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How to get the best from an inherited team

Global research director for Deloitte’s CFO program, Ajit Kambil, on how incoming CFOs can get the most out of their team - which is crucial for any leader

As all CFOs know, the people in your team are essential to your job and even your success. Without a good team of skilled people who can be trusted and who are motivated, a CFO can struggle to achieve tasks, and be too time-constrained to focus on strategic vision.

Ajit Kambil is the global research director for Deloitte’s CFO program and created a workshop to help CFOs recognise and build on the skills needed in their role. One of the things Kambil focuses on is the importance of a good team. He says knowing what kind of team you want—and getting it right—is crucial when you’re a manager.

“Think about a relay team. Every individual on that relay team gets the baton, runs as hard as they can, and just passes off the baton to the next person. It’s almost like a series of individual performances that lead to a collective action.”

“Ultimately, the people on your team and how they function as a team is visible to all of your stakeholders. And in many ways, if they operate in this very siloed or conflicted way, it affects your brand as the leader.

“You want to have a functioning and very effective team that represents your brand to your critical stakeholders.”

However, Kambil is quick to point out that there is no one size fits all and what works for some CFOs may not work for others.

“Different leaders will have different choices. Different contexts will have different kinds of teammates” explains Kambil.

During his work with CFOs, Kambil gets to hear what their pain points are when they are deciding where to go next with their team, and he explains that a lot of what happens depends on the team a CFO inherits.

“It could be that they inherited a team that was not previously well attended to. It could be a team that is very siloed, that had a little team dysfunction and conflict.”

The way to make this work is to “reset that team to work together, understand the mutual roles and responsibilities of different people, and then really act together in a consistent way going forward with the rest of the organisation” says Kambil.

He refers to teams as a “brand” and uses this idea as a stepping stone to understanding how to manage and lead a team, beginning with the question: “what is the brand you want your team to have?”

One way to try to achieve a collective vision is to “involve different members of your leadership group into framing a brand statement”, which will provide them with an “overarching goal to which you all collectively work toward.”

When this has been established, the next thing Kambil says CFOs should consider are: “the critical goals of that team. Is it that they need to reduce the costs of finance by certain percentage points? That they need to make sure that they close the books within a certain number of days?”

Once this has been done, establish clarity “in terms of roles that different individuals play in accomplishing those goals,” says Kambil, who refers back to the work of Richard Beckhard, a professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management and a pioneer in the field of organisational development.

Kambil explains that Beckhard created a model for goals, roles, processes, and relationships. When people used that research as a jumping-off point, many of them found that “lack of goals and lack of role clarity were two critical factors that diminished the team’s performance,” says Kambil.

Kambil comes back to this idea of a team being your brand and after getting the right people to do the right jobs, Kambil says the next thing an incoming CFO should try to do is “really get the team that they have to function well, because within a year, the team that you have begins to reflect on your brand and it may be even within six months.

“People will be noticing how you are managing your team around you. It’s very critical to get that done right.”

A good way to align the your priorities with those of your team is to ask them individually to list their top five, then share what yours are. Doing this, says Kambil, creates a “shared visibility on each individual’s goals and how they align to the overall goals of the organisation.” It also gives your team the chance to identify risk and “to show where there is risk in the organisation and then have a conversation about how they can collectively solve for problems.”

But doing all of that does not ensure momentum will continue after these meetings, which Kambil says leads to another issue: how often should you have meetings with your leadership team? “Is it every month you have your core leadership team meets? Or is there a core and extended leadership team meet that happens for an hour or two hours by phone, video, or in person?” asks Kambil.

It’s important to ensure these meetings are set up, because once goals have been established, CFOs need to monitor how individual leaders are progressing with those goals and if they have the correct resources and are taking the necessary actions to achieve them.

There are other issues to consider, too. Kambil taks about the need to “create the context in which a team can operate.

“What it really means is it allows people to speak up and put their ideas out there without feeling vulnerable to retaliation or being put down. So creating a context for how team meetings are conducted where individuals are heard is a really important context-creating measure that you can take as a leader to get ideas from across your team and get people to make visible to the issues that really need to be addressed” explains Kambil.

Kambil does highlight that this can be difficult in very large companies, where teams can become dispersed. He stresses the need for face-to-face meetings “at least once a year and those face-to-face meetings have to have time for formal work, but also time available so that individuals can connect outside of work and establish a context for working relationships amongst themselves.”

It’s also important that, when working with geographically disparate teams, the CFO ensures that where leaders need to collaborate to complete a task, they as CFO step in to help create that collaboration. “It’s important for you, as a leader, to engineer the collaboration of this geographic disparate folks onto a team so it does maintain ongoing building of connections.

“It demands a lot more work. It’s harder when somebody is sitting in a time zone 9 hours away or 12 hours away.

But by doing so, you reinforce that you’re part of a global organisation and, most importantly, different parts of the world are heard in terms of their needs and issues that need to be considered in solving a problem.”

Altogether, by “creating a context for teamwork, safety, allowing people to communicate and having meetings early on…that bring people together in a well-structured way” and defining clear goals, incoming CFOs who inherit a team can lead it be their greatest asset.



Ajit Kambil is global research director for Deloitte’s CFO program and creator of the Executive Transition Labs.

Taken from a podcast from Deloitte University Press. You can listen to the original podcast here

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