Secrets to Building a Great Advisory Team

by Kelli Cruz on March 14, 2017

(This article is reposted with permission of the author. It was originally published here.)

What if running an advisory firm felt more like managing a strong college squad, known for its teamwork, rather than a team that merely celebrated its all-stars? What if your entire crew took joy in rallying together, applauded each member’s successes and celebrated winning new clients?

Strong teams, not stars, deliver the best service, and these engaged workers offer the best chance for future growth. When employees pool resources, a firm can deliver better service. And when clients are seen as clients of the firm, rather than clients of an individual, there’s more flexibility to work on their needs based upon staff capacity, skill set, and cost.

Resources are best tapped when a firm uses a flexible model, as opposed to a silo or individual approach. When firms coordinate services, simple client requests are managed down the line, allowing other employees to focus on revenue-generating tasks. Clients benefit by getting help quickly.

Building great teams doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and ongoing effort to get them right – and keep them humming. Smart leaders know that teams work well if managers identify employees’ skills and assign responsibilities best suited to those abilities.

Whether you are building a team for the first time or want to improve an existing team’s productivity and success, try these strategies.

Hire Smartly

Nothing is more important than hiring the right people. This means you should have a disciplined approach to the process. Create job descriptions that can be used as your job posting or advertisements for the position. Hire proactively, not reactively, meaning you should always look for talent all the time not just when you have an opening. Conduct your search through your networks, centers of influence, clients, third-party providers, community resources, alumni groups and don’t forget social media such as LinkedIn,, etc.

Invest in the interview process. Create questions that are designed to assess an applicant’s knowledge, skills and abilities that match the opening and that assess key characteristics and attributes of your firm’s culture. When creating a team culture, focus on screening for the Four C’s:

  • Competence. Search for candidates who know what they are doing.
  • Character. Find candidates who do what they say they are going to do.
  • Courage. Identify candidates who meet challenges head on.
  • Collaboration. Candidates should delight in working with others for the good of the firm.

All of these attributes should be identified during the interview. When each team candidate consistently displays these four traits, you have started to create a high-performance team environment. Test to measure the individual and evaluate skills. To get beyond the resume and the typical interview format, use evaluation tools that can help give a fuller sense of a candidate’s personal and professional compatibility with your organization. For instance, try written tests, case studies, role playing or simulations. Commercial assessment products – including those sold by Kolbe, Everything DiSC and Gallup StrengthsFinder – will offer a glimpse as to how an individual might perform.

Before making the employment offer, develop an effective process for bringing aboard new employees. The process should include information about the firm, training, mentoring and coaching and should start as soon as the candidate has accepted the job.

Empower Through Delegation

The most successful leaders are those that empower their employees to work their best every day. It means leaders must motivate their employees to think creatively. It means allowing them the freedom to work free of too many rules, and to trust that each employee has the best intentions to perform well. As a business owner, you must be willing to delegate, create goals, provide feedback and develop careers — all strategies that will create a great place to work.

It can be hard to relinquish control. You might lack confidence that the results will be stellar. Consider these steps for effective delegation:

  • Choose what to delegate
  • Define the assignment, requirements, parameters, authority level, checkpoints and expectations
  • Select the right people to manage
  • Communicate both what you expect, and why
  • Follow up
  • Hold people accountable
  • Offer direction
  • Recognize and reward great work

Create a Trusting Environment

When you work with people you trust, more gets done. Organizational trust is derived from alignment – having the systems, structures and rewards aligned with one consistent objective. When everything is aligned correctly, trust grows. When these various elements are misaligned, trust is reduced or dissipated. People work best when they are placed in a high-trust environment rather than one where everything is locked down tight. To create a high-trust environment, all structures and systems need to be aligned with that objective.

If people inside your organization don’t feel like management trusts them, myriad problems can crop up. These problems tax an organization’s performance. Missing trust can shrink productivity and boost costs and produce:

  • High levels of redundancy and duplicated effort.
  • A hidebound bureaucracy.
  • Nasty office politics.
  • Disengaged and unmotivated employees.
  • High levels of employee turnover.

When trust runs high, there are significant benefits:

  • Shareholder and customer value grows.
  • Sales and profits boom.
  • Employees feel they can innovate and be creative.
  • Offices collaborate.
  • There’s better execution of company strategy.
  • There’s heightened loyalty and brand strength.

Make Expectations Clear

When an organization’s mission is clear, there’s a greater chance of success. Individual team members and teams know what’s expected of them to meet or exceed expectations. That’s why I recommend creating clear goals and objectives and providing regular feedback.

The first step is setting the stage correctly, by defining individual targets and aligning them with the firm’s goals and strategy. The process of setting goals should be collaborative, agreed upon by the manager and employees. Keep in mind that performance goals help employees:

  • Know what is expected beyond basic job descriptions.
  • Take responsibility for their performance.
  • See where their goals support firm objectives.
  • Feel that their performance evaluations have an objective basis.
  • Receive recognition for their accomplishments.
  • Goals, expectations and standards are clear when both team leaders and team members understand the results.

Encourage Open Communication and Honesty

Once you have talented people operating in an environment that promotes trust, fostering a collaborative and honest workplace advances a firm’s strategic agenda. A team should acknowledge mistakes and celebrate progress soon after they occur. The path forward is forged around course corrections based on what is working and what is not. Candid and timely conversation is essential. The best team encourages people to express themselves openly and honestly. Employees should want to address errors or conflicts constructively and quickly.

Reward Employees’ Success

You should reward successful teams by compensating them, specifically with an incentive/bonus plan. A well-designed plan encourages even higher levels of performance. Team-based incentive plans can be applied to specific groups, such as the client administration team, or sales, when members work together to achieve goals or exceed benchmarks. Team metrics might include new business, client referrals, client retention, technology implementation, and social media campaigns and prospecting events.

The advantage of team-based incentive plans is that employees are motivated to work together in a collective fashion toward a common goal. Employees have the potential to encourage one another, participate in brainstorming sessions and support each other in their efforts.

When putting together teams, don’t think individual hits and errors, but team victories. Choose people that you sense will work well together. The efforts will not only produce superior results, but they might also build solidarity and purpose in your organization.