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How Finance Staff Can Improve Their Collaboration Skills

A changing workplace makes collaboration more important than ever; three steps will help finance staff get ahead

Senior managers talk constantly about the accelerating pace of change in business and the importance of corporate agility. But unfortunately some of the most basic coporate processes – hiring new people or completing an IT project, say – have slowed dramatically.

And this sluggishness costs money. A CEB, now Gartner survey of 6,000 employees spread across 10 corporate functions found that when companies slow down, they waste staff resources to the tune of $30 million annually. Even more worrying is that slow corporate functions delay critical business initiatives by about two months on average – which, for a median S&P 500 company, risks more than $80 million in revenue.

Worse still, for CFOs and their teams, the data also show that Finance is one of the three slowest-moving corporate functions. It can be tempting for finance professionals to limit the number of stakeholders they consult with to streamline their work, especially as companies become more complex, and finance teams work with an increasing number of colleagues across business lines, functions, and geographies.

However, high-performing staff – including those in finance teams – are able to make a success of individual tasks and collaborate with others; they contribute to peers’ performance and are make use of peers’ contributions. This kind of collabortion is far more than buzz word. Firms can achieve up to a 12% bump in profits or revenues by increasing the proportion of employees who are effective collaborators. Finance and HR managers are already devising strategies to identify and encourage collaboration because they recognize that it is a crucial leadership competency .

Three Steps to Take

While it’s good that finance and HR teams have started to help their employees improve their collaboration skills, the bad news is that they have an uphill task ahead. While more than one-half of employees perform individual tasks well, only one in five are effective collaborators who can contribute to (and use) the contributions of others.

But this also presents an opportunity for finance professionals to stand out from the pack. To get noticed as a high performer, take three steps to improve your collaborative skills.

  1. Collaborate based on your relative strengths and weaknesses: Instead of simply trying to collaborate with more people, limit your contributions to opportunities that are valuable to the organization based on your own strengths and weaknesses. To do this, create a rough list of the critical competencies required to succeed on your finance team. Then, rate yourself and the members of your team across each competency. Based on these ratings, you can determine which of your peers you can support, and vice versa.

    For example, you may have a knack for budgeting and forecasting, but are not as skilled at creating data visualizations. This informal exercise will help you identify people who will benefit from your budgeting and forecasting knowledge, as well as those who can teach you how to make your report or presentation more visually engaging.

  2. Seek out perspectives that challenge your own: When confronting challenges, it may seem easier to automatically rely on colleagues within your immediate circle. However, it is important to seek advice from colleagues whose perspectives and backgrounds are different from your own, particularly when working on projects that are outside of your typical realm of responsibilities.

    One way to force yourself to seek outside viewpoints is to list the top challenges you are facing in your role, and then document your proposed approach for addressing each one. Afterwards, think about people in your network who are likely to provide a different perspective. Think about colleagues who have a significantly different skillset, a background in a different function or industry, or have significantly more or less tenure than you do.

    For example, if a change to finance processes requires business partners to change the way they work with you, a colleague from HR with experience in change management should be able to give you useful advice that ends up saving you time.

  3. Incorporate opportunities to seek and provide support in day-to-day activities: Efforts to collaborate with others should be integrated into your normal daily workflows. An easy way to do this is to prepare for meetings by listing the ways in which the other participants could help reduce your workload, as well how you could reduce theirs.

    For example, a more senior colleague could provide context to help you see the connection between a recent change in financial metrics and organizational strategy. At the same time, you could connect colleagues that want to improve Finance’s process efficiency to individuals from a department that has recently completed a process improvement initiative.


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