How to identify and solve gaps and problems in your accounting team’s structure

If your firm isn’t growing at the pace you expect, it might be time to take an elevated view of your organization’s overall structure and staffing.

Whether you’re a small or mid-sized firm, a regular assessment of your team’s structure can help identify gaps or problems that are impacting your firm’s ability to function efficiently and grow.

You may have noticed some of your staff members are overworked, overwhelmed and burnt out, while others are operating smoothly. Or maybe you have one team member that is still struggling to fit their role. Or perhaps your team is simply working inefficiently with too many approvals needed to complete basic tasks.

These red flags suggest there may be problems blocking your firm’s growth. So, investing the time to identify and tackle any issues will go a long way in improving staff productivity, company culture, and client satisfaction.

How to identify potential gaps in your firm’s staffing structure

While there may be many contributors reducing your firm’s productivity, such as an inefficient tech stack or a lack of standardized processes, it's still worth reviewing how your firm's structure is impacting day-to-day operations.

Here are 3 main areas to review, plus some solutions to implement:

1. Are workloads balanced across your entire team?

Busy seasons are part of your firm’s natural ebb and flow—whether they are tax time crunch periods, or as a result of your clients with seasonal businesses.

During these busy times, it’s not uncommon for workloads to pile up. An efficiently run firm prepares to handle this by adding seasonal or temporary staff, for example.

But if your firm experiences this peak-level demand frequently and across specific team members, it’s time to take a closer look at roles and responsibilities.

Indicator

Bottlenecks are recurring at the same point, person and/ or department due to heavy and unbalanced workloads, leading to reduced productivity, increased errors and/ or missed deadlines.

Solution: Review and recalibrate everyone’s workloads.

  • Review each team member’s key daily, monthly and quarterly responsibilities—are they even across the board? If not, consider redistributing work, tasks and/ or clients across team members.

  • Implement daily or weekly ‘stand up’ meetings with your team to check in with their workloads, any areas of concern, or suggestions for improvement.

  • Assess your firm’s traffic flow—how effectively you manage the activity in and out of your firm.

2. Do you have the right people performing the right tasks?

Making smart hiring decisions and finding world-class talent is important for every accounting firm.

Your people are your biggest asset, and having the right people in the right roles is key to taking your firm to the next level.

But mis-hiring can slow your growth down, resulting in decreased productivity and increased stress levels.

Indicator

You have a client-facing team member who lacks people and communication skills, or a new hire struggling with the details of daily tasks and unable to meet key deadlines.

Potential solution: Take a closer look at your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and redeploy them to the roles with the tasks that better-suit them.

Understanding how to harness team members’ skills in the right roles is key to developing a well-rounded, knowledgeable and strong team.

There are three key roles you can use as a foundation for building your ideal accounting team: finders, minders and grinders. Each has their own strengths, and when you hire the right person for each role, your firm will be better-equipped to operate efficiently and deliver better client outcomes.

Three key roles and their strengths:

  1. Finders: Senior team members who help retain clients and bring in new business.Key strengths: Exceptional communicators and relationship builders with strong problem-solving skills.

  2. Minders: Strategic people-leaders who bridge the gap between finders and grinders to keep work moving forward.Key strengths: Excellent people leaders, deadline-driven with strong project management and technical skills, with the ability to navigate team conflicts.

  3. Grinders: Production staff who are ‘in the weeds’ daily. Can be entry-level hires and need to take instruction well.Key strengths: Diligent day-to-day task masters who are detailed, focused and have strong technical skills.

Do you have a balanced team of finders, minders and grinders? Or do you have someone who fits the grinder profile filling a finder role?

If you have a grinder in a finder position, they’re going to struggle to build client relationships and bring in new business for your firm. And if you have the opposite—a finder in a grinder role—you’re not taking advantage of their communication skills.

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your current staff. Are these attributes correctly matched with their role? Reconsider how you’ve hired for your roles, and work towards redeploying staff and rebalancing your team.

3. Is your structure set up to handle when staff are out sick or churn?

Creating a solid organizational structure typically looks like a triangle or pyramid with your finders at the top, minders in the middle and grinders at the base. 

But while skillsets and character traits can define the best natural role for each current staff member, your structure needs to withstand the inevitable: staff turnover. And that means embracing cross-functionality.

Indicators

  • Is your structure putting too much pressure on certain divisions? 

  • Does your team struggle with output when certain members are out sick?

  • Does production grind to a halt when team members churn?

Potential solution: Transition from a ‘deep’ to a ‘narrow’ structure to enable a cross-functional team that is prepared to handle demand.

Develop a structure where team members are cross-trained and able to quickly pivot to support changes in workload or turnover. This is known as a ‘deep’ vs. ‘narrow’ team structure.

Get the best out of your accounting staff by adopting a culture of continuous learning and cross-training. You’ll cultivate a healthier organization that can run smoothly with or without you.

And don’t forget, as a leader of your accounting firm, developing a path for new leaders should be an essential part of succession planning for all roles in your firm, including your own.

Take the action today to identify potential gaps in your firm

If you’re seeing early signs of these (or perhaps other) gaps in your organization, don’t wait. The sooner potential gaps are addressed, and the best solutions leveraged, the stronger your firm’s structure will be, and the better your team will perform.

Here are 3 simple reminders to follow:

  1. Stay observant. While you can’t be in all places at all times, pay attention to even subtle changes in productivity or team behaviors. Take steps to optimize your visibility across your firm so you can spot issues before they gain traction.

  2. Practice active listening. Negative comments or suggestions can be hard to take, but feedback is a gift. If an employee comes to you directly, take the time to hear what they have to say—chances are it’ll uncover issues you haven’t noticed yet.

  3. Take action. Don’t wait for the impacts to snowball. Address any gaps in your team’s structure before they get out of hand.

It’s simple: a strong organizational structure for your accounting firm will lead to a healthier culture of engaged employees who will deliver better client outcomes.

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