How CFOs Can Create Magic for Their Finance Team

09/25/2023 06:56:21 +0000

I've shared before how I believe CFOs are the most social beings in the C-suite and if you're reading this, then I know you want to create a happy and high performing finance team. Well done!

You might think congratulating happiness is an odd thing to do. But here's the thing – I have found that happiness is not a state that shows up in a professional context in lots of CFOs and finance leaders.

Why is that?

That is the topic of a separate and much longer piece of work, but what I've seen is more seriousness and less happiness when it comes to a CFO's character.

I don't think happiness and high performance are mutually exclusive states. But I do think that there is an undertone that still exists today that this must be the case.

It's why we put our 'game face' on when we walk into the office. Why we tone down our smiles when we walk into a meeting. And why we avoid talking about what we really care about in the workplace.

Do you know what happens once you've done those things repeatedly year after year?

You forget what lights you up.

You forget how to dream.

You lessen your ability to communicate with impact.

Creating magic at team offsites

Recently I had the privilege of working in some gorgeous NSW locations with 30+ high performing executives and finance leaders. spending the week running a Finance Leadership Forum and another day running an Executive Team Strategy Day for 2 different organisations.

While the outcomes of each offsite included very tangible business-focussed outcomes, both sponsors also asked that their leaders walk away from the offsites with an increased sense of cohesion and connection amongst the respective teams.

It's a fine balance of hard and soft.

Running offsites like this is one of my favourite things to do. Working with and helping teams is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I help the CEO or CFO (the team's leader) visualise what they need the completed puzzle to look like once finished. That is, what are the key outcomes. Once that's done, I put togther the outside pieces of the puzzle - the frame - and then obsess about creating an environment that allows all the individual team members to find their place, fit in, feel comfortable and safe so that through the day(s) we can fill in the puzzle together.

This approach ensures we get the work done, but the magic is the fun we have a long the way.

Get outcomes focused

When considering how to invest in your team and an offsite is one of those options, you need to be thinking differently. The purpose of taking your team offsite is to provide for them a shift in their environment to shift their thinking and how they communicate with each other. Typically you're not going to invest in an offsite if you're not going to do things differently!

I invite you to consider the below model which is a framework I use to help ensure team offsites deliver the outcomes my CFOs, CEOs and Board Chairs need. What do you need most from your offsite: more mechanics, deep thinking, strategic thinking or a bit of magic to spice things up? Maybe it's a bit everything?

When you know what you want, you can then structure your offsite in a way that is conducive to those outcomes.

Vulnerability, trust and speed

My clients typically bring me in for the magic, but as I said above, with a great need to get some solid work done. So my focus of attention is initially on context and space.
  • What are people bringing into the room? What is going on in their worlds that will impact how they show up today?
  • How can I create time for them and use the physical space to help them slow down and tap into ideas and emotions they don't usually have the opportunity to bring into the workplace?

I obsess about these questions. Why? Because it's in the answer to these questions that allows people to let their guard down and feel safe. It's that feeling of safety that encourages greater vulnerability in the room and also what starts to turn on the smiles and drop the shoulders.

That's my starting line and that is when 'the work' starts. It's from there that I introduce greater structure and content in ways that allow the outcomes to start coming out..and they always do. Fast!

As Stephen M.R. Covey says, 'nothing is as fast as the speed of trust'.

"I'd love to take my Finance team away, but I don't have time"

As the remit of the CFO and finance professional continues to broaden, so do the direct reports sitting in the CFO's team. Teams that historically wouldn't have much to do with each other are suddenly sitting in the same leadership team meetings: imagine, a group of subject matter experts meeting on a regular basis without an understanding how their worlds have combined. This is why the creation a shared purpose is critical when forming a high performing and dynamic finance team.

But how do you do that? How to do you create the link between IT, Risk, Business Partnering and Strategy? Those who have been on this journey know the answer to that, but I'm still seeing many finance teams stuck in limbo with this question still unanswered. The answer is simple - your team need to talk about it. They need to get in a room, ask each other questions - face the elephant in the room - and keep talking until they have reached a common understanding about the respective value and contribution they bring to the team.

This is where "time as the issue" rears its head. We don't have time to spend all day locked up in a room talking about this stuff, I hear you say. We have a job to do, stakeholders to meet, analyses to run, insights to generate. 100%. I'm realistic. But it's important to remember that without the foundation of a shared purpose, derived through open and honest conversation amongst your team, you will not move forward. Your team's growth will be transactional, not transformational.

Most CEO's are looking to their Finance teams to drive strategy, to hold the business accountable and help them identify levers of success to pull. They are looking for Finance to help transform the business. A transactional Finance team that always has their head down can't do that.

A great place to start

If you're not yet in ready to take your team away for a day or two, start by shifting your focus from content to context in one of your upcoming team meetings. Use this to get your teams talking honestly with each other, think about the environment you are creating for them. Is it an environment that feels safe and what can you do with and in the room to make it feel more safe?

Allowing space for vulnerability, trust and joy doesn't slow down delivery. It enhances it.

Get lots of work done while having fun. What's wrong with that?

CFO is a people job

The Good Life details the longest survey on happiness ever undertaken. The results? Meaningful relationships make us happy. When we create the space to have meaningful connections within our finance teams and deepen the relationships within, the business outcomes are tangible. You unlock 'magic' which in business terms means better outcomes, faster.

When we put that into the context of the role of a CFO, which of course is all about developing meaningful relationships in the business to help deliver value for the organisation, then my closing questions today to you are this:

What is the quality of your relationships at work?
How could a happier finance team help?
How might you create some magic for your finance team at your next offsite?

Love to hear your thoughts...

Author: Alena Bennett

Alena works with leaders and their teams to connect technical and leadership skills so they can deliver to deadline without killing their people.
She is a mentor, trainer, facilitator and coach. Contact her today on [email protected]
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 ⓒ 2023




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