There are two extremes that we often see regarding how we accomplish tasks in professional service firms. One approach is the “lone wolf” approach where professionals hunker down and work alone. The other is the “team approach” where professionals form work teams to complete a project or accomplish a goal.

Which is more effective? Let’s hash it out and see … .

He said: A team spirit or culture is extremely important in a professional services firm. Without it a firm will never be as successful, profitable and sustainable as it could be.

Partners cannot work in isolation if they want to provide the best service to their clients and provide great opportunities to their people.

She said: What about all of the firms where partners work independently? These firms are successful, profitable and well-positioned. You can’t argue with success, so how do you explain this? Are you suggesting that teams should be formed just for the sake of involving multiple people?

He said: No, not at all. There are accounting firms without a team culture that exist and are profitable. I can’t deny the facts. However, if you look back over the last 20 years or so, many of those firms were also forced to merge. Today, their names merely appear on some old list. These firms were successful because of the personalities and competencies of a small set of partners. These firms operated as a group of sole practitioners. They were not building for tomorrow, and the partners weren’t interested in grooming their successors.

She said: That may be a little exaggerated. Consider this — when professionals are faced with complex projects and specialization is needed, it is many times easier, more efficient, and more effective to work on it alone. When you involve a team for the sake of involving others, groupthink occurs, it consumes more time, and it can be more difficult to execute.

He said: When dealing with complex projects, you have a better chance of providing a better solution if you have more than one person working on the solution. While an individual may have the expertise, they sometimes can’t see the entire picture.

We need to see less of “me, my, mine” and more of “we, us and ours” for the benefit of the client and the sustainability of the firm.

She said: You may have a point. The challenge may not be as much around lone wolf versus team, but more about when and how to involve people in projects to get the maximum result. Thoughts?

He said: Yes, I agree with that. I have to admit that some people are far more effective when working alone. However, when you work alone, you don’t share any of your knowledge with others in the firm. Eventually, the firm is weakened, clients aren’t served as well, and a merger becomes a saving light.

She said: And I have to agree with you on the power of a team. I just don’t think every single project and every phase in these projects require multiple people.

Individuals with a high level of expertise in an area can participate in a group to gather insights, but may need to process and plan alone for a portion of a project. I know I tend to do this. Then, you can gather the team back together and work on execution as a team. This is one approach.

He said: Team dynamics shift depending on the type of project and the make-up of the group. Experience will help you determine how best to assemble the team. You begin to understand who works well and where.

She said: Involving teams in problem-solving and execution is a great way to develop the individual team members. The more exposure the team has to internal challenges and client projects, the better equipped they are to perform in the future. I am on board with that.

They said: There is no easy answer for exactly how and when to involve a team. Individual efforts and execution, coupled with team efforts and execution, prove to be the best approach. You need both approaches. Teamwork can produce results that are far beyond the efforts of one individual if the team has a common goal and buy-in, and the team members understand their roles.

August Aquila

August Aquila

August Aquila, the CEO of Aquila Global Advisors, is a well-known consultant, retreat facilitator and author. Reach him at (952) 930-1295.
Angie Grissom

Angie Grissom

Angie Grissom is president of The Rainmaker Companies, which exclusively serves accounting firms. Reach her at (615) 373-9880.