To entrust corporate members of different departments, disciplines, and hierarchical levels with complex assignments that tackle a specific problem and find an appropriate solution to it is becoming more and more common in day-to-day business.
In Part 1, we have already detailed the possible positive outcomes of such a cross-functional team structure. This is followed by an introduction to the different roles that management accountants can play in such a team composition.
In the following, we will focus on three other potential roles that might enable them to contribute their professional experience and competencies to the team’s success.
I. A conventional management accounting role
II. A pure moderating and mediating role
[Read Part 1 at: Management Accountants’ Different Roles on Cross-Functional Teams (Part 1)]
III. A consistent leadership role
The principle of self-direction is a central element of a “role model” cross-functional team. In reality, members might crave for some form of guidance within the group; otherwise, the group dynamics will not function. The management accountant often is a potential, suitable candidate for adopting such a leadership role—whether he/she chooses such a role deliberately, or would have preferred for someone else to lead the team, but that does not work out properly and it is the management accountant that ends up with the team leadership virtually.
One elemental part of the reason for this is that many management accountants already work with literally all internal departments in their day-to-day routine. That secures for them a big, self-confident stance in terms of knowing the best about the total operation. They often have a better understanding of the entire organizational workflow, which also includes being aware of what a specific department is supposed to do within the organization, how it should do it, and how it should work together with other disciplines. True to the motto of “knowledge is power,” the management accountant also usually has access to widely distinctive (business) information systems that can support him/her further in gaining an understanding of a specific issue and making a decision.
Eventually, while directing a team comprising members from various disciplines, the leading management accountant assures that the entire group heads for the targeted direction. In this process, he often takes on an organizational perspective due to his capability to see across all the company functions. Thereby, he/she anticipates the right steps or measures, and always weighs alternative solutions worked out in the team according to their overall value for the enterprise.
IV. A mover-and-shaker role (implementation role)
Often deeply intertwined with the leadership role, the mover and shaker typically gets into the lead subsequent to the initial project stages (project initialization, idea-generation phase, planning stage, and so on), when the concrete realization of the team’s ideas and proposals is starting.
However, depending on the team’s composition or even the company’s overall culture, his/her skills might already be in demand right away during the project’s kick-off phase. He/she may help to find enthusiastic and curious companions while being communicative and persuasive, and so, get the project started in the first place.
With regard to the realization phase, the mover and shaker is also some kind of a results-driven project manager, while he/she makes sure that the ideas that are finally on the table are properly and successfully addressed. Therefore, he/she will set the timetables, specify the information requirements and resources needed, help to assign tasks, establish goals and set priorities, cope with difficulties induced by the team itself and/or the organization during the implementation (e.g., internal resistance to change), as well as monitor the team’s/project’s performance (milestones).
Furthermore, in that role, the management accountant, optimally, will continually encourage and challenge the team members to critically question the approaches in the implementation processes (whether those still contribute substantially to the project’s success), and to adapt them where recommended or necessary.
V. A role that checks reality and focuses on the big picture
From a broader enterprise perspective, a certain project is only valuable and worth doing if it, eventually, contributes to the superior corporate goals of maximizing profits, or rather, minimizing costs. Therefore, the project team always has to bear in mind that its ideas and proposals might be scrapped during the project stages, simply because these are running contrary to other corporate goals that take precedence.
A management accountant who wants to fulfill a role that especially focuses on the project’s big picture needs to ensure that the team maintains such an organization-wide perspective. He/she can support that intention of leading the team in the right direction by paying attention to the preservation of proved processes and the continuity of best practices. Furthermore, he/she should try to transform different variations of input into one cohesive final output.
In addition, not least because of the increasing relevance of shareholder value approaches in business practice, the management accountant ideally represents the interests of the cross-functional group, but also negotiates solutions that are optimal from a stakeholder (customers, employees, suppliers, trade unions, etc.) perspective. Therefore, he/she should pay particular attention to obtain feedback and enroll the stakeholders in the proposed solution. This is especially significant in case of bigger project initiatives that will affect larger parts of the organization.
Closely connected to the necessity of taking a broader perspective is the requirement that the cross-functional team keeps a realistic view in terms of the project’s progress over time and its final outcomes. One of the main phenomena of numerous project teams is that its members tend to be overly optimistic as the project goes on further, blending out or underestimating problems and risks, as well as overestimating the project’s performance and stage. If the worst comes to pass, such prevailing “project blindness” might result in the pursuance of unprofitable, too risky, and foredoomed projects.
Management accountants can take on the role of some kind of “realistic evaluator” to prevent the team from such possible misconceptions, tempering inflated optimism with experience and carefully developed projections. They counter the resulting laziness, ineffectiveness, complacency and self-deception with prudent, self-disciplined, more risk-averse, and procedure-oriented behavior, clearly bringing up and reacting toward weak points, failures, and problems within the project realization.
Return to Part 1 for more on this topic:
Management Accountants’ Different Roles on Cross-Functional Teams (Part 1)
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Must-read blog posts about management accounting and financial control—classical topics, as well as modern subjects, latest trends, and current challenges in the management accounting discipline. Aimed to inform, inspire, and entertain management accountants and anyone with a deeper interest in management accounting.