Exponent Leadership: Team Problem Solving For A CPA FIRM

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Situation

Despite employing hundreds of CPAs, this firm hadn’t grown for several years. The marketing process they had in place was now producing marginal success. Ten months before my work with this organization, 5 of the key players on the 12 person marketing team had retired, and five new people joined.

A Managing Partner from the firm contacted me. During our initial discussion, he described the political rift that existed within the marketing team. The team had two factions: the long-term employees and the five new people. Their infighting was partially responsible for the company’led to a decrease in new customer acquisition. His goal for the intervention was an effectively functioning marketing team and increased growth for the firm.

After individual interviews, and observing the team in action, the following issues were identified:

  1. The marketing team lacked trust and understanding. This lack of confidence manifested most in three ways:
  2. Decisions were made far too slowly, and without the requisite information, impacting employees, stakeholders, and community partners.
    Increased cost due to the frequent need for revisions.
  3. Employees had little support when making decisions because expectations were unclear and the team as a whole lacked accountability.

When I presented this list to the Managing Partner and team members, everyone agreed that these were the areas that needed the most attention.

Intervention

I was contracted for a six-month period. First, I interviewed each person, co-creating individual development plans based on their 360 feedback assessments. The interviews revealed that each person wanted things to change, but they didn’t know how to improve and were unsure they could support one option.

In observing some team meeting, I quickly realized a pattern: everyone would express their point of view, but no one made a decision, so someone set another meeting. After a meeting, there were always several smaller meetings, attempting to identify a process for the next meeting to ensure the team reached a decision.

At one point, a group of three employees from the marketing team made a plan on how best to proceed and began implementing. The other eight employees felt they went against the team, and forward progress was stopped.

The internal us versus them mentality was halting all forward momentum. People in sales and customer service felt like marketing efforts were so slow, that their customers were confused.

I met with the team on a regular basis, facilitating communication and trust building discussions, and developing active listening and communication skills.

Throughout four months, I interviewed five people who were most impacted by marketing decisions and provided feedback to leadership, as well as team members for continued improvement.

Focus Areas Included
      • Increased awareness of each team members preferred style of communication and information sharing
      • An individualized list of what each person needed to accomplish great work and how other team members could serve that great work
      • A composite index of what the leadership team, as a whole, needs to do to continue great work
      • Implementation of a model for active listening and communication with peers, direct reports, and supervisors
      • Improved communication skills for decision making and team problem solving, using real-time examples from the organization.
The Following Areas of the Exponent Leadership Process Were Used
      • Decision Making: Facts and Intuition
      • Planning: Creating a Future
      • Communication
      • Team Problem Solving
      • Bringing Out the Best in People

Every team member had access to the private Exponent website. As they completed each content section, they were required to write up a field assignment, which had to include what they did, how they did it, what they learned, and their specific applications for the future. In addition to posting their field assignments, they were also required to review all of the others’ reports, commenting and questioning their results and application. This created a set of best practices and an information sharing capacity within the team.

Resolution

Team Problem Solving Improved

The marketing team began to implement the team problem-solving model and came to understand that their lack of commitment to making decisions had negatively impacted both customers and profits. They realized the need for a consistent decision-making method as well as clear accountability as to who’s responsible for each piece of the solution. Now, in every meeting, they use a consistent approach in making decisions. Team members agreed to support the technique and the decision made.

Decision-Making Time Decreased

Decision-making time decreased from the prior norm of three months to 1-2 weeks, and they now use one method consistently. Other departments recognized this model and the firm is now implementing it throughout the organization.

Decision Support Increased

People support the decisions that are made, now understanding that each decision needs support, even if there was not total agreement. Active listening is used in communication with peers, supervisors, and direct reports. The marketing manager makes more informed decisions, and employees support those decisions, whether they came up with them or not. They now realize that their voices are heard, and even if the solution wasn’t their idea, they get to work on implementation.