How to build an autonomous accounting firm culture

Ask yourself this: When are you most happy at work? When you’re empowered with the freedom to work autonomously, or when you’re micromanaged?

Chances are that your team would answer with the former too.

Creating an autonomous work environment, where your staff are driven by (and trusted with) ownership, is one of the most powerful favors you can do for yourself, your team and your accounting firm.

The benefits of an autonomous culture include:

The benefits are clear. But how do you ensure your work environment is autonomous? Better yet, how do you build it from the ground up?

How to build an autonomous culture at your accounting firm

Across remote teams, fostering an autonomous culture is even more important.

If you’ve been previously unfamiliar with leading remote teams, you might be concerned about losing control of your staff (and the clients they work with). As a result, you might have overcorrected, meaning you’re hovering and even micromanaging (possibly without knowing it).

But there are four key ingredients to a successfully autonomous team that you can start working on today.

1. Trust

Your team is made up of adults who have all been vetted either by you or your Management (who, presumably, you trust). They’ve already impressed you, and you’ve already demonstrated that by hiring them. So, they don’t need to be babysat.

Empower them by showing that you trust them to deliver great work without watching over them.

If you still don’t trust them, then that’s on you to correct—either you made a mistake when hiring them or you have trust issues relating to your business.

Ultimately it comes back down to your recruitment. If you're not recruiting people who you trust, I don't know why you'd really recruit them into your team.
Finn Kelly, WE LOVE NUMBERS

Either way, trusting your team is key in building an autonomous culture. You simply can’t have one without the other.

2. Ownership

It’s important that each member of your team believes in what they’re doing and takes clear ownership of their tasks.

Put simply, if they don’t care (or own) their work, it won’t get done the way it should.

You must lead by example here and empower your team to care deeply about how their day-to-day provides real value to the lives of your clients.

Ownership keeps people motivated to deliver high-quality work and outcomes, and it’s your role to delegate ownership and convey its importance.

Your accounting firm is only as good as your team. Your team is only as good as you let them be.”
Steph Hinds, Growthwise

You can start enhancing this by making ownership clearly visible across your team. Encourage communication about the importance of ownership, and make it clear about who is owning each job, project or client.

Make it part of your firm’s daily vocabulary, and your team will soon adopt the terminology.

3. Accountability

Accountability across your firm is an important extension of ownership.

Each team member should be accountable for the work they are doing, the clients they serve, and the role they play in your accounting business as a whole.

No matter their position or seniority, you hired them because you believed they were the best person to perform the job. And they should be held accountable to the job and all they do in relation to it.

This means they don’t finger-point, blame others or make excuses. 

During your hiring process, a great way to determine how well someone takes accountability is by asking the following interview question:

“Can you describe a professional situation when you made a mistake or failed at something?”

Pay attention to your candidate’s explanation of how they dealt with their error and what they learned from the experience. 

If they can’t identify a mistake, they probably don’t have a strong sense of accountability or self-awareness.

4. Transparency

As a leader, being transparent is crucial. Be open about the work you’re doing and how your role impacts the business.

Encourage a sharing culture, where wins, losses and progress are routinely shared throughout your practice.

The Karbon team comes together over Zoom as a company every fortnight to do just that. Co-Founders Stuart and Ian set the pace each meeting with what they’re working on, and each department follows suit.

Plus, Karbon itself is built to enable transparency. With Karbon, your team can gain a whole new level of visibility with features such as:

  • Activity Timelines (shared history of emails, notes, tasks and activity relating to any job or client)

  • Email Comments (the ability to add notes on emails to discuss internally, right where it makes sense)

  • Notes (so your team can discuss clients or jobs with notes for everyone to see, comment on and collaborate)

It’s all about encouraging and enabling your team to be open about their work, their role and their progress. You’ll find that in order to do so, they need to take ownership and accountability.

An autonomous team should give you peace of mind

An autonomous culture doesn’t mean you lose control of your team. In fact, it’s the opposite. To build autonomy, you need to implement tools and behavior that encourage openness across your team.

You should take pleasure in knowing you’ve hired people that you can trust to take ownership of their role and be accountable for the work they perform, and that you’ve built a firm that has the right tools in place to ensure you can be across all they do, without breathing down their necks.

And if that doesn’t sound familiar to you, you should consider taking steps to rethink your accounting firm’s culture.

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