Posts

,

Think a high-performance finance team is out of reach? Think again.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a truism whenever companies need to get things done. A superior team leading the charge can make the difference between a profitable move and a ho-hum project that barely gets off the ground.

That’s why there’s a major demand for high-performance teams, otherwise known as groups of smart, talented people with complementary skillsets who as a cohesive unit are able to outperform their peers. It’s a major goal for any growing finance organization to pull off. At RoseRyan, we strive to provide the glue that is needed whenever we bring our expertise and experience to a team.

While a high-performance team is an ideal for any organization or big project, companies do find that they don’t always come together naturally. Having worked on high-performance teams over the course of my career (most recently at a life sciences client of RoseRyan) and volunteer life, I can report that it’s a great joy working together on one.

As McKinsey partners Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith described in their ground-breaking work The Discipline of Teams, these special teams share four elements—a common commitment and purpose, performance goals, complementary skills and mutual accountability. It is a tall order but doable.

It is a glorious thing when a high-performance team gets superb results in short timeframes and the team dynamics are respectful, supportive and trustworthy. Such experiences constantly spur me on to find another high-performance team to work with and to find ways to make them happen.

I challenge anyone in a leadership position to aim for the ideal as well. There’s a payoff, which I have seen firsthand not only when I was part of such teams but also when I have created or was the catalyst for other high-performance teams either as a team leader or critical contributor. They’re goals-driven organizations that achieve superior business results. Talk about satisfying.

How can you spark one up? Below are five key characteristics of high-performance teams. Factor them in the next time you’re gathering a team to tackle a problem, building a finance team from the ground up or hiring a bunch of advisors to help you complete a deal.

1. A shared vision: It must be clear, relevant, significant, achievable and relatively immediate in order for the team to come together in a cohesive manner. It should be written down. A shared vision that is maintained and frequently communicated can be used as an anchor to bring the team back to its high-performance track when there’s conflict or changing circumstances.

2. A healthy team culture: The group should comprise diverse (and often cross-functional) team members who know, value and respect the range of skills, knowledge and experience that their colleagues contribute. There is a sense of belonging and a willingness to make things work for the good of the team. Everyone knows that they can produce something together that they could not produce alone.

Keep in mind that having a diverse set of players on the team can lend itself to discord and conflict. That’s the nature of having a variety of skills and perspectives. So it is critical to encourage a culture of trust, acceptance, respect, courtesy and a lot of willingness to listen to and understand different points of view. Make sure to recognize the individuals who do just that.

3. Clearly defined roles and expectations: This is the glue that makes it possible for high-performance teams to deliver and go beyond what’s expected of them. To get the job done, these teams need effective processes around solving problems, making decisions, communicating status, running meetings and so on.

High-performance teams tend to be committed to quality and results, and so their leaders need to know ahead of time what they want, what the different roles are, and how the team’s performance will be measured in such a way that the bar will be continually raised.

4. Team accountability: Even high performers need to know they’ll be held accountable. They need transparent agreements around how they will hold each other accountable as well as a short, simple list of operating principles that are agreed upon by the entire team.

5. Leadership: The members of a high-performance team may be more likely than others to act independently, but we all need some guidance. Leadership for these teams is more participative and based on good role modeling than it would be in command-and-control environments or groups. Leaders need to be flexible, to be able to shift their focus and style as necessary, not only to achieve team success but to gain acceptance by team members along the way.

In some situations—such as when you’re restricted to using internal resources—you may not always be able to create and maintain a high-performance team when you want to, especially when you have an organization with a mix of strong personalities and skills that are not fully developed. But in an increasingly team-driven business world, it should be a constant goal.

As a senior finance pro at RoseRyan, Kathi Varas enjoys working with high performance teams, and she’s always a team player. She specializes in startups, budgeting, forecasting, FP&A, IPO support and project planning. Kathi held several controller positions before joining RoseRyan in 2015.

, , , ,

Why an underfunded finance team is risky business

In a new small company, all the focus — and funds — tend to be on the development side, where the company’s product or service gets fine-tuned for the marketplace. The finance organization as a support function is often low on the priority list. But as the company grows — and tracking and managing the finances gets more complex — almost all spending will continue to be concentrated on other areas, leaving the finance department to fight over the bread crumbs.

Being a team player means making do with what you have, not complaining, and doing what it takes to meet your objectives. But sometimes, being a good soldier is detrimental to the overall good of the company. Consider just a few examples why finance should demand its fair share:

  • Systems that don’t keep pace with your business put your company at risk: When the business grows in complexity, so should the methods and technology for tracking its performance. Workflow that is highly dependent on top-side adjustments to close the books and spreadsheet tracking of critical information (revenue recognition, stock awards, etc.) are prone to error.
  • Rules and regulations are constantly changing — which means the company has to keep up: Staying current can take considerable time and effort, and not knowing what you don’t know can be harmful. Misapplying accounting rules to significant transactions can result in significant errors to your financial statements.
  • Understaffed and underperforming accounting teams can result in delays to the close process: The slowdown not only hurts morale and the department’s ability to keep moving forward — it can have a direct effect on the company if management is running the business with inaccurate or insufficient data to make decisions.

In addition to jeopardizing your own reputation, the inability to produce timely and accurate financial statements can result in a decrease in the company’s valuation, its ability to attract financing at favorable rates (or at all) and win (or keep) strategic partners and clients. The problems could also derail a business combination or IPO.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Finance organizations are beginning to be looked at as more than just a cost center and are on their way toward becoming key players in the overall business strategy. To get to that point, they need to improve how they anticipate and support the needs of other departments and get recognized for such work.

Here are a few questions to consider as you evaluate how others perceive your finance organization:

  • Do your cross-functional peers know what the finance organization does to add value to the business? How is finance communicating its value-add?
  • Does finance take time to understand what the business is doing, and provide information to support the tasks that are underway? Is it proactive in this, or does it wait for others to make requests?
  • Does the organization meet regularly with other departments to find out, from their perspective, what they need from the organization and how the team is doing in filling those needs?
  • Is finance able to support the organization with reliable information on a timely basis?
  • Does finance have a handle on the company’s current needs and realistic growth plans?
  • Does the organization know what best practices are for your industry? Is it in line with your competition?

When finance teams make progress in these areas, their stature will be elevated and they will be seen as key contributors to  the business, not a cost drain. This in turn makes getting finance’s piece of the pie much easier. And much more deserved.

For more information about building a foundation of financial integrity, read why timely, accurate financials are valuable for your company.

Pat Voll is a vice president at RoseRyan, where she mentors and supports the dream team, and heads up client management, ensuring all our clients are on the road to happiness. She previously held senior finance level positions at public companies and worked as an auditor with a Big 4 firm.