PANC 2012: Team Building

“We consult with advisers on best practices,” Anders Smith, senior vice president, national sales manager, DCIO and strategic platforms at Nuveen Investments, told conference attendees.

The panel discussed what makes a successful advisory team, and examined ways to create a team, how to build and maintain a healthy a cohesive group and danger signs to watch for.

According to Nuveen research, 74% of retirement plan advisory practices work in teams, Smith said. Teams provide better client service and are more effective at meeting the needs of plan sponsors and participants. Benefits include increased productivity, creativity, efficiency and clearer work objectives.

Among the many advantages of working in a team, Smith pointed to enhanced communications, a motivated staff, higher levels of job satisfaction and less stress. In fact, team work can produce more business for you and your practice.

While most teams have some set players, Charles Williams, managing director, Sheridan Road Financial, said his firm aims to customize for the client based on their need. “A startup might look very different from a more established plan,” he noted. Generally there’s a marketing piece as well as an investment officer.

Team members’ personalities are a vital part of building the team, said Bruce D. Harrington, vice president, sales and business development at John Hancock Financial Network. He suggested using resources such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which can help specify personality characteristics. “We plot how people may fit well together,” Harrington said. Collaborative teams leverage people’s strengths, and in some cases have almost doubled productivity of an adviser group. Also, he noted, teams with identical personality types are doomed to fail.

When examining personnel as potential team members, Williams said he asks, “Are they bringing something we don’t have, something that’s unique?” Sometimes a staffer is uniquely good at education or some other part of plan service. “We look at how a personality fits in with what we have,” he said.

Trust is key, Williams emphasized. All team members must share the common goal: serving the client.

One of the biggest challenges is designing an appropriate compensation structure that works for everyone and is motivating, said Steve Wylam, partner at The 401(k) Team @CAMI. Harrington described a structure with a lead adviser who primarily generates revenue and everyone underneath the lead on salary. “I have found you have to back a new hire with 250K of new revenue,” Wylam said.

Smith noted a number of warning signs that say a team may need a boost:

  • decreased productivity;
  • conflicts or hostility among team members;
  • confusion about assignments, decisions misunderstood or not carried through properly; and
  • apathy and a lack of involvement, which would also be undesirable team traits.

“You might be starting to hear from clients that things aren’t what they used to be,” he said, “if you use surveys for feedback.”