There’s been a resurgence of multi-disciplinary professional services firms in Australia in recent years.
With clients increasingly seeking value for money, and the desire to build a long-standing, trusted relationship with a single firm who can service all their business needs, it’s no wonder “one-stop-shop” professional services firms are booming.
But when you’ve got specialists across a range of areas, such as in business advisory and accounting firms where experts in superannuation, tax services, business advisory, estate planning (and more) come together, keeping the cogs turning internally to ensure silos don’t form can prove challenging.
By developing strategies to break down silos and increase the effectiveness of your multi-disciplinary (or cross-functional teams), your firm will be well placed to deliver results for your clients.
Multi-disciplinary teams: the solution to business silos?
Multi-disciplinary teams, sometimes referred to as ‘cross-functional teams’, are often hailed as the solution to breaking down silos in organisations.
But in professional service firms, where clients are paying for expert advice, it’s easy for individuals or specialist teams to fall into the trap of narrowing their focus solely to their area of expertise – developing silos within the firm.
This contradiction is explored in Harvard Law School lecturer Heidi Gardner’s book, Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos.
Learning how to break down silos in professional services firms comes down to knowing when to bring together disciplines together to work in a team, says Gardener.
“Situations that are complex – they often span disciplines. They require different kinds of specialists to work together – and that’s exactly when collaboration is the right answer.
“So, the way I think about collaboration is it’s the integration of specialised expertise to solve problems that no expert, no matter how smart or hard working, could solve alone,” she said.
Gardener identifies roles that can be important for collaboration.
“The first one, I think, is the one who’s going to spot the opportunity. And in a professional service firm, that’s often the rainmaker, somebody who’s interacting with a client a lot and trying to understand the full range of their problems.
“And connecting the dots then back into the firm to say what kinds of expertise do we have that would present a joined-up solution to this complicated problem? They need to be able to draw the different kinds of experts together in order to collaborate and develop a solution.”
The second role is “contributors” – the people on the ground who develop the solutions for clients, and the third, “leaders”.
“It’s also up to leaders to create an environment and, perhaps, even some formal structures that create accountability for spreading that work,” she said.
Maximising the efficiency of multi-disciplinary teams
So what can professional services firms do to not only break down the silos, but also maximise the efficiency of their multi-disciplinary teams?
The first step is for leadership of the firm or practice to set a clear vision. In order for multi-disciplinary teams to be successful, everyone needs to understand the ‘big-picture’ goals. This lifts the focus beyond the priorities of a particular area of specialisation.
It’s important for partners and senior level employees to keep this vision front of mind for their staff. One way to do this is to include an individuals’ contributions to the firm’s ‘big picture’ vision as part of regular performance reviews.
Another important move is to invest in systems that will enable collaboration across the team.
Professional services firms are known for using many business systems within separate business units, meaning people across the firm often end up working in information silos.
To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of a multi-disciplinary team, team members must have access to information from all areas of an organisation, to help them make informed decisions.
To do this, you should consider integrating information into a single platform or interface – with business software like Xeppo – so you don’t risk developing informational and operational silos.
Developed for the accounting and financial services industries, Xeppo continually collects information from multiple sources, both external and internal systems, and brings them together into a single view platform.
Greg Perks, founding partner of Perks Integrated Business Services, says Xeppo was the missing piece in Perks’ integrated strategy, and has enabled the firm to break down information silos.
“We’ve got many different parts of our business offering services to our clients – but they all act in silos, separately.
“The thing Xeppo enables us to do, which has been a game changer, is getting all of the data into one location for all of our people across Perks to see.
“It enables us to communicate a lot better, to communicate better with our clients, and provide them with a more efficient, productive service,” he said.
By investing the time to break down silos in your firm and addressing any roadblocks in your multi-disciplinary team, your firm will be well placed to tackle complex problems that deliver better results for your clients, and better returns for your business.