You may know about Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard starting a business in a garage, or about the Bill Gates-Paul Allen combination at Microsoft. Some might even know of Richard DeVos and Jan Van Andel, the founders of Amway, who originally started a flying school together, although neither could fly. Their successes - and the success of many other businesses - happened in part because of the combination of individuals with different skills.
This kind of teamwork actually isn't rare. I've come across it at every successful organization of which I've been a part.
Consider teamwork in general. In 1776, Adam Smith's magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, first evaluated the division of labor into specialized jobs. He found such division created gains in productivity and ultimately more wealth. This is teamwork at its most fundamental - and important - level. Productivity gains are available, but to get them you need to employ people who do different things well. This is true whether you are a boutique/lifestyle practice with a few support staff or growing your organization.
Most entrepreneurs don't start a business with the goal of teaming up with other individuals with complementary skills. When it happens, it's usually a happy accident, as it was for the founder of Savant, the firm where I work. After several years of doing everything himself, he hired a young analyst who had different skills and interests, which complemented his own. A few years later, in another happy accident, they hired the third member of the team, who brought even more skills to the partnership.
When I look at these professionals individually, none had the singular ability to do everything necessary to manage or grow a financial services firm on a national scale. What they did have was a willingness to rely on one another's strengths. The collaborative team approach was powerful. This helped develop a team-wide unique ability (using personal coach Dan Sullivan's term) to motivate and train advisors to attract new clients, develop world-class service offerings, manage a rapidly growing business and keep a focus on clients and the firm's vision.
They realized early on that they had different complementary skills, but not all of the ones they needed. So, they hired more advisors and additional professionals with capabilities in administration, accounting, compliance, technology, marketing, communications and human resources.
You don't need to wait for a happy accident in hiring or partnering before your practice accelerates. It doesn't have to be an accident.
How do we figure out who fits in what part of the team? First, we use some well-known tests to help determine the strengths, interests and abilities for all professionals. Then, we continue to offer people different tasks, projects and even jobs with different teams to see how they do.
DOING SEVERAL THINGS REALLY WELL
But what teams do we need? Every successful business has to do several things really well. These things include creating a business focus, marketing, sales, purchasing and inventory control, manufacturing, distribution, accounting and general administration.
At most firms, front-line advisors do marketing and selling, as well as what I think of as inventory control, manufacturing and distribution. Our firm changed that by creating teams with specialized skills to support advisors. Think of it as a pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit of a plane, aided by mechanics, flight attendants, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, etc. Everyone works to ensure the pilot can move the plane safely from point A to point B. Start thinking how to combine people in your firm into more powerful teams to support client-facing activities.
Many firms ignore formal marketing teams, but to grow rapidly you need one. Our firm has three full-time professionals, along with three other people part-time, plus outside public relations and graphics firms. Think of combining skills inside and outside the firm.
Purchasing and inventory control is advisors meeting with clients and collecting and storing financial and personal information. At our firm, collecting and storing data is a primary responsibility of the co-advisor, if one is assigned. The actual technology for storing and manipulating data is handled by yet another team of IT professionals. This is the division of labor into different parts, enhancing the efficiency of the all-important client-facing activities.
BUILDING THE TEAM
Manufacturing is the analysis of information and development of recommendations and action plans, traditionally the venue of the advisor. This is a great area to create a powerful team. In our firm, five professionals work full-time doing all the planning work, including meeting with clients if the advisor wants.
Accounting and administration in small organizations are often given short shrift. As your firm grows, however, it's critical to get a solid accounting and billing team in place. Without it, you won't be able to figure out what's going on financially soon enough to do something about it. (Think about the perils of driving through a thick fog at 100 mph.)
Owners rarely have all of these skills. Beyond that, there are important leadership and management talents necessary for meaningful growth. This is the area where a powerful combination of individuals can spell the difference between a so-so firm and a powerhouse. Very few good financial advisors are great business managers. Even so, most owners find it hard to share control and decision making.
I see it this way: Without purposefully creating a team to properly manage and lead a small firm (which means sharing control and decision making), very few individuals - maybe one out of 1,000 - will have the requisite skills, energy, drive, temperament and time to do everything necessary to build a planning firm past 20 people. Put another way, there are probably 1,000 financial advisory firms that have 20 employees or more. Virtually none have just one person running the show.
So, how do you create winning teams? You start by creating a work culture that values collaboration. In a teamwork environment, individuals truly believe that thinking, planning, decisions and actions are better when done cooperatively. Unfortunately, institutions like schools, family and, yes, workplaces, emphasize winning, being the best, and coming out on top.
You and your co-workers may not have grown up in environments that emphasize true teamwork and collaboration. So, you have to push a collaborative culture throughout your organization.
Here are some methods our firm has used to foster a collaborative culture:
*Form teams to solve real work issues and to improve real work processes. The greater the impact, the harder the teams will work to ensure that they get it right.
*Hold department meetings to review projects and progress in order to obtain broad input and coordinate shared work processes. When problems arise, as they often will, the cause frequently is not personalities, but rather that team members haven't agreed on the process.
*Celebrate team successes publicly. At my firm, we do this in a number of ways, including by awarding Savant Bucks (nonlegal tender that can be converted into awards, including travel); by giving recognition on Savantlink, our private Intranet; and through general announcements by managers.
*Read more about teamwork. Start with The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork and The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player, both by John C. Maxwell. Neither book is new, but the wisdom found in their pages still holds true today.
Glenn G. Kautt, CFP, EA, AIFA, is a Financial Planning columnist and vice chairman of Rockford, Ill.-based Savant Capital Management.