Collaboration techniques for the modern accounting firm
Streamlined and efficient internal processes rely on a collaborative team—and the cornerstone of this is communication. Poor communication, both internal and external, is a major source of inefficiency.
The way your team communicates should be through deliberate processes, with consistency, brevity, and visibility at its core. To help your practice work better together, here is a list of techniques modern accounting firms use to collaborate.
Embrace team discussions
Encourage your team to spend more time communicating together, whether that is in person, via chat, or some other medium. Even if some, or all of your staff work remotely, if you have the right tools, they can still communicate easily.
This will help to build relationships, which will encourage your staff to develop an appreciation for everyone else's work. It's also vital if you want to help your team grow and develop into better accountants.
Abolish internal email
Email is a huge consumer of time for accountants and provides no transparency. Instead, internal discussions should be available to everyone, searchable, and sorted into relevant channels or categories that give context for any given situation. We recommend Slack for general team communication and Karbon for discussions about your clients or jobs.
These tools eliminate communication silos, which is perhaps the most important step you can take to foster collaboration.
Standardizing your processes is a vital part of collaboration in any accounting firm. And with any of these processes—documentation is key. If you can share these in templates that can be accessed by your entire team, everyone will know who is responsible for what, and when.
You should also make it possible for these templates to be customized when appropriate—any further adjustments should be documented in your proper channels.
One ultimate owner for everything
When a project relies on multiple people, it's absolutely pivotal that each individual task is assigned to one person. If you don't adopt this technique, there will almost certainly be confusion over who owns what, and a high chance of items being forgotten.
Further to this, every project, client, or piece of work that your team is collaborating on should have one single, overall owner. Having more than one person responsble—or worse yet, no defined owner—makes it easy for quality and deadlines to be left to someone else. The likelihood of finger-pointing if something goes wrong will also greatly increase.
Set expectations with clients upfront
Beyond your internal collaboration standards, you should apply similar measures to your external communications. Early on— before you even sign a contract—explain to your potential client how you like to communicate and what your expected turnaround times for communication are.
This will help you, and them, know whether you're communication styles and expectations are a good fit. If not, they might not be the right client for you. In a way, any client will become part of your practice, so they need to fit into your regular workflow.
When you need to use email, use it smartly
If you have to communicate with clients via email, there are steps you should take to make it easier for you and them.
Write a meaningful subject line and discuss only one project—what your subject line relates to—in each email. If you can keep the client and thread of the conversation to one topic, you'll be able to share your response with the appropriate people for that task. It will also make it easier to search for that topic later.
You should always keep your email clear and concise. Stick to the point, avoid using too many words, and if you have multiple questions that need answers, place them in a bulleted list.
Bring it all together
To collaborate completely as a team—internally and with clients—you must eliminate communication silos, document everything, and leverage technology tools make communication easier. How you communicate is as important as what you communicate.
If your firm adopts these techniques, everything you do with your staff and clients will be easier, higher in quality and much more efficient.