Building Effective Audit Teams
Published: 21 Aug 2009 By Carol McLachlan
Meet The ‘A’ Team!
The venerable Audit Team. Ahhh I remember it well. From runner to senior manager, those halcyon days of being part of a congenial self-contained unit, snug in the bosom of a second family. A veritable home from home. And as a Big 4 Resource Director, I went on to create ‘designer teams’, tailor made for the job, aligning conflicting objectives, negotiating to get the best possible mix of staff - experience, temperament, ability. Many a tall order fulfilled to satisfaction.
So with a touch of nostalgia and the latest 21st century thinking on team best practice, let me welcome you to my 10 point guide to the perfect audit team: the ‘A’ team, no less.
1. A team without a mission is like an eye without vision
Top teams have team goals and objectives as well as individual ones. They have a clear understanding of the team’s overall guiding mission. Individual objectives simply lack punch if not linked to the bigger picture. Providing direction and purpose to the team transforms aimlessness into purpose and supplies fuel for optimal productivity. Team leader: communicate your objectives and where you want your team to go.
2. Clear roles, tight goals and firm budgets
Clearly, communicating roles and setting individual objectives is paramount. Every member needs crystal clear clarification on what they bring to the team, how they will contribute and what resources they have at their disposal. Tight goals mean specificity – no room for misunderstandings.
3. ‘If you can laugh together, you can work together’, Robert Orben
Mutual support is a must. A valuable approach is the ‘coaching’ philosophy where members support each other and personal growth matters. Expect and celebrate diversity within the team. We’re all different (thankfully!). Accommodate differences in style, temperament, attitude; from ‘chunk’ size (‘big picture’ versus ‘detail’ people) to communication, to pace. A strong team respects and flexes to adapt to diversity.
4. Teams need processes, review and feedback
Well-equipped team members will understand and utilise the mechanisms for: decision making; team communication; recommending improvements; solving conflict. There will also be a process for individual and team feedback, preferably 360° (bottom to top feedback, as well as top to bottom). And feedback will be respected and acted upon.
5. ‘It is not a question of how well each process works, the question is how well they all work together’. Lloyd Dobens
The key to great teams is synergy – the whole being greater than the sum of the individual parts. Members need to appreciate interdependencies, how their roles connect, to maximise inter-group relations. Openness and good communications, as well as a strong culture of co-operation rate high here.
6. ‘Wearing the same shirts doesn’t make a team’, Buchholz and Roth
Shared team values are vital. Trust, loyalty, honesty, reliability - from each and every team member. Establish team-specific “ground rules”. These are the unwritten norms that guide how the work gets done. Example: ‘we have flexi-time but everyone gets in early’. Members need to know what to expect and understand the team ‘norms’.
7. Consistently communicate and play your part in the team.
The best teams have open lines of communication to proactively address potential concerns and issues. That is, open lines of communication that are actually used by the team members. And this comes down to the individual. Open communication from top to bottom builds a collaborative environment where every member’s strengths and talents are utilised and appreciated. Leveraging the talents of the individual is the added bonus: get the junior contributing to the brainstorm of a thorny issue – and be surprised at the value of a new perspective.
8. ‘I have the power’
Studies have shown that the feeling of having some control is important to morale and performance. The sense of helplessness can be relieved by democratic process: consultation, some means to give individuals ‘voice’, a degree of personal autonomy. Long hours are a classic example; yes they have to be done but some ‘say’ in individual flexibility goes a long way to getting member ‘buy in’.
9. ‘Morale is when your hands and feet keep on working when your head says it can't be done’, Benjamin Morrell
Do you still do the ‘audit meal’? If not, why not? The team needs to chill outside of work, to bond and reconnect. This is a chance to air concerns and frustrations, to work together and empower individual solutions. And it’s not just down to the leader; the best teams have members fulfilling the following roles:
- The Encourager - supports individuals, accepts contributions, bestows recognition and praise
- The Harmoniser - reconciles disagreements, relieves tension, helps explore differences constructively
- The Gate Keeper - brings in everyone, keeps communication channels open to all
- The Standard Setter - reminds group of norms, encourages feedback
10. ‘Inventories can be managed, but people must be led’, H Ross Perot
Effective teams have a clear leader, with a clear role. The leader institutes an appropriate level of supervision and establishes an unambiguous line of command. Great leaders are strong decision makers but adaptable to what shows up on the day. And most of all they understand the difference between managing and leading and that means taking the lead on implementing and enforcing all the other nine ‘A’ team points.
And finally a tale from the Big 4 folklore
Once upon a time there was a brand new graduate trainee. On his first day in the field, he was sent to a porter cabin on an industrial estate to report for duty. He joined a team of six who’d already been working on the audit for two weeks. Keeping himself to himself, doing what he was told, he kept his head down and got on with his work. Nobody bothered him – the team, nor the office. It was only at the end of the fourth day when he was checking in with a fellow trainee on the phone and he mentioned the name of the audit that he realised something wasn’t quite right. ‘What do you mean you’re on the Widget and Digit’ audit, his friend questioned. That’s not one of our clients. I know for a fact that they’re audited by Big2, my dad’s a shareholder. Oh the shame. Our poor auditor had only haplessly joined the wrong Big4 team and had been beavering away for the wrong firm for the best part of the week. He didn’t notice, but then neither did anyone else in the team.
A true story and a classic example of team work at its worst. Follow my 10 point team guide auditors, and, member or leader, make your team the ‘A’ team.