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How to put the ‘I’ in team

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Published: 20 May 2020

Graphic representing teamwork

Being a great chartered accountant isn’t just about the hard skills – you have to be a good team player, too. We asked these business and accountancy experts for their tips on how to excel

#1: Use others’ perspectives

Teamwork is a crucial part of delivering a good service, and an effective team can add a great deal of value for clients. “On a recent consultation with a client, rather than produce a single-line answer on an issue, we were able to give advice on business resilience, commercial considerations, supply chain issues, through to building financial resilience,” explains Mark Sykes, partner at BDO. “You only get that level of detail if you work in a team.”

Effective teamwork is also crucial for personal progression: “You can’t become a good accountant in isolation – you need to work and interact with the entire accounting team,” explains Adam Cramer, CEO at Wilson Wright accountants.

#2: Remember every team is different

In order to perform well within a team, it’s important to understand both personal and group objectives. “First, you need to ask yourself what the team is trying to achieve for the client and how that adds value to their organisation,” explains Susannah Anfield, director of global strategy and leadership at PwC. “Then you need to ask yourself what your role is in delivering that objective.”

To gain the necessary level of understanding, it’s important to listen carefully and ask questions rather than make assumptions. “Don’t go into conversations with preconceived ideas of what a person does, genuinely go in to listen,” advises Sykes. “Ask the silly questions, be willing to say when you don’t understand. It’s only through collaboration that people can learn from others.”

#3: Use your voice

While some people feel able to speak up immediately and ask challenging questions in a team environment, others may lack confidence. However, finding your voice and developing confidence is crucial if you are to bring value to a team.

“Nowadays firms are looking for team members to speak out and contribute ideas,” explains business expert Carl Reader. “If you’ve got suggestions, speak up, because the wider team will appreciate it.” If you find the idea of making yourself heard during a meeting a little intimidating, look into other ways of putting your ideas forward – perhaps by making a written suggestion or speaking to someone on an individual basis.

“Some firms have innovation boxes where people can drop their ideas. Some firms, with fewer members of staff, don’t have formal meetings, so it’s finding the right time to have that conversation,” says Reader.

#4: They’re not being awkward, they’re just being people…

We all have our flaws, and there are likely to be different personality types within each team. This can mean that from time to time we will probably encounter behaviour that we feel is challenging. Unsurprisingly, there is no single way to deal with this difficulty within a team – but if you feel you are struggling to work with a particular colleague it’s important to find a way to address it professionally.

For Cramer the key to managing this type of behaviour is trying to gain an understanding of a person’s rationale. “Try to understand another person’s modus operandi if it’s affecting the team and see whether you can help,” he says.

Depending on the type of behaviour being exhibited, it may be more relevant to talk to your team leader or find out the appropriate way of addressing the problem within the structure of your firm.

“Some teams set up a dispute resolution mechanism so if there’s a situation in which they feel uncomfortable there’s a way to raise that in a respectful manner,” says Anfield. “It’s incumbent on the team leader and all members to understand the culture of the team and the values it exhibits.”

#5: Bossing it (even if you don’t think you’re ready)

Over time, as your role in the workplace evolves, so will your place on a team. And while progression is great, rising in seniority can create its own challenges. “You find that people increasingly don’t want to say anything contradictory,” says Sykes. “People tend to think ‘he won’t want me to say that.’ But I’d rather have a challenge from within the team than find out later that something doesn’t work. The sole right to develop the idea is not held by the senior people.”

In addition, as you rise in seniority, you may find that your relationship with colleagues has to evolve too. “There is a point at which you have to decide – are these my work buddies, or do I need to have some professional distance? This can be difficult, especially if you’ve moved quickly through a team,” says Cramer.