ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Coaching: how accountants can get the best from their team

4 November 2020: People are more erratic and unpredictable than the numbers chartered accountants have been trained to work with. Author and practice owner Della Hudson outlines tips on how finance professionals can build a motivated and happy team.

Some people are natural ‘people people’ and always seem to know how to say the right thing to get the best out of their team. Others need to learn how to do this through simple systems and practice.

How can accountants learn the “basic” skills that are so unnatural for so many of us? And from a business perspective, how much more can a high performing team earn you?

Joanne Wharam of Smart Support for Business works with accountants and others to help them to build effective teams. She believes the key is to use profiles to understand each of your team members better. “You will then have a better idea of how to get the best out of each one of them separately, and as part of your team,” she says.

Wharam believes that as managers, understanding our own strengths and how we may be holding ourselves back, as well as understanding our team and clients and how to communicate with others is crucial.

As managers we need to:

  • Understand our team as individuals
  • Increase their motivation
  • Feedback in a constructive way to boost performance
  • Help our team to communicate well with customers or clients.

Understanding our team

People are much more erratic and unpredictable than the numbers we, as accountants, have been trained to work with. They have their own hopes and dreams that they bring into their work life. Their different life experiences and ambitions mean they see the world through their own lens and may easily misunderstand what we are trying to communicate as we see the world through our own, different lens.

People are complex, but personality profiling is one tool that can help in this. It shouldn’t be the only tool in your box, but it is quite useful. It is a tool that can help us to learn more about ourselves and how we prefer to work and communicate. We can also learn the same about other members of our team and potential recruits. On the practice side, some firms even profile their clients to provide the best possible service in a way that suits them best.

When we all know the best way to communicate with each other there are fewer misunderstandings and the team can work as a cohesive unit.

Increasing motivation

Wharam’s research and other studies show that investing in motivated, happy people “goes straight to the bottom line”. It is worth investing in your team and your own people skills. This has become even more important while many of us are managing remote teams for the first time during the various levels of COVID-19 restrictions.

Start with yourself, as it is easier to enthuse and motivate your team if you are enthused and motivated yourself. If you can’t motivate your team effectively, then they will move on and you will have wasted time and money on recruitment and training. 

Carrying out this training also shows that you value your employees, as you are taking the time to understand the best way to communicate with them. You will be able to share with them your vision and values in a way that motivates them. Team happiness scores improve after training for everybody which in turn leads to lower staff turnover. 

Everybody is motivated by different things. Do you know who in your team appreciates money, kind words, thoughtful gifts or just being able to get five minutes of your time when they need to? Understanding your individuals will help you to motivate and manage them in the best way for them. 

Effective feedback

When you think of appraisals, do you think of a slightly embarrassing meeting that is done once or twice a year to keep HR happy? Feedback should be given throughout the year as part of a continuous improvement process for the individual and the business. How else will your employee know if they’re doing a good job? 

Appraisal meetings are an additional chance to sit down and discuss this in more depth. To review progress, to find out what is important to employee and employer. What they have observed, what went well, what could be better, and what support is needed to improve performance. This should be more than filling in a form, it should be a two-way conversation. What do they enjoy doing? What would they prefer to drop? Adapt their role where possible to suit their strengths and to support any weaknesses. 

It is possible to learn some of the skills required to run a highly motivated and effective team but, if necessary, this can be outsourced. We are trained as experts in numbers and quite happily refer to technical experts and people and team management and appraisals are a different area of expertise.