The Wize Guys

Episode 20: Micro-training your team - how to teach them about the deep and narrow team structure

May 19, 2022 Wize Mentoring for Accountants and Bookkeepers Season 1 Episode 20
The Wize Guys
Episode 20: Micro-training your team - how to teach them about the deep and narrow team structure
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Episode 20: Micro-training your team - how to teach them about the deep and narrow team structure

In this episode of The Wize Guys, Brenton Ward with Jamie Johns, and Ed Chan share the principles of a deep and narrow team structure for every accounting practice.

Find out how to lead your team in transitioning, implementing, and embracing a whole new concept and process. The Wize Mentors discuss the most common challenges that practice owners face when training their client managers and production team. Also, hear some ideas on how to overcome if you have a staff who pushes back on this objective.


0:35 - The concept of deep and narrow teams
1:44 - Best ways to address and transition to a new structure
3:35 - How to manage traffic: communication and production areas
4:23 - That ‘football analogy’ of a team structure
5:29 - Most common challenges and pushbacks to face in transitioning
7:13 - Idea #1: Don't be discouraged.
7:42 - Idea #2: It takes time to change habits.
8:26 - The importance of having your team understand the objectives
9:29 - Idea #3: Encourage to lead.
10:56 - Idea #4: Manage resources properly.
11:55 - The analogy of a production triangle
14:05 - Different forms of pushback
15:03 - Idea #5: Choose the senior people.
15:55 - Idea #6: Conduct 1-on-1 discussion.
16:49 - Idea #7: Educate the team.
17:08 - Why complexity kills businesses
17:46 - Idea #8: Be persistent and consistent.
18:35 - Which is more effective: 1-on-1 discussion vs group meeting
20:33 - Idea #9: Do it efficiently, but manage effectively.
22:12 - Idea #10: Do it slowly.
25:10 - How to handle losing people along the process
26:04 - The importance of ‘No Bypass Policy’
27:12 - Idea #11: The body-system reporting.
28:07 - How structure is related to your internal processes
28:41 - Idea #12: Stop undermining and delegate.
30:14 - Idea #13: Follow the hierarchical system.
31:14 - Idea #14: Empower the team.








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Tim Causbrook: This is probably my favorite topic out of Wize Mentoring. And it's the one that apart from really the Fab 5, it's the one that I'm saying transformed my business the most. So, I'm passionate about this. I've got plenty of questions that we're going to throw Ed and Jamie's way.

We're looking at deep and narrow teams. And if you've been with us for a while now, this is probably something you've heard us bang on about a lot here. It's a simple concept, but there's so much you can get out of it. 

So just to dive in now, we've got you on Ed. Where do we start in teaching the deep and narrow team structure?  And just for a bit of context, the deep and narrow structure was designed based on your business philosophy, Ed of putting the right people on the right seat of the bus. And most of the attendees today will have been exposed to the deepened mirror team structure as I said. What we'd like to focus on today is helping practice owners take their teams about the structure and transition to the structure, and basically, where do we get started? What's the best order to address this for owners ourselves? 

Ed Chan: Yeah, I guess you've got to get on board with it. You've got to believe in it because if you're a bit hesitant about it, then your staff will pick up on the hesitancy, and they'll push back. The list convinced you are then the harder, the pushback, and the more difficult it is for you moving forward. The whole concept of it is your ability to scale because we've all come from a background of doing the work. Then when we start around business, we just jump in there and do the work. And then as the work gets busier and busier, we just hire somebody. And what I call, throw bodies at the workload, and we just keep hiring more and more bodies to end up with a very flat structure and that won't allow you to scale and you won't make any money because it's, it's, it's very clunky and you'll find it very difficult to find staff and so forth. So there's a huge amount of problems that are associated with that flat structure. 

To explain, I'll give a little quick little background just in case someone remembers a new year and they don't understand the concept, but it's about managing the traffic flow. So what kills accounting flows? The amount of traffic that comes into the business, and unlike a lot of other businesses out there, they don't have as much traffic and manage that traffic. Because of a lot of our traffic, you can't charge for questions and inquiries and, and that kind of thing. And that comes through by phone or email. So you're just bogged down in just answering questions and you don't make any money. 

The idea is to manage a traffic flow, and you're going to manage it sensibly and efficiently, and effectively to make money and scale your business. 

So I broke that down into communication traffic, where you're dealing with people and communicating with them and talking to them, ‘Oh Tim, are we having some technical problems? I seem to emit lost everybody on this.’

Tim Causbrook: Everyone's still here, I  just gonna stop sharing since Jamie's just going to take over sharing for a second. 

Ed Chan: Okay. 

Tim Causbrook: All right. 

Ed Chan: Well, good. 

Yeah, no problem. 

Then there's production traffic where you've got to get down and do the work and so forth. So we need to separate that. The best way to explain it is it's a bit like for those of you who've played sport. And I'll use the football analogy or for some of us who refer to for boys, it's soccer, everybody in a soccer team or the football team has a position. And those positions require skillsets that are conducive to those positions. If you play someone out of position, then the team's not going to function very efficiently. In a soccer team, you've got a winger, you've got fullback, you've got people at the, at the forward to score the goals. You put a winger, it needs to be quick in a goalie position. Then you're playing him or her out of position. If you put a goal, it has got really good reflexes out on the wing, but he's slow. Then the whole thing doesn't work. You, as the owner is at the coach. So you've got to know your people and put them in the right position. So now that's a brief, quick summary of what the data narrative is. 

Now I'll go into the topic for today, which is how do you get your people engaged with this whole process? You're going to, you're going to get some challenges moving forward. This is what we've experienced over the many years of me doing it and also now that we're coaching other firms, the things that we've experienced. So some of them, some of the pushbacks you're gonna, you're gonna experience well, obviously from the team. You need to, as I said earlier, be very, very convinced about this, to be able to move forward and bring your team with you. And generally, the challenges along these lines somewhat feel very frightened by the thing, because they're not, they're not sure of what it all means. So you've got to get in there and educate them. They don't understand. So they might have a lot of questions and we might take that as being a negative or pushback, but it's just that they just really don't understand. And, and, and I've explained this in a way of, you know, there are early adopters, middle adopters, and late adopters, the early adopters, get it. And they will embrace it. The middle adopters. You need to explain it two or three or four times. And the later adopters, you need to explain the 10 or 20 times before they get it. People learn differently. Sometimes the light comes on at a particular time when they're ready. So often, you know, it's been said, the teacher appears when the student's ready. So don't get discouraged because you've had pushback back, but you've got to have that conviction to keep prosecuting this team structure because you won't be able to scale your business. 

Trust me on this one, you want to scale your business. If you run the flat teams and you're going to struggle to grow. Then you end up working very, very long hours and not getting the return and the lifestyle that you need. And you're gonna it's got to also take time. Take time for your staff to fit into that role. 

So firstly, there's gotta be an understanding from them. They've gotta be an acceptance and then you've got to implement, and then it's going to take time for them to change habits. And that's going to be different for different people now. But a typical problem that I've always experienced is that at the client manager level. The client manager is the person that is in charge of the team, but they communicate and do all the advisory, do the face-to-face meetings. They handle all the communications with the clients. And the biggest challenge that I've experienced and Tim you've experienced this in your own teams is that they misunderstand what their role is or they, they sometimes enjoy sitting there and doing the work, right? So they just sit there and do the work. And that's not what we paid them to do. We pay them to spend, most of their time in front of the clients, talking to the clients and growing their portfolio. And if they don't get in front of their clients and talk to their clients and advise them on advisory explaining the results and, and those kinds of things, then they're not going to get referrals and often they don't do that. And they say to you, ‘I haven't got time to do that.’ It's because they enjoy doing the work and all their time is taken up, just sitting there doing the work, but they're overpaid for that role if that's what they like to do because you can pay someone a lot less money to do that grinding role. 

So you need to lead. So that's one of the biggest challenges. I've seen to change in the senior client manager's thought process to take the finished work and go see the place with it. Whether that's face-to-face in a meeting or by zoom, they've got to explain that to imply, not just send things out to the client and go back to doing more grinding. So that's a big challenge. 

The other challenge is that if they don't have a good production manager working for them, then they don't have any confidence in the production manager. So what they end up doing is, you know, doing it all themselves. So they'll have this attitude of, ‘Oh, it's quicker by just get it myself or tom I've tried to, I could've just done it.’ And that's the wrong thinking. And you've got to help your staff get out of that thinking because again, I find it sometimes the owners of the business find it very difficult to do that themselves. Let alone trying to get their client managers to do it. So that's another level. Firstly, you've got to be able to do it yourself and then, and then encourage and lead your client managers to do that as well. Otherwise, it's going to go around and circles. 

Of course, the other challenge is that they're doing very, very low-level work at a very high cost because they'll probably be the highest cost person in your team. And if you don't match the cost structure to the price levels, then you're going to end up having to write a lot of time off the job. So often, if you don't have the right resource mix and the team, the senior client managers not managing the work, pushing the work down, then you end up at the end of the job having the right time. That's a function of, that's a symptom of not managing the resource mix properly or not. Well, firstly not having the right resource mix correctly and then not managing the resource mix gets completely out of control. Then you start losing money from it. 

I used the analogy of a triangle and now it's, it's a bit like the food triangle, but in this case, it's a production triangle where the largest part of the triangle was at the bottom and the bottom is where most of the time is spent on a particular job should be done by somebody else.

Who's more of a junior at a lower cost structure. A lot of lower charges outright in the middle of the triangle is where the production manager is. He or she checks the work and he or she spends less time on the job, but they're at a higher cost level. And at the very tip of the triangle is where the client managers should spend their time.

Now doing advisory face-to-face meetings, structure, and strategy work with the client. So that's the invoice to the client should be made up of that production triangle. If it's the other way around where the client, the senior client manager is doing most of the work and the triangle's flipped, it flipped the other way around. Then you're going to end up having to write time off. You're also going to burn out your people because star client managers at that level need to be challenged. And they're looking at their careers that they want progression. They don't want to be sitting there doing bank reconciliations and that kind of thing. So you're going to end up losing your staff as well. So that's just complete mismanagement of the business.

So you've got to manage your business. So everybody wins so that the client gets his in his, his, his work done at a competitive, right. Your staff gets, gets challenged and, you know, work on their careers and get paid a decent salary. And of course, the shareholders need to win. So that there's a decent return on investment, on the capital investment of the capital of the business, of their money in the business. So the data and our team facilitate a win-win.

Tim Causbrook: Yeah, no, that's great. And thanks for that. That's kind of a really good summary of it. 

I'm interested in pushback. This one's kind of for Jamie. I had a lot of pushback on my phone. I had about 15 people. I need to bring along on this journey. It was the biggest change we made in 20 years apart from moving software. And, you know, ed, you mentioned late adopters being, being one of the forms of pushback. And I think a lot of people are going to experience that of the staff just kind of ignoring it and just that the path of least resistance is to do what the habit is, which has to always work the way they were working before that. But on the other end of the extreme, you have aggressive people who are kind of pushed back aggressively. I guess the two kinds of extreme forms of pushback. 

And I was just wondering, Jamie, just while we're on that topic. Do you have any suggestions about the best course of action for staff who do push back on the team structure, whether it be through just kind of ignoring it and doing things the way they always did it or more overtly kind of saying, oh, this is a dumb idea? I think it's better if we just keep, you know, keep doing things, why we're doing them. 

Jamie Johns: Yeah. There are a couple of tips Tim. 

First of all, I think you should choose the most senior people. So obviously, that would be senior client managers, but if you're transitioning to this team design, choose those that you've got allocated for the senior client manager role. You want to choose the most influential, the most senior people in your team, or your team's first influence. So that'd be the first thing, because it's a bit like the 80 20 rule, what they adopt the rest of the staff will see. So if they see this, their superior or someone who's more experienced them adopting a certain way to manage the teams, then that will then sort of naturally educate the rest of the people down. So that'd be the first thing.

The other thing is when you go to implement it, don't approach it as a group. You sort of have to be a little bit like a politician, I guess and lobby each person individually. I would sort of have a coffee with them, have lunch with them, the person that you've chosen, and just explain to them why the old model doesn't work. I'm thinking I'm still sharing, but the old traditional model is that shallow one more wide mode and just logically explained to them if the team's going to grow that just one person can't handle all that traffic in that shallow and wide team. And you can use some of these resources to explain why it just doesn't work.

Most accountants, so book cave is a pretty logical type of people. So if you can educate them around the logic for moving to that shallow and wide team, and I think on the screen there, for example, there's just a, a snapshot thereof when you go from three to four people, the amount of complexity. That increases the complexity is what kills businesses and it hampers growth. And I think, Ed just said that I only, that if you don't do this deep and narrow team structure, you just can't grow. So there's an example of just the complexity of communication and what it causes as your teams grow. So my other sort of point where there would be is just educated them around, ‘Why are we doing it?’ And if you can educate them, you have to drip on them.

So I think if just some people will be early adopters, the senior people in your firm, some will just embrace it straight away and some others won't. So you'll have to be very persistent and consistent around educating them in the team design. We'll probably get onto it in a minute, but one part of a deep and narrow team design is the No Bypass Policy. When you instigate a deep and narrow team design, you can often sell sabotage yourself. And I did occasionally when I first started this because old habits break hard.

So you've got to be persistent in your leadership around a deep and narrow team design and make it work on the No Bypass Policy when required. Be persistent. But that, that would be sort of my three tips for implementing a deep and narrow team design. 

Ed Chan: Yeah. Just wanted to add to what Jamie just said when you're implementing this. It's so important to not go out there with a group meeting, because if you don't have 80% of the site, then if I push back in a group meeting it just derails, the whole thing. It creates a negative environment and the people that were not, not bought in, they'll get don't get even strengthened by, their pushback. 

So the way to do this is to have your one-on-one with the senior people, the senior client managers, the ones that you've picked to be client managers. And then you got on the one in one-on-one meetings. You going to get some questions, lots of questions, there's pushback, and so forth. And unless you get 80% of them to agree with this, then have that group meeting. Once you get 80% on agreeing to do this, then in the meeting, the 20% who are still negative on it, we'll get brought over by the 80% who are positive. So generally in a group environment, the people go with the majority.

So the last handful of people who are still not sure and not sure about it, we'll come across because the majority have agreed to do it. So if you do it that way, you'll get a lot more success than just going out there and saying, ‘This is what I'm doing.’ And they'll feel like you're forcing it down to them f rather than it being their idea. 

Then if it's their idea, that will run with it and your life is a lot easier. But if it's your idea, then it's going to be, they're going to push back and it's going to make your life a lot harder.

Brenton Ward: And just on that in a general theme of the conversation between yourself and Jamie, they're rereading Stephen Covey. Recently, he talks about efficiency versus effectiveness. We often fall into the trap of trying to get humans to be efficient, as opposed to efficiencies more related to systems. And we should be focused much more on effectiveness and the human component. 

So when it comes to implementing the deep narrow team structure, how do we avoid that trap of falling into being efficient and just trying to get this done quickly and overnight so we can tick the box versus being effective and kind of handholding people through this process. 

Ed Chan: Yeah, that's a good question then being efficient as it's just about doing something quickly and efficiently and getting it out the door, but when you're dealing with people and that doesn't always work like that.

So being coming from a grinding perspective, we've always done it efficiently. We're quickly efficient. We crack where we're accurate. Work's done out the door when you're managing people, it's going to be effective because people are all different. I have different take-up rights of time to take things up and they have feelings and emotions, and you've got to manage all of that through. And some people are, I call them rubber cups. You can bounce them on the ground and they'll bounce back up, but others are crystal glasses. So you can bounce them on the ground as they crack. You gotta be aware that you've got a myriad of different personalities and to be effective, you've got to do it slowly. You got to understand that people will come on board at different rates and not rush it.

I've seen firms who see the light and then they understand what's going on and I just want to implement it like yesterday. And then I, they don't get the support from the staff. And then they say, ‘Oh, it doesn't work. Do you know?’ And that's the biggest problem. 

So if you follow what we've said about bringing them along with you, then when you're having those one-on-one meetings with them, if 80% of them are pushing back on you, they pick your battles. So let it go and approach it another time when the timing's a bit better. And then you have another one-on-one with them and you do that progress over time. What you'll find is from the most negative people who are pushing back once you've had one meeting that pushed back, you have a second meeting, they pushed backless, and then third meeting or pushback least. And then eventually they know you're serious, right?  Whereas at first, I think it's just a throwaway line, right? But the more meetings you have with them, the more they'll come around. I've never met anybody who hasn't come around at the end, but it could have taken a long time to come around. 

Tim's got a good example of a particular plant manager that took a couple of years. She wouldn't even change the software. So the whole firm changed the software to Zero and she still stayed on the model. So that's how slow she was in moving across and individually, she took on Zero and said, ‘Oh, that's the best thing out. And it should have been done, I should have done it earlier.’ And same as the team structure, she wouldn't embrace the team structure. She was the last one to do it. Now she says, ‘That was the best thing I should have done earlier.’ But you know, don't when you're baking a cake, you don't put the mixture in the oven and turn the heat right up to 800 degrees. You'll be sensitive to the needs of the individual individuals that you're dealing with. Then you go as slow or as fast as the individuals are going. And the more conviction you have in it, and the more you prosecute the case and explain it and be very sure about your path forward, the modal, then be convinced that that's the right thing to do. 

But yes, take your time. And only when you get 80% support you, then you have that group session. Once you have that group session, it's formal. Everybody's moving forward. Even the laggards, the handful of negative people will come across. And because the majority of everybody's going now having said that you will lose one or two people when you do this process. And that's okay. And then you start to get this, the right structure in place, and so forth. And the people that won't fit, it's only generally a handful. You know, it depends on how big your team is, they'll one or two will move on. If you're a very small team, you won't lose anybody, but if you've got 20 people, you might lose a handful. But, but, but that's part of the process. So don't get discouraged by that. And of course, don't get discouraged when someone pushes back, and then the worst thing that can happen is someone is negative and pushes us back. And then you think, ‘Oh, I've been not doing this anymore.’ And then you can revert to what you were doing.

Brenton Ward: Okay. That's great advice.

Jamie, just in terms of implementation and practical insights, any of the Wize Vault resources or tools that come to mind that can help the best to assist with this training. So we've got the knowledge for the practice owners to deepen our team structure, but anything that you can think of as part of the training process with the team.

Jamie Johns: Yeah, I think one of the most important things is in a deep and narrow team structure, particularly with practice firm owners looking to implement is the No Bypass Policy. Because the deepened narrow team structure doesn't work without the No Bypass Policy and remotely get into touch on that. But essentially if you own your firm, you don't want to bypass your senior client manager.

And then at the next or deeper level, working down the team, you don't want your senior client managers to ultimately bypass the senior production manager with the production manager's team as well. And then really the third point, they always like it. I sort of call it the buddy system. So if you have, for example, like a junior accountant or an intermediate accountant who starting get them to have a body and get them to report to the senior. So it might be like a senior accountant or a senior bookkeeper. And that real sort of really honors and from a practical point of view puts in place how a and narrow team works because what I've seen over the users, like I've seen a partner for example, with 30, 40 years experience and they take on directly the training and taking all the queries of the junior accountant or bookkeeper. So that's just the wrong way to do it. 

You've got to implement the No Bypass Policy. We often talk about the No Bypass Policy in the context of clients, but it does also apply to what we're talking about today, the internal operations of a team as well.

Otherwise, you get to the point where I showed earlier, where you have all the staff just reporting to the manager, all the ponder, I feel like so prep, but yeah. Welcome to discuss the No Bypass Policy in terms of a deep and narrow team. And Ed won't be better than that. 

Brenton Ward: Well, Ed might just quickly summarize it for us because we want to get everyone into some breakout rooms so they can ask some specific questions of the mentor team. So any comments to add to that? 

Ed Chan: Often owners say to me, ‘I wish my staff would take more responsibility and take their job seriously and have more accountability.’ And it just seems like I'm doing everything. Then when I observed their behavior in how they manage their teams, I observed that they're undermining the people. And I said, ‘Well if you want them to take more responsibility, stop undermining them.’ And typically responsibilities, undermining. ‘I'm not undermining them like they don't know that they're doing it.’

They'd give you a very quick example. One, he or she, you know, he's given us some work for the client, he or she goes to the office and goes to, in this situation here goes to the blue person right down the bottom and says to him or her, the accountant, ‘Oh, I've got some best what you need to do quickly and the client wants it done quickly.’ So effectively he or she's bypassed a senior manager, bypasses a senior production manager, and went to their staff and give them instructions. Now, if you do that, if you keep doing that, then eventually the client manager and the production manager will say, ‘Well, you want me to manage these people, but you keep undermining my authority. You keep bypassing me. If you want to manage them, you manage them, then they'll sit back and wait for you to manage them.’ With that, you'll end up having a paid audience around you. And that's not because of the staff having bad staff. It's because of poor management on your side. 

Also, so often the opposite happens. One of the January accountants will bypass their senior manager and go to you to ask the question. So you should say to that staff member, go back to the production manager and the senior client manager to get it answered. If they don't know the answer, then you have a three-way conversation. You have the junior accountant, you have the manager in there and yourself, and you give them the answer. Then you step away from that and let them implement it, right? So often, you should, because it's more efficient to have the two of them in the same room. The left hand knows what the right hand is doing, rather than just explaining it to the junior accountant, then the production manager, as it doesn't know what's going on. So that's important. That's very difficult to do often because of habits.
Now let me just quantify that, qualify that I'm not saying that you can't speak to account the team, right? That's not what I'm saying. I often go to the junior accountant and accountants and talk to them and say, ‘How're things going? Are there any blockages to production?’ Because I'm focused on productivity and no blockages. And often they might say, ‘Oh yeah, I'm having trouble getting this better information from the client. Or, you know, my computer's not working or there's some problem.’ And I go back to the manager and let them know that there's a problem there. But I hand the responsibility of the implementation of the solution back to the team, back to the leaders of the team so that they're empowered to run the team rather than you just constantly interfering and getting in their way. And when we just measure them on the KPIs, the productivity on the timesheets, and the Fab 5 are the best measurements. In the meantime, they can get on with the job. 

Brenton Ward: I love that lesson. And Christie said that I love that if you're not delegating, you've got a paid audience to put that in our little black book of Wize phrases.

I've enjoyed that conversation. I think there's been a lot of little takeaways there as well. And as we pointed out in the comments, there are some great resources in the vault on helping you implement this, including the No Bypass Policy. Jamie just talked about there, which is Step 16.2. 

The concept of deep and narrow teams
Best ways to address and transition to a new structure
How to manage traffic: communication and production areas
That ‘football analogy’ of a team structure
Most common challenges and pushbacks to face in transitioning
Idea #1: Don't be discouraged.
Idea #2: It takes time to change habits.
The importance of having your team understand the objectives
Idea #3: Encourage to lead.
Idea #4: Manage resources properly.
The analogy of a production triangle
Different forms of pushback
Idea #5: Choose the senior people.
Idea #6: Conduct 1-on-1 discussion.
Idea #7: Educate the team.
Why complexity kills businesses
Idea #8: Be persistent and consistent.
Which is more effective: 1-on-1 discussion vs group meeting
Idea #9: Do it efficiently, but manage effectively.
Idea #10: Do it slowly.
How to handle losing people along the process
The importance of ‘No Bypass Policy’
Idea #11: The body-system reporting.
How structure is related to your internal processes
Idea #12: Stop undermining and delegate.
Idea #13: Follow the hierarchical system.
Idea #14: Empower the team.