Getting your team to step up needs more than just encouragement

There are lots of conversations around at the moment about how to get a team to ‘step up’. It’s not surprising.

Time and resources remain in short supply in accounting firms. There are plenty of firm owners and directors out there who have hardworking and loyal teams but who remain frustrated that their own time is still occupied by tasks that they’d love to delegate but feel unable to. They look to their team to step up when it comes to taking responsibilities and actions but can’t seem to trigger the right response.

The role of the team in an accounting firm is changing. Many of the traditional number crunching and administrative tasks have been replaced by digitalisation and firms are looking increasingly to team members to become more involved in client management, process development and service delivery roles. Partners and directors, under pressure to work more on their own business and spend less time in the daily grind, are looking to loyal, hardworking staff to step into areas of the firm that they wish to leave behind but they are finding too many barriers around confidence, availability and skills.

I see four stages to successfully addressing the problem:

1. Create the space

If you want your team to step up then there has to be a space for them to step into, which inevitably means you getting out of their way. If you are micro- managing their work, correcting their communications, shutting down their ideas and rejecting anything that isn’t done the way you’d do it then your team have no space ahead of them. Our team are not us. They have grown up in a different world and trained in different ways. We have to recognise that doing things differently is part of the firm’s progression.

Trying to create diluted versions of yourself, even subconsciously, will not take your firm forward. Your team can’t advance if they are constantly trying to second guess what you would have done. Allow them the space to think and act for themselves.

If you don’t trust them to fulfil their role then don’t employ them!

2. Build the foundation

Your team won’t just walk in to any space you leave behind. They have to have the confidence that this is the right thing to do and that they are capable. Having clearly defined roles and responsibilities that are understood by everyone is fundamental to team progression. People have to understand what their job is in order to fulfil it. Expectations too should be equally transparent and communicated. Knowing what is expected of us helps to build our confidence and enables us to attempt better decisions.

Don’t wait for your team to knock on the door. Welcome them in, show them the floor plan and stick their name on the top of the desk!

3. Encourage the growth

Lack of confidence is the biggest barrier to stepping up. Creating the space and setting the foundations can still see team members hesitant to cross the threshold. Two more ingredients are required:

i) A culture that sees mistakes as part of the learning process rather than the disciplinary one
ii) A visible platform of training and support that encourages positive thinking and actions

If your team are scared to make mistakes then they will stay firmly within their comfort zones. Quality control is clearly important but shouldn’t be a block to people testing out their own thoughts above the safety net. Training, management support, mentoring and coaching should enable an environment of experimentation, free thinking and individual actions without fear getting in the way.

We’ve all learned from our mistakes, just don’t repeat them too often!

4. Firm up the structure

You’ve stepped away from the space, created a clear structure of roles, responsibilities and expectations and put in place support to help remove the fear factor. To truly free yourself up, we now need the team to become autonomous. Having a team who are confident in making their own decisions and taking their own actions is part of the process but to have the team become fully self-sufficient we need them to support each other, manage each other and hold each other accountable. Checking each other’s work, holding each other accountable and helping each other to achieve targets and goals are characteristics of a true team.

This requires you to build a different relationship with your team. You’ve moved from being seen as the decision-maker, enforcer and goalkeeper to a more remote figure, in a good sense. They still report to you but no longer rely on your for every minute of the day. They are free to expand…and so are you.

Richard Brewin

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