheme can also be effective. Senior and experienced staff don’t necessarily have the best ideas.

Duncan Brodie will be speaking at the AAT Annual Conference 2018; get your tickets here.

This article appeared in our Mar/Apr 2018 issue of AT magazine.

Duncan Brodie is managing director of Goals and Achievements and a former director of finance..

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