Teamwork in the Accounting Firm

IMGCAP(1)]Teamwork is a concept that is thrown around loosely in the accounting profession. We all want it and expect it, until we worry if we are billing enough hours.

Furthermore, we oftentimes look at teamwork on a job-by-job basis rather than in a firm-wide structure. As a leader of your firm, look at your organization and the people who comprise it. Are you working together to achieve a common goal? Or is everybody just trying to please the next person, out of fear of the repercussions if jobs are not completed on a timely basis? Either way, there is an opportunity to improve how your team functions for the betterment of the staff, the firm and your clients.

How Teamwork Is Preached
At every firm I talk to, teamwork is one of the core principles that managing partners will preach. They’ll say, “We work as a team,” “We become an integral part of our client’s team,” “Without our teamwork, our efficiency would be lost,” and my personal favorite, “Every team member holds a special place in our firm.”

These are all great comments, but at the end of the day they’re just rhetoric. Words that if the managing partner failed to say, there would be no thought of teamwork in the office.

What Teamwork Probably Looks Like in Your Office
Despite the motivational/sales/inspiration/recruiting pitch from the managing partner that “we are more than a team, we are family,” accounting firms in my experience tend to work in silos with little to no interaction between departments in the office. The tax department fails to talk to the A&A department, valuation specialists fail to talk to the tax credit people, and niches find themselves to be exempt from talking to other niches. One person has a direct contact to the client and the information passed through that person is lost somewhere in that person’s head.

In the end, there is a great firm with terrific resources, but since nobody talks to anybody outside their department, opportunities to improve services and meet (or dare I say, exceed) clients’ expectations are missed.

Furthermore, in each of these department silos, there is a top-down approach. The partner talks to the manager, the manager talks to the supervisor, and the supervisor talks to the staff. This is not the worst setup (since colleagues are actually talking to one another), but it lacks the opportunity for discovery, new perspectives, fresh ideas and exploration of improved processes.

I believe we can build better teams in our firms.

What Teamwork Should (and Could) Look Like
I like to compare impressive teamwork to the freshness and open expanse of the big blue ocean. The ocean is built by numerous environments. Each presence plays its role. Each living organism communicates with each other in some fashion. The ocean moves together to achieve a result. And every so often, the ocean takes drastic action to correct itself and its boundaries.

Accounting firms, and the people within the firms, should be communicating regularly. That doesn’t mean you need to talk to every person in your firm every single day, but departments need to talk to other departments on a regular basis.

This should not be just a report from each department on how work is progressing, but explanations, practical discussions and education roundtables on when teams should approach each other to offer new services to clients. Furthermore, within specific departments, process improvement discussions should be happening all the time. When discoveries are made, new pronouncements or regulations are instituted, and new issues arise, departmental discussions should occur to ensure the team is following the same approach consistently.

If you are thinking to yourself, “Yeah, we need to communicate about these issues, and I’m going to implement a program to ensure our team emails the whole firm every time …” stop right there!

Steps to Ensure Teamwork is Appropriately Practiced
Repeat this saying over and over: ”We are not sending out mass emails to communicate more efficiently.” Have a staff person in your office go out and choose a free (or low-cost) app that will allow discussions and threads to occur over time and at your teams’ leisure. If you don’t have a staff member with the available time to find a program to use, here is a summary of apps you could employ.

Let technology be your friend. Most of the time, these are not urgent communications. Advise your staff it’s expected they review, participate and explore the discussions on a monthly basis.

Furthermore, if discussions pique their interest, they are expected to take the lead and further educate the firm, discuss opportunities with relevant parties, and act in a manner to help the firm grow.

These online discussion boards are great, but face-to-face interaction can be the most impactful opportunity to communicate as a team. Create one monthly event (yes, even during the busiest times of the year) to have a discussion hosted by a department, partner, staff person or however your firm wants to break it up. If you can’t figure out 12 discussion topics to have and spread around the preparation within your firm, call or email me. I will help you! Make these meetings mandatory as they are integral to ensuring a true team-based approach from your firm.

Wrap It Up
To solve a lot of problems in your office quickly, get your team on the same page. Communicate with your staff that taking responsibility, being part of a committed team, and encouraging your teammates to be better together is best for their individual careers (not to mention their happiness), the firm and their clients. And when you achieve high-quality teamwork, celebrate your success.

Adam Blitz is a CPA and a relationship builder. Through his 10+ years in public accounting he has refined his ability to develop relationships with partners and clients alike in the pursuit of enhancing business profitability and individual satisfaction. Adam’s passion for business development stems purely from the notion that CPAs help people. He works with professional service firms to enhance relationships with clients, vendors, staff and communities for the purpose of developing revenue streams. Adam has a Masters in Leadership Studies and has published a thesis on the value a CPA provides to clients and staff. In his spare time, you’ll find him hiking the Sierra Nevada or training for his next triathlon. You can reach Adam at or via Twitter @getblitzed.

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