Finance and accounting

How to build and manage high performing finance teams


Jonathan Firth, operating director at Michael Page Finance discusses the key points to consider to ensure you get the most out of your team.

  • Build the right culture – As a director or manager, you must define an identity for each of the teams you manage. This is a sense of shared values or ‘ethos’ that the whole team buys into. Take Google for example, which has a culture of creativity and innovation. Part of this culture is staff dressing casually in the office. Although this is a small detail that makes very little practical difference to the day-to-day running of the business, it sets a tone for everyone to follow and gives employees a shared sense of identity to buy into.
Defining this culture doesn’t mean that everyone in the team has to be the same. In fact, it’s better to recruit for a range of personalities and styles that complement each other.
Although, as the manager, it’s ultimately up to you to create the culture you want, you should be careful to reflect this mix of personalities. For example, if your team is predominantly married with children, they are unlikely to want to stay out late socialising after work.
Overall, the only personality trait you should avoid is negativity. People who are sceptical or resistant to change destroy team culture. A high performing team always has to change and adapt. Change is often difficult and you should be prepared to face challenges when embedding a new culture. There will often be some turnover of staff during the change process.
  • Set goals for everyone - Everyone in the team must be working towards a clearly defined goal and know what they have to do to achieve it. New starters in the team must know what they have to do to pass their probationary periods. Newly qualified employees should be working towards chartered status. Your more experienced people should be on the path to becoming managers. Each individual must know what they are working towards, want to be working towards it, and know what they have to do to get there. It’s important that each goal is specific to that individual, so you should invest time during appraisals and one-to-one meetings uncovering what motivates your team members and will help incentivise them to achieve your overall objectives.
  • Define a structure – In any job there are always unpopular tasks, but this is often some of the most important work and you have to make sure that this is covered. The overtime required to deliver month-end reports is a good example of this. You need to have a structure in place to ensure that this work is done by everyone together, e.g. organising evenings where the whole team stays late. The team must realise that the unpopular work is not just done by the more junior people and therefore is treated with the right level of importance and done to a high standard. Building follow-up into your structure is crucial to this. When people learn that follow-up will happen, they will get the work done. If you never follow-up, performance will quickly deteriorate.
  • Create the atmosphere to motivate – In general, people want to enjoy their jobs and a pleasant working environment is often the most important thing for employees. As long as the team is performing, you should encourage an enjoyable atmosphere. Conversations around the coffee machine or office sweepstakes on sporting events are good examples of this. However, if the team is underperforming and there are no evident underlying operational reasons for this, then you may need to take steps to change the atmosphere in order to motivate the team to work harder and recover lost ground. It might be necessary to draw attention to minor issues such as punctuality and dress code to achieve this. However, you must always be careful to communicate the reasons for any change of atmosphere and thoroughly outline the remedial action the team needs to take when enforcing the rules.
  • Always congratulate success - It is always important congratulate individuals for a job well done. However you should also emphasise the connection between previous hard work and the success the team has achieved. For example, it’s not just praising the team for getting this month’s accounts signed off, but relating the success back to the time they spent resolving queries earlier in the cycle. Ensure the team sees the connection between hard work weeks before and success now.
  • Encourage ideas – Your team are at the coal face and will often come up with better ways of improving processes and solving problems than you will alone. Encourage strategic conversations and be open to innovation. Give credit when the team’s ideas are good and direction if they are not so good. It is important that people know where good ideas came from. Recognising individuals in this way fosters a sense of ownership so that your people feel they are part of the business rather than just working for it.

For further hiring or retention advice, get in touch with your local Michael Page Finance team.