Do you remember what it was like when you first started your career? Remember how it felt walking around the office, meeting new people, constantly learning new topics or even remembering where to find the office bathroom? Starting a new job can be confusing.

As people move up in their careers, part of their job is to lift others as they climb. As they say, “If you are leading and no one is following, then you are just taking a walk.” Lifting others while going through one’s own journey is no small feat.

One of the tools used at GHJ to help associates and senior team members #BeMore is the Associate Development Squad (ADS). This team was formed to provide a safe space for associates and seniors to build relationships with their peers, develop their technical and people skills and have an outlet to discuss ideas and challenges. This group has proved to be an effective and powerful tool in helping remote, hybrid and in-person employees acclimate and thrive.

CREATING AN ASSOCIATE DEVELOPMENT SQUAD

A successful ADS is achieved by setting a clear intention and structure.

What is the intention? Before starting a group like the Associate Development Squad, the most crucial questions to ask are:

  • Why is this group needed?
  • What is the desired outcome of this group?

If these answers are not centered on the people who make up the team, then it will be formed for the wrong reasons. The most important part of a team is its people, and an ADS that is not focused on supporting them defeats the purpose.

What does the team want? When starting a team, it is crucial to approach this initiative with a team mindset. It is not about what management wants from the team or how the team benefits the organization, since teams are a collective. What does the team want? If the ADS is structured to appeal to the individual people on the team, then employee buy-in, team engagement and the odds of success will exponentially increase.

The million-dollar question for managers is often, “How do I find out what my team wants?” The answer is to ask the team — but that is not as simple as verbally asking a question. It is important for managers to cultivate relationships with their teams so that team members feel comfortable being open and sharing honest opinions. When that is achieved, it may be possible to collect valuable feedback.

Some team members will jump at the chance to provide face-to-face feedback, while others would rather hide under their desks. Giving team members multiple ways to give feedback, either by e-mail or through an anonymous survey, can give everyone a chance to offer feedback in an environment they are most comfortable.

Creating new ways for employees to share their thoughts may fill in gaps in communication that previously went unnoticed.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN ASSOCIATE DEVELOPMENT SQUAD?

Decreased turnover. This may not be the magic fix to employee turnover, but it is a step in the right direction. Teams like ADS help decrease turnover by engaging employees and making them feel like they are part of a unit and team rather than a cog in a machine.

Increased accountability. A manager may have insights into how each member of their team is performing, but it is just as important to consider how the team is working as a whole. One way to center focus is by providing structure. Having one team that specifically focuses on those who typically have the most questions and need the most guidance (new hires and people starting their careers) can help centralize communications, set standards and develop (and enforce) processes and procedures.

Increased employee engagement. Whether working with a remote, hybrid or on-site team, employee engagement may have decreased from pre-COVID levels. Having regular meetings and allowing new hires to socialize with each other and build peer relationships will allow employees to create more personal connections at work.

Honest, real-time feedback. It takes time to build an environment where people can give honest and real-time feedback, and it is a two-way street. One of the ways to accomplish this in ADS is by creating a “safe space”: what is discussed in ADS is not discussed outside of the group unless it is intended to be shared (e.g., training or feedback). Even then, the goal is to retain the confidence of the team, which means no naming names.

Ongoing improvement. One goal of ADS is to develop the skills of the team members and help them become the best professionals they can be. Giving people a space to share their ideas can generate innovation. As Earl Nightingale states, “Everything begins with an idea.” Even the Associate Development Squad itself was, at one point, just an idea! The feedback received from the group can lead to more customized training tailored to the team’s developmental areas.

FINDING YOUR “WHY”

Ultimately, my goal in creating the Associate Development Squad is in the name: I wanted to set up my team for success and the best way to do that is by making sure they have the tools to grow in their career and at the Firm. The ADS would not exist without support from my department head, GHJ Tax Practice Leader Akash Sehgal. I want to extend that same support so my team members to pursue their passions.

Developing my team, supporting them and watching them succeed are why I do what I do. I love being able to brainstorm with them and come up with innovative ideas to help solve inefficiencies to make their lives easier, help them grow and develop their technical skills or just be a sounding board. I was very fortunate to have (and continue to have) amazing mentors, and my goal is always to pay it forward.

My team is why I enjoy coming to work. My team is why I am able to deliver the client service I do, and they never cease to amaze me with their determination and resilience. As John Maxwell says, “The truth is that teamwork is at the heart of great achievement,” and great achievement and happiness are my grandest wishes for my team.

Nicole Williams Standing Website
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Nicole Williams

CATEGORIES #BeMore

Nicole Williams, CPA, has 10 years of public accounting experience providing business, individual and accounting consulting services to clients. She assists clients by providing federal and state income tax compliance and accounting consulting (including financial statement clean-up, review of…Learn More