Grow Your Firm

Designing the Team Alliance for Your Accounting Firm

Gusto Editors  
Team of accountants working together

Does your firm work as an effective team? 

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If your team struggles to work together, don’t be afraid! You can increase the teamwork within your firm by implementing professional coaching tools. Adopting coaching strategies at your firm can be incredibly beneficial to improving workplace synergy. Coaching methods can give you the ability to build strong leadership development skills, increase teamwork, and change the way your firm approaches client relations. 

We at Gusto have teamed up with CPA Academy to make coaching a possibility for your firm. Our webinar, “How to Build a Coaching Culture at Your Firm,” addressed the importance of developing team alliances in modern accounting firms. This webinar, led by Amber Setter, followed the ins and outs of becoming an effective team.

Amber Setter is an ICF credentialed professional coach. She has spent most of her career working for professional services firms and accountants to build solid professional environments.

Today, we will look at what it means to build a team alliance and how that alliance can grow a coaching-centric culture within your firm. Choosing to embrace the power of coaching will increase your effectiveness with client relations and strengthen your firm in many ways.

Developing culture with a team alliance 

Many times, firms struggle to build effective teams between associates. Focusing on the task at hand rather than the connection between the individuals that make up the group is one of the primary reasons people fail to work effectively as a team. One tool for creating a people-focused culture within teams is Designing the Team Alliance or DTA:

“DTA helps the group to address two issues—the culture or atmosphere you are trying to create and the sharing of responsibilities. … DTA is focused on the being of the team and not the doing. … We’re looking at your qualities of being that you’re going to be bringing to the team and not just the things that you’re going to do.”

– Amber Setter

Generally, teams focus solely on their schedules. By setting deadlines aside and concentrating on the atmosphere of the team, you can create a team-building culture within your firm. Implementing the DTA tool gives you the ability to promote a supportive culture practically.

“You take the team’s agenda, which is probably action items, and park it. … Before you [talk about the logistics,] look at the culture and the atmosphere of the team you’re trying to create.”

– Amber Setter

There are three questions to answer when using DTA: What culture do you want to create? What will help the team thrive? And how do you react to difficulty? 

Members of a small accounting firm collaborating.

What culture do you want to create? 

What do you envision as the ideal culture for your firm? There are many possibilities to address when thinking of the perfect workplace, and each firm has a unique group of people to consider when creating its culture. An excellent way to determine the best environment for your firm is to ask your team questions:

“What is the culture we want to create? Do we want it to be supportive? Do we want it to be fun? Do we want it to be light-hearted? [And] what will that mean?”

– Amber Setter

Asking questions that lead your team into revealing its desire for the firm culture gives you the ability to plan for creating that environment. Without the interaction of the group, you would be unable to guide your firm properly. Receiving this input shifts your focus from the task at hand to the people who make up your organization.

What will help your team thrive? 

When creating a team, having a group that thrives during its operation encourages a positive outlook while working. Often, the difference between a team that struggles and a team that thrives is their understanding of one another. A team that works together smoothly cares just as much about the people in the group than the task at hand. 

“You’re pushing the team to think bigger, dream bigger, and [realize] what is even more possible for them.”

– Amber Setter

Shifting the motivation of work from doing the job to creating an uplifting company culture gives your team the ability to invest more of themselves into the firm. Instead of working to earn a paycheck, your people will focus on holistically improving the individuals who surround them daily in their profession. Focusing on the person instead of the work will increase the effectiveness of the way your staff interacts with each other and with clients.

How do you react to difficulty?

Difficulties arise within even the best-working teams. That’s why it is crucial to develop strategies to work through difficulties cohesively. A vital part of working through difficulty is to accept it as normal. 

“Whether things are going to get difficult because of a project, or somebody gets sick, [difficulties will arise]. Normalizing the experience and proactively talking [about difficulty] … [defines] how you want to respond to one another.”

– Amber Setter

When you normalize the difficulty in working together, teams can rise above the obstacles. Your teams will thrive by recognizing each other’s efforts and pushing through the problems. 

Implementing the DTA process will give your firm the ability to begin building better teams. The relationships between your employees strengthen when you begin to answer questions that focus on the “why” of your firm instead of the “what.” After you create your plan, you can use other tools to continue the growth of your coaching culture.

Three accountants working together on a client's account.

Coaching tools for building culture

There are many tools out there for you to implement inside of your organization, from predeveloped toolkits to hiring coaches to promote the growth of your firm. Be sure to explore different options to tailor strategies for your firm to develop its coaching culture.

Amber suggests starting with a toolkit she created for the AICPA:

“This toolkit supports leaders who want to foster a coaching culture within their organization. [It] helps you envision new possibilities, provides guidance on how to make this a reality, and [offers] many different ways to foster a coaching culture.”

– Amber Setter

Using a toolkit gives you a framework to build your coaching culture. Toolkits provide a how-to approach that can be individualized for your needs and allow you to develop coaching strategies within your firm. The customizability of toolkits gives you the flexibility you need to grow your culture successfully:

“If you want to do [one-on-one] coaching yourself or have someone else in your organization do it, [you have that flexibility]. One-to-one coaching is completely customizable. You can give input on what you think someone’s leadership goals could be, or you can come to coaching with what you think your goals should be. You can [also] align it to existing performance and management [goals].”

– Amber Setter

Many firms run into roadblocks while developing a plan to build people-focused teams. If you are struggling to create growth strategies independently, team coaching is an option you can consider. A team coach removes the responsibility of planning from your firm by designing a team alliance for your engagement teams. 

“Team coaching can rebuild and strengthen culture, whether it’s across departments, offices, or within a partner group. … [It can] really get intentional about how you want to grow leaders across your organization.”

– Amber Setter

Whether you want to do it yourself or determine the need to hire a specialist, the tools for creating a coaching culture are readily available. Be sure to create a plan for developing your team to determine the best strategies for your firm. Once you have a plan, find the best solution for your unique needs.

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Learn more about building successful teams

Successful teams provide the support your employees need to unlock their unused potential. When you build teams that focus on the individual rather than tasks, it will motivate your staff in a unique way that will manifest itself by developing a more autonomous and reflective culture. As a result, your clients will benefit from a better connection with your firm.

“Coaching helps others to really discover for themselves new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, and moods that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what’s important to them. In the development of your team, it’s important to communicate broader perspectives and find new possibilities for action.”

– Amber Setter

If you want to learn more about growing an influential coaching culture within your firm, check out the entire webinar here. Also, be sure to look into Part One and Part Three of this webinar article series. 

Our mission at Gusto is to create a world where work empowers a better life. Be sure to check out our People Advisory Program to learn how you can provide peace of mind, create great places to work, and cultivate more personal prosperity. We also provide a partner blog full of resources to empower your firm. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on people-based accounting, and check out our payroll options for invaluable tools to offer your clients.

Updated: September 7, 2021

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors
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