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​by Sarah E. Dale and Krista S. Sheets 

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Regardless of labels based on generation, gender, socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural background, political or religious beliefs, physical or mental abilities, skill set, age, personality type, etc.—we are all unique.

Diverse teams afford distinctive qualities that enhance our profession but can be challenging to lead if one does not fully understand and appreciate each person’s unique talents and contributions. We all, no matter our differences, have one thing in common—we are all human and therefore we must honor one another’s individuality.

As practice management consultants who have focused on teams for the last two decades, we strongly believe that teams are the only future of this profession. The sole practitioner model is becoming harder to execute with the ever-changing complex requirements and expectations converging on financial professionals from all angles—regulators, firms, and clients. However, we wholeheartedly believe that you must understand each individual for the team dynamic to work and the business to realize optimal results.

Create a Connective Environment for Team Optimization

Without the right people in the right roles executing the responsibilities for which they have the right skill set, motivation, and mindset, the practice will not grow and cannot reap potential.

In the absence of the ultimate team experience, associates don’t deliver the ultimate client experience, which affects both the reputation of the practice and the pace at which it grows. Without a connective, engaging work environment, top talent is lost to other firms, employee retention is reduced, and growth and profitability are negatively impacted. Understanding each individual is essential in creating that connective environment.

A practice benefits from multiple elements of “diversity.” Many different types of responsibilities and tasks must be executed that require entirely different and diverse skill sets. Our clients often encompass multiple generations, so we need age diversity among our team to best connect to the entirety of our client families. Many planners serve diverse communities, so building a team that mirrors your audience can be beneficial in connecting to them. The examples are endless.

To optimize a team, we must go beyond the diversity label and understand the uniqueness of each individual. We often communicate differently with each of our children because they are unique and respond in different ways. Great little league coaches alter their style with the kids because each player may be motivated differently. Great teachers adjust their approaches because students learn differently. As leaders within the profession, we must do the same.

Understanding the uniqueness of each associate, their natural skill set, preferred communication style, motivators, experiences, and background will all lead to more optimal results.

We need to move away from stereotypes, assumptions, and judgement and see the world and people through unbiased lenses; step into each other’s shoes and listen.

10 Ways to Build the Team while Valuing the Individual

Following are some simple suggestions on how to build the team while valuing the individual.

  1. Challenge your assumptions. Move beyond the labels.

  2. Get to know each team member. Execute one-on-ones. Periodically take each team member to lunch. Schedule regular team off-site sessions that incorporate business and fun. Create “fun fact profiles”—we create professional bios, why not have a fun facts sheet on each team member? Encourage team members to share stories from both their career and their life journey. Sharing experiences and defining moments can drive understanding, connection, and respect. Story sharing typically diminishes assumptions and stereotypes in favor of true awareness.

  3. Understand communication preferences. This awareness allows you to flex your communication style to each associate’s style and subsequently create more effective interactions. Understand drivers, which provide critical information for the team dynamic as well as awareness on how to motivate each person. Utilize assessments and use unbiased tools to complement these activities.

  4. Lead the individual not just the team. Leadership involves both unity and individualization. For example, a singular vision unites the team and ensures all understand the path forward and standardized procedures can drive team efficiency. In terms of individualization, when leaders customize their style to each person, amazing results happen.

  5. Set clear expectations and then empower your team members with trust and responsibility. Be clear on expectations as they relate to both team and firm membership—what you as a leader expect from them and what they can expect from you. Provide parameters and the desired outcome to those who prefer to figure it out themselves, but be specific with how-to instructions for those who want to know how to achieve exacting results. Teach and be taught; create mentor programs and connect people for individual learning and growth.

  6. Focus on purpose first. In the absence of understanding the why in our relational industry, we begin to turn people into robots, mechanically executing the what, the how, and the when.

  7. Be approachable and available. Exit the ivory tower and spend time in the trenches with your team. Provide open-door time. Get to know each team member on a personal level; show care and concern, be authentic and listen.

  8. Frame individual failures as learning opportunities. Explain rather than reprimand.

  9. Embrace critical conversations. Avoiding tough conversations can demolish culture and diminish respect for leadership. Execute these conversations with applicable team members in a timely manner.

  10. Celebrate team and individual successes. Reward and recognize performance and achievement.

None of this is rocket science. Remember, though, that the ultimate success of the team is dependent on the individuals. We must understand each member, value their uniqueness, embrace the commonalities, and respect the differences. As a leader, success is in part dependent on our ability to lead each individual as well as the team as a whole.

Sarah E. Dale and Krista S. Sheets are partners at Performance Insights (performanceinsights.com​), where they focus on helping financial professionals increase results through wiser practice management and people decisions. They are coaches in the FPA Coaches Corner for team development. 

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