How Finance Leaders Can Create A High-Performing Finance Function

This article is co-written by Talita Ferreira and Anders Liu-Lindberg

The two-decade-long finance transformation that we’ve been running has been with the aim of increasing company performance. In the negative story, we’ve done this by minimizing the cost of Finance and by chasing efficiencies at every step of the way. The positive story speaks about freeing up time for work that really matters which can re-engage the function and super-charge value creation in the company.
Mostly until now, we’ve only seen the negative effects. The cost of Finance has indeed been minimized and fewer people now work in the function (or at least they’re not employed at the locations they used to be). We’ve struggled to deliver on the positive story. How to break the tie? How can we create a truly high-performing finance function?
Over the past weeks, we’ve been discussing that it’s the leadership of the function that needs transformation to make this happen. We discussed the self-awareness of the leader, how culture (and the need to change it) is a significant driver of transformational success, and how leaders must re-engage their teams to make them excited about the future. Do all of these well, and you’re on the verge of creating a high-performing finance function.

The team dynamics of the transformed finance function

The first thing to realize is that Finance equals a Team of individuals that all desire to be engaged and motivated and because of the difference in individual styles; this means the finance leader needs to use different approaches. Secondly, the dynamics of the finance team are very important. Do people trust each other enough to voice their real opinions, do they even feel like a team and act like a team supporting each other, is there enough psychological safety to ensure high performance? Often the solution when this is not the case, is to have a team building day, do some exercises and everything seems fine for a while.
However, high performing team dynamics require consistent effort and a willingness to do things differently. It is consistently thinking about how to get the team to collaborate, as a team, and to think differently or more creatively to solve problems together. Creating a common language in Finance could be the first step towards collaboration and increased team dynamics, for instance using the book ‘Strengthfinder 2.0’ by Tom Rath to follow a strengths-based approach to identify and leverage each individual’s strengths.
Another step could be to understand each other’s individual values and how these show up in daily behaviour at work. Integrating this into the day to day language and interactions of the team will start to shift the dynamics and allow for a higher level of trust to unfold. The focus changes to consistent use of activities and mechanisms to increase the positive dynamic within the finance team and to foster higher levels of collaboration.
We know one of the excuses will be we are already so time poor, this will be very difficult. Perversely from our experience, the more time invested in team dynamics means that the challenges in motivation, misunderstandings and people issues reduce and solving complex issues or delivering on larger projects becomes easier. In short, team effectiveness increases and your time investment pays off big time!

The Finance Leader as an integral role player within the transformed team

So often we work extremely hard to progress within Finance, and when we are in a position of leadership, a distance starts to form towards the team. This is natural as the leader takes the ultimate responsibility. But the leader should not always have all the answers. Better, more creative, innovative solutions are found when brainstorming with the team. Creating the conditions where the finance leader plays an equal role as a team member and acts as one with the team (in certain situations); brainstorming, learning, creating and adapting together — elevating back to leading and inspiring the team and taking overall responsibility for the finance function. Often this feels counterintuitive as we have been elevated to the position of leader. However, being able to simultaneously shift between the different roles improves the dynamic and fosters greater trust.

Setting the tone for future Finance meetings

Team activities are not something that should be left for an away day when we have time. We can just as easily change our mindset towards regular meetings in Finance to create the breakthroughs we need in team dynamics and collaboration. This means that we should prioritize the interactions and collaboration in Finance to the same level of the most challenging forecasts or budgets that we need to complete. We can dedicate a portion of our normal, regular finance meetings to topics that will foster collaboration. These are a few examples of activities that can be integrated into regular team meetings:

• Individual and collective strengths
• Brainstorming a particular challenge together (either an individual or team challenge)
• Discussing a recent challenge or topic and what went very well and/or not so well
• Creating team charters around specific challenges, e.g. business partnering, increased creativity and agility, working differently
• Team values exercise
• Culture and behaviours in the team and how these need to change for the future
• Team purpose

Effectively we are setting a new tone for team meetings and prioritizing team dynamics for success. Finance meetings are not only used for discussing targets, challenges and workload but also used equally to engage and foster greater team dynamics and collaboration.

The new way to lead the finance function “in a nutshell”

Leaders in Finance must become more conscious (self-aware) and connected to their teams. They need to prioritize the culture, habits and beliefs that will drive change and become role models for the behaviors that exemplify true business partners. Leaders must invest time with their teams, create a compelling purpose to engage, inspire and drive value creation, set a new tone for team meetings and prioritize team dynamics for success. This might seem to be a huge challenge but is not if we prioritize small incremental steps daily and move in the right direction to ensure a huge impact over time.

Why don’t you start tomorrow by deciding to lead differently? Invest in your own growth and development (self-awareness) and the development of your team, commit to understanding the current culture in Finance and where you would like it to be, focus on re-engaging your finance team with purpose and changing the format of regular finance meetings to increase collaboration and trust. Are you ready to truly transform finance and create greater value?

@ Talita Ferreira and Anders Liu-Lindberg

4 thoughts on “How Finance Leaders Can Create A High-Performing Finance Function

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