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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Ten Mistakes in Team Building

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Almost exactly 25 years ago, I had an epiphany: “No one makes it to high six or seven figures without a team.” And further: “An advisor and one assistant don’t make a team. The minimum team size is advisor, assistant and part-time computer operator.”

In 1989, I was the first to come out and say: “Partnerships are a good thing. They benefit both client and advisors.” Both of those insights were true way back then. They are true today with this exception: The original 2½ person team will take you to about a million and a half today. Over the years since, I have been involved in least 5,000 teams.

The 10 mistakes cited here are, in my experience, the most common and deadly. I have created several resources for you cited below. You will find them at

1. No Team

Hopefully, you have full knowledge that prosperity, or even survival, in financial services today requires you create or join a team. If you do not have a team, the question is obviously: When do I start?

Answer: Before you can comfortably afford it.

If you think for one second today that you can build a business of several hundred thousand dollars in gross revenue, and then build your team, you dream. Next time you go to a conference with other advisors, just ask the top producers this question: At what point in your career did you hire your first team member?

You will find in the overwhelming number of cases, it was very early. Often they borrowed money to do it. Most likely, they couldn’t afford it. Neither can you. But if you don’t get started sooner rather than later, you are forever condemned to low production.

2. No Job Descriptions

There is a huge difference between a bunch of people doing stuff, and a team.

Think about a baseball team. When it’s time to pitch the ball, the team members know to throw it to the pitcher. The catcher does not even think for a second of throwing it to the shortstop who will then pitch to the batter.

Every one of the nine positions has a precisely defined role.

Imagine a baseball team with no job descriptions. Nine people go on the field. The umpire throws out a ball. What do they do? Most likely bicker and argue over who is going to do what.

Ditto for a financial services team with no job descriptions.

Each team role is created in a document called a job description. I found a job description template out on the Microsoft template library. I made a few modifications to it and posted it on our “Surefire Team Development” page. There you will also find other team building resources, all free for the taking.

Before defining your own job descriptions for your team, I strongly recommend you download and study my white paper, “Surefire Team Development.” There you will find several job descriptions you can adapt.

3. No Formal Coordination

Any coach, even of a bottom-ranked high school team, knows that a team has to have team training and team coordination.

You see it in sports. You see it in the military. And you see it in great financial services teams.

A principal forum for this coordination is the weekly team meeting.

I’m familiar with one $4 million team that has two meetings  a week. They have a partner’s meeting, and they have a meeting for the entire team. Each has its own agenda.

I have also posted a generic agenda for you at our team development site. Obviously, you will add your own items to the agenda, but I have primed the pump for you.

A note of warning: Don’t let your team meeting turn into a complaint session. Its purpose is to solve problems, make sure business in process gets completed and plan for new business next week.

4. Top Heavy

I’ve come across several teams lately with three partners, and one undoubtedly overworked assistant.

This is a case of the dog-cat-bird phenomenon.

You can call each of the partners a financial advisor. You can be sitting on your couch with a critter that barks. You can say to your friend, “This is my dog-cat.” Calling it something doesn’t make it so. Calling a person a financial advisor in a top heavy partnership does not make it so.

In a top heavy scenario, at least one of the two partners is primarily functioning as a service assistant.

You cannot have three partners doing $1.6 million with one assistant, and assume the three partners are, in fact, three advisors. Calling it that won’t make it so.

A top heavy partnership will most certainly plateau, and then break up. If you are top heavy, you need to urgently figure out how to get additional support so that the advisors can be advisors.

5. Thinking Sales Support and Service Support Are the Same Position

This is the original cat-bird. In building a team, remember, you have to have sharp delineation between the roles.

The first job to establish is your client service associate. Key word: Service.

As part of the service associate’s job description, it should specify: Will not be asked to perform sales duties, except in an emergency.

Similarly, your marketing director, business development manager, sales assistant, call it what you will, should have a line in his or her job description: Will not be asked to perform service duties except in an emergency.

Don’t ask one to do the other’s duties. The team collapses and you just have a bunch of unhappy people doing stuff and arguing about it. Don’t ask the shortstop to be a pitcher, and don’t send your catcher to first base.

6. Disproportionate Pay

Should my marketing/sales assistant and service assistants be paid equally? Yes and no.

First, I want you as an advisor to imagine you have two arms. Your business development manager brings in business to you. Some of the business is from clients. Some is from prospects.

Your service manager helps you keep what you’ve got. He or she creates selling time. Happy, well-serviced clients come back for more.

In this analogy, which would you rather have: your left arm or your right arm?

My answer would be, “I’m not willing to give up either.”

So which is more valuable, left or right?

Start with the same base salary, and then add to it or take away from it, based upon qualifications and length of service.

7. Keeping the “Right Person” Too Long

One of the most destructive things to a small team is the wrong person on it. The “wrong person” can often be disguised by many positive personal characteristics. It’s easy to root out the sour, dishonest, non-performing team member, but the “right person” is tough.

You could have, for instance, someone as your business development manager who has a great personality, good work ethic, blends well with the team, everyone likes him or her, but the harsh reality is, he or she does not get the results required of the position. You keep working with that person, coaching them, helping them, but it doesn’t improve. Most likely this person is responsible for business development.

The fact is: Some people do not have the ability to bring the horse to water, much less make it drink. To leave that person in that job can bring down your team.

In a larger company, that good decent person you hired would be moved to another job. But the cold reality is: You are not a larger company. You are a small team. And if your business development manager, or service manager, or junior advisor, can’t get the job done, no matter how sterling their other characteristics, they have to go. And they have to go fast.

The rule: When you start having second thoughts, make the second thoughts first thoughts and pull the plug.

8. No Decision-Making Process

If there is a single factor responsible for the destruction of most teams it is the absence of a decision-making process. This is especially apparent in a 50-50 partnership.

Bob says yes. Jane says no. And it sticks there. Irritation turns into anger. One person starts looking around. Sooner or later, it blows up.

The solution: An agreed-upon method to make a decision.

In the case of a 50-50 partnership, you could have a simple rule as follows:

The partners will come to an agreement on significant issues in a reasonable period of time. Failing that, they will call in an agreed-upon third party who will cast a deciding vote. That ends the discussion. And the partners get back to work.

In a larger partnership where the senior partner may hold a majority of the shares, the rule is simple.

The partners will discuss any changes in policy, major expenses, personnel, and ideally come to a meeting of the minds in a relatively short period of time. Failing that, the senior partner will make the decision and end the discussion.

Don’t let disagreements blow up an otherwise great relationship. Work out a method to end disagreement and move on.

9. Not Putting All the Eggs in One Basket

When two or three advisors come together, each is naturally cautious, and wants to protect what he brings to the table. That’s fine. But it’s only fine for a limited period of time. Once you have decided that you are a real partnership, all clients should be assigned a single partnership number.

The model of “ours, yours, and mine” is not a model that long survives. The reason is very simple. “Ours” never gets the attention of mine and yours. “Our clients” get neglected for the simple reason that it’s always easier for you to make more money by talking to your clients than our clients. There is no economic reason for this model to survive, and very rarely does it last more than a year or two. While you would not put all of your investment eggs in one basket, all clients assigned to one number is the foundation for a partnership of long duration.

10. No Team Vision

A team is a group of people united by a common vision or mission. With no common vision or mission, the team becomes not a team, but just a group of people doing stuff. It never develops the team dynamic. It is the responsibility of the advisor or partners to develop a mission statement. Further, it is essential that all current and future team members learn the mission statement and be able to repeat it from memory.

I read an interesting article a while back on mission statements. The author recommended that a mission statement not be longer than what can be comfortably recited while standing on one foot.

The mission of Bill Good Marketing is: “Create marketing and administrative systems that enable our clients to have the time and money to pursue their other goals in life.”

I can say that while standing on one foot. Can you do the same with your mission statement?


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