Your New Operating Model: Creating The Team

Bryan Lapidus

Part 4 of the multi-part “Integrative Intelligence” series exploring the skills necessary for the new operating model of finance

In previous articles in this series, we covered how, in a world of knowledge and data, we need to keep track of the intersections – with different people, organizations, data sources, and more. Integrative intelligence is the skill required to accomplish work when our tasks are constantly disaggregated, assigned, reassembled, and shipped along the way to their final destination. In this installment, we look at optimizing the fluid teams in which we work.

What happens when key files are stored on laptops? Or processes are in someone’s head rather than shared? These are typical examples of single points of failure that create risk for your operations. They also make it more difficult for someone to step into a role, evaluate work, and load data efficiently. It is the opposite of integrative!

Finance can expand integrative intelligence through transparency: defining single sources of truth, validating data, and clarifying processes, roles, and responsibilities within those processes. Some of this is a cultural approach to work, and other aspects rely on tools that promote collaboration. In both cases, adding flexibility and clarity will enhance the collective access to information and improve process function. Bonus: identifying processes may be a step in the path to automation.

Bring the outside to the inside

The distinction between inside and outside the organization is blurring. Through data sharing, staffing, and even planning, companies have integrated the value chain from source to customers in tactical and strategic ways. UPS and FedEx are embedded in customer operations; Proctor & Gamble knows to restock Walmart when units are low. Customer user groups range from distributed online comments to meetings and retreats with large customers that coordinate feature releases and product roadmaps. They allow the voice of the customer to be heard, build loyalty, and lock-in long-term relationships.

Protect your employees

  • Protect your helpers. The new people and non-employees on your team will have a lot of questions, which means that your full-time employees will be bombarded with requests. That may inhibit their work and elevate frustration. Find ways to protect your existing staff from this type of burnout.
  • Manage the potential anxiety of your existing team by introducing gig work to your staff as a positive. Roll it in slowly as auxiliary staff during busy times or for rote work, and if it is a matter of hiring expertise, then pair the freelancer with existing staff to transfer knowledge to your team. Make your current staff a part of the process to ensure their buy-in.
  • Explain freelance versus FTE roles. To the extent possible, develop a policy (or at least an explanation) of why certain roles go to external resources so employees do not feel that it is job replacement – rote work, seasonality, expertise, experimental projects, for example. Try to avoid replacing full-time equivalents (FTEs) with freelancers.
  • Upskill your existing team by ensuring knowledge transfer from external resources on tools, practices, or simply market trends.

Assign roles

One way to protect as well as empower members of fluid teams is to identify different roles and whom to call at a given moment. Consider a RACI chart:

  • Responsible for doing the work or making a decision
  • Accountable for approving and owning the work; usually one person and maybe the team lead
  • Consulted for input during the work to help complete the task; expect interactive discussion
  • Informed and kept in the loop about what is occurring, as it may impact their own related work. For example, they may be the downstream recipients of the group’s work. This is generally a one-way stream of information.

In addition, how you deploy your team members is crucial. Are you asking people to do things they are good at and were hired to do? Are there learning opportunities available in teaming? And who maintains and builds the multiple relationships? Anders Liu-Lindbergh, co-founder of the Business Partnering Institute, advises that third-party team members “could be highly effective when it comes to analytics and digital technologies that may lend itself to project-based work that does not need to be tied too tightly to the company. However, business partnering and core FP&A work needs strong business understanding and strong relationships with business stakeholders. That won’t happen with a freelancer.”

Cultivate collaboration and psychological safety

Google spent about three years on Project Aristotle researching what makes its own teams successful and determined that the most important aspect is “psychological safety.” This refers to the belief that individuals can share opinions, facts, or ideas free from suffering negative consequences to ego or career if they are not supported by the other team members.

Julia Rozovsky, who led the study at Google, wrote, “Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google. They’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates. They bring in more revenue, And they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.”

Here are six steps to cultivate collaboration and create psychological safety:

  • Define the culture of your team upfront, and reiterate it when new members join. For example, “We follow the best idea, not where it came from,” and “We assume everyone will voice concerns and welcome challenges to our work.” As a team leader, you might consider a handbook of “how I work,” including preferred communication style (when to email, call, text, use collaboration software).
  • Consider everyone’s incentives and goals – yours, theirs, and shared. How can they be aligned?
  • Different teams do not mean opposition; other groups have their own decision-making parameters that you may not know.
  • Put behavior before technology – how you act is more important than the medium used to convey information.
  • Build collaboration into the workflow and assignments.
  • Learn when to get out of the way and let the process work, as a leader.

Some activities that promote psychological safety may be productive in the long term but are inefficient in the short term. Chatting with teammates at the start of meetings and asking about everyone’s weekend can make people feel closer to colleagues, but it will reduce time for other agenda items. Team-building activities may be expensive or seem frivolous, but they also provide an opportunity for individuals to express their individuality and get to know each other. One-on-one meetings may not always have tangible results, but they can open the dialogue for your team to communicate freely.

A new relationship with human resources

In many companies, employees are hired through the HR office, contractors and vendors through procurement, and consultants through the business unit that wants to use them. This contradicts the goal of integrated intelligence. The goal is to find the talent to get the work done. The talent strategy should focus on when it is right to hire or use a third party or fill a position temporarily while searching for a full-timer. Together, it requires the joint action of the business to define the needs and justify the cost; then allow HR to assess skills, manage marketing, pricing, and availability; and recruit procurement to manage the cost, quality controls, and security of onboarding. From a planning point of view, it becomes more complex to forecast “headcount,” as finance may get input from different areas.

A goal of navigating the third-party relationships is reducing friction at points of onboarding and delivering work. That places a premium on repeat workers who can be reintroduced to the company, understand culture and processes, and deliver quickly. One group should gather performance information and manage the pool of “familiar” talent.

Interested in learning more about integrative intelligence? Download AFP’s FP&A guide, underwritten by Microsoft.

Bryan Lapidus

About Bryan Lapidus

Bryan Lapidus is the director of the FP&A Practice at the Association for Financial Professionals. He has more than 20 years of experience in the corporate FP&A and treasury space at organizations like American Express, Fannie Mae, and private equity-owned companies. At AFP, he is the staff subject-matter expert on FP&A, which includes designing content to meet the needs of the profession and helping keep members current on developing topics. Bryan also manages the FP&A Advisory Council that acts as a voice to align AFP with the needs of the profession.