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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Therapeutic Accounting: Teamwork


We all make wishes throughout our lives. It could be at no special time or during special times where making wishes are a tradition.

Generally, I work best on my own. I have been lucky enough in the past to have been able to very quickly assess and resolve most of the tax or business issues at hand. In many instances, I will tell a client what issues need to be dealt with, even if they don’t see it themselves. The fact that I can trouble shoot so quickly and have an initial opinion on an issue does not mean that I can always solve it. I am also smart enough to know what I don’t know. Thanks to my partners and staff at Armanino and my outside resources, I have a wide variety of expertise at my disposal that allows me to deal with most issues, even if I can’t do it on my own.

However, I have found that some situations work better if everyone concerned gets involved upfront and then works together on the project to create the best possible result. This is where teamwork comes in. When the word “team” is used, sometimes it is easy to visualize and sometimes not so easy. The first thing a person generally thinks of when someone says the word “team” is how it relates to sports.

With all the passion there is in the sports world—whether for their local professional team, college team, high school team, etc.—it is something that most of us can relate to. However, there are many other less-thought-of uses for the term “team.” How about a political party, board of directors, family unit or management group operating a company?

The definition of the word “team” is “A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.”

All of the above uses for the word “team” make much more sense when you look at the definition closely. Being part of a team is much easier for some people than it is for others. For some people, knowing their assignment (position) makes it easier to understand what is expected of them. For others (like me) who are free spirits, we enjoy moving quickly from one issue to another without hesitation. We sometimes see delay in not making quick, rapid decisions. This may cause us to avoid the team approach when, in fact, it would be best to work with a team. When I was appointed Commissioner and President of the Telecommunications Department in Los Angeles (under Mayor Bradley), I had to listen to my four other commissioners and spend enormous amounts of time talking; a lot of that talking had nothing to do with the issue that we were discussing, but it was their time “to have the floor.” It was painful for me, but I learned to just listen and I eventually adjusted to the system. This process does not always achieve the best results, but at other times it does.

In many cases, the best way to realize the optimum operation of a team project is to have a coach. Like in sports, the coach is an extremely important part of the team, as they keep everyone “positive” and moving in the same direction at the same time. In addition, the coach keeps the team members on target by not allowing them to take too many tangents on the way to arriving at a meaningful result.

After over 37 years, Armanino just established a team to help determine both its short-term and long-range strategic plan. This is not to say that we, as partners, don’t consistently discuss major issues, but this time the 15 of us chose five partners to develop the skeleton of a strategic plan. The five partners who were chosen were quite different in their personalities, business experience, communication methods and ages. In addition, the firm hired a “coach” to help us through the process. I was one of the five chosen to participate in the process. The five of us realized how important this was to each of us, as well as to the other partners and to the firm. We started in early January (yes, during tax season), and we set a goal for completing it before the end of April. We each invested over 50 hours in this process, including a five-hour meeting on April 13th. We all recognized the importance of developing the initial phase of a plan so that we could share it with all of the partners right after tax season and seek their suggestions and approval.

We all came to each of the meetings with our own personal opinions, but not in a “closed” way. We left our minds open to hear what the other members of the “team” had to say. Although we knew the most about our own specialties, we looked at what was best for Armanino, Armanino’s staff, clients and partners. As I indicated earlier, it was not easy for me to have to consider so many different opinions and ideas rather than drawing a quick decision, but the results proved that it worked. It was a true learning experience for me.

At the end of the process, we learned more about each other’s expertise and views and drew up a plan that the six of us (including the coach) unanimously accepted. The real challenge was still in front of us, as we had to present our plan to the other ten partners who were not involved in the project. As different as the five of us are, the total 15 partners are all even more unique. I believe that is one of the best features of the Armanino partnership is that we are not all clones of each other. We each act and think in our own distinct way, which brings a variety of knowledge and experience to the table.

As good as this process may be in our daily lives, it can cause significant issues when we are all trying to decide on something from only our individual point of view. When getting together to work on a project as meaningful as Armanino’s strategic plan, you need the proper perspective. Armanino’s strategic plan took a lot of time to develop, as we had to understand each other’s points of view and sometimes deal with difficult and challenging conflicts. Because of the differences in attitude, age and experience, it is sometimes difficult to look at this from the other partners’ perspective. When the team met with the other partners, we were not sure how our plan would be perceived. With minor tweaks, it was accepted by the entire partnership. One of the comments was, “If the five of you came to this consensus, it must be a well-thought-out plan as you all represent the commonality of Armanino as well as the differences.”

This process helped me appreciate how this approach facilitates thinking outside my comfort zone. You can see a variety of different perceptions while not losing sight of your own thoughts. It allows more buy-in from those less involved in the process because everyone knows it was looked at from a variety of viewpoints. Although I am sure that I will continue to use my own individual method the majority of the time, I will certainly be more aware and open to another ways of managing significant projects.

Try the “team” approach, you may like it.

Therapeutic Accounting®
Harvey Bookstein has more than 40 years of public accounting experience, and he specializes in estate planning, charitable giving, and dealing with financial issues relating to children, divorce and successions planning for businesses/wealth from one generation to the next. When dealing with these issues, Harvey developed a method he has registered as Therapeutic Accounting®. Harvey’s approach is to not only look at a particular business, financial or personal issue—but to look at the specific issue as part of the “big picture.”

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