10 Secrets to Strong Team Collaboration

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Your staff does not collaborate enough. At least that’s the finding of a Harvard Business Review study that found 75 percent of teams working cross-functionally are dysfunctional.

Today, with more tax and accounting firm teams working remotely, an increased focus on communication, and a drop in the cost of many technologies, firms are still struggling to eliminate silos and increase their focus on what’s best for the client. When the best solution for your client is a mix of tax, assurance and consulting services, you want to set yourself up for success.

A number of firms have found ways to increase their collaboration; here are their secrets to success: 

#1: Think of internal teams as clients. A client calls and you jump. You’ve been trained to go above and beyond to serve your clients. In doing so, responding to and helping fellow team members often gets pushed to the back burner. Change your perception and think of co-workers as clients who need your advice and counsel. 

“Not only should you think of internal team members as clients, but consider yourself an advisor to that person,” says Susan Miller, marketing manager at PBMares. “It’s not about responding to what that person is asking, but having a dialogue back a forth. Better discussion leads to real collaboration.

#2: Utilize technology. According to the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic, in 2018, there are nearly 7,000 marketing technologies on the market. At Jones & Roth, technology is used to foster collaboration: Basecamp for project management, Gather Content for content management and ActiveCampaign for email marketing, to name a few.

“The key is to pick the right tool for the right team and ensure it’s easy to use,” says Robert Adrian, practice growth leader at Jones & Roth. He explains that Gather Content allows the marketing team to develop content and share with niche leaders for additions, edits and approval. With due dates assigned to each step and friendly reminders, subject matter experts are an integral part of the process. Twenty minutes of training is all it took to get users up-to-speed on usage, too.

#3: Standardize processes. “Having standardized processes in place allows work to move seamlessly from one staff member to another, or even from one office to another, while consistently meeting the expectations of the reviewer,” says Chris Liebtag, LSSBB, PMP, president of consulting services at LeanCPA.

Standardization helps firms scale for increased work volume and allows leadership to focus on other things, including maximizing the client experience, pursuing new business opportunities and driving firm growth.

“When a firm adopts standardized processes, their leaders no longer have to spend time sorting through the weeds,” said Liebtag.

#4: Planning matters. To ensure your team stays focused on the goals at hand and the tasks needed to reach them, put plans in place.

“We approach this hierarchically starting with annual firm-wide goals, followed by office plans and niche focuses,” says Adrian. “This process is further enhanced with quarterly strategic planning sessions and check-ins to ensure progress is being made.”

#5: Make the most of your meetings. How many times have you gone into a meeting, not really knowing what you’re there to accomplish? Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in businesses everywhere. Instead, you can run productive meetings by planning in advance. Before each meeting you should have shared two things: a goal for the meeting, and an agenda of what will be covered and who will cover it. Then, be sure to follow the agenda. Throughout the meeting, develop a list of action items. This should include a list of the item to be completed, who will complete it and when it will be done by. Share this after the meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page and can be held accountable for their activity.

#6: Share progress reports. At monthly meetings, Jones & Roth shares reports that show where everyone is at on their projects. With technology, these reports are easy to export and share.

“We have a plan, and I bring in the analytics and data along with ideas on what we should do next,” says Adrian. “Additional input is solicited, and we discuss any objections. Putting data in everyone’s hands makes it easier to do what is needed.”

#7: Beef up your communications. While most employees want more feedback from firm leadership, you also want to increase communications as a way to increase productivity. A McKinsey analysis shows that improved communications and collaboration could raise productivity by 20 to 25 percent. This can be accomplished through social technologies.

“We developed an internal website for our team that allows for firm-wide communications,” says Adrian. “It’s built on WordPress, but blocked from search engines so you have to have the link to access it. Items posted are then shared via an RSS email feed directly to team members.”

#8: Clearly define roles. Most people don’t aim to do a poor job; rather, they don’t understand what they are tasked with doing. This lack of clarity leads to wasted efforts and sometimes a lack of action. To drive client service, PBMares developed the role of client services coordinator to ensure billers in the firm change their mindset to put the client first – moving from this is “my client” to a “firm client I serve.”

“The client service coordinator is responsible for bringing in all the necessary service line and industry leaders to ensure we’re meeting all the needs of our clients,” says Miller. “The idea is to increase cross communication by using a named individual with a clearly defined role.”

#9: Facilitate decision making. Many decisions made in companies are made in meetings, but do the people involved in the decision have the information needed to make it? Are they empowered to provide their opinions, and do others actively listen to them? In a tax and accounting firm, especially where there are meetings involving partners and staff, the staff often defer to the partners or even one partner for the decision. Inevitably, someone is left out.

The meeting leader should be clear about how decisions will be made, and go out of their way to ask everyone for their insights and opinions. Listen for true support, as well as those people who appear to be saying what they think the leader wants to hear. When there is consensus or agreement on the decision, you will more likely have all team members working together to implement it.

#10: Culture matters. Renowned management consultant Peter Drucker is famously attributed with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That couldn’t be truer when it comes to collaboration. If your firm’s beliefs and values already encourage participation, then a strategy to improve collaboration will be easier to implement.

“You have to have a culture that wants to include everyone and gives credit for participating,” says Adrian. “When you give others visibility to the process, they can see what you’re aiming to do, communicate it to others and know they are making an impact.”

Bottom line? The best collaboration will come when you include those involved with delivery, no matter which “department” they may sit in. Without this much needed buy-in, your silos will continue to exist as people focus on what they need to get done instead of what’s in the best interest of the firm or clients.

As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, success will take care of itself.” Improve collaboration among your teams, and take a giant step toward progress.

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