A photo of a Travis Perkins truck| AccountingWEB| Creating trust and high performance in your finance teams

How to create trust and high performance in your team


Jane Morrison, the director of finance transformation at Travis Perkins, discusses with Neil Cutting the art of creating high-performing teams.

21st Feb 2024
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In today’s fast-paced business world, success relies on high-performing teams. Leaders play a crucial role in fostering this culture by building trust and collaboration.

Having held senior roles at Heineken, Tesco and Premier Foods, Jane Morrison joined the Travis Perkins Group through the Wickes Business, and is now working as the director of finance transformation at British builders’ merchant Travis Perkins. Morrison (pictured below) has a rich experience of working with organisations that are famous brands, but she believes businesses can’t rely on reputation alone these days. 

Jane MorrisonShe now sees the gap widening between established companies and those that have embraced new technology, especially with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). If businesses don’t want to fall behind, Morrison believes they have to create a culture that wants to adapt and change. 

To take advantage of developments coming down the line, they need to add the ingredients of the right systems, processes and leadership, but what binds all this together is their people and especially the culture.

“Businesses invest so much money in people. They are your most valuable investment in the majority of businesses. So we have to create a return on that investment. The culture across teams must foster collaboration – removing any ‘them and us’ attitudes within the broader business – driving high performance and motivation,” said Morrison.  

So how do you transform your finance team? Morrison talks through her gap analysis strategy in implementing a high-performance team.  

The current state

She said the challenge for businesses to achieve high performance comes against the backdrop of fast change and having four quite different and diverse generations in the workplace.

“You’ve got boomers, Generation X, millennials and now Gen Z trying to operate in the workplace together and with the way that travel has boomed in the past few decades, we have different ethnicities, races and people that identify with different beliefs. That diversity is fantastic, but we have to learn how to take advantage of it in a cohesive way,” said Morrison.

The risk for finance teams that don’t try to find shared ground within teams was encapsulated in the Robbers Cave experiment. Morrison explained how this experiment aimed to observe the dynamics of 22 boys split into two groups and led to animosity developing between the tribes. While there is controversy over whether the organisers encouraged this, the results demonstrated how group identification can foster hostility towards outsiders. 

The animosity escalated into sabotage of each other’s camps and, while extreme, it illustrates well how divergent teams can be unhelpful to a company culture.

The challenge for leadership of an organisation is to create the right culture that will drive their business forward and leverage their investment in people.

Define the desired state

However, businesses struggle to achieve collaboration and harness the potential of diverse teams while navigating a rapidly changing world. For Morrison, the route to meeting this desired state of high performance is through building trust with your team.  

The well-known Project Aristotle at Google found that the one and only common behaviour in successful teams was psychological safety. 

“People perform at their best when they feel psychologically safe in a team. And that’s because people are performing without fear,” explained Morrison.  

“If you think about when you’re in a meeting and you feel like somebody’s got a slightly different agenda from you, and instead of focusing on problem solving and just saying what comes to mind, you filter your responses because they’ve just barked at that person over there. So you lose the benefit of diversity because people don’t feel safe and move to self-protection,” she added.

First steps

She said the first steps in achieving this desired state and driving this sense of safety is by being authentic and treating your team like adults. You must realise that the majority of people are perfectly capable of doing their job – they might just do it in a different style to you. 

“Sometimes as a manager or leader, you can be really frustrated by a lack of progress,” said Morrison. “And I think the worst thing that you can do is to lose your temper. Because actually, you just instil fear. People do not perform well when they feel under threat, because they are just focused on self-preservation.” 

In order to generate a sense of trust, it’s important with the different interactions we have as part of our day-to-day business responsibilities to think about this. 

Through the transformation programme at Travis Perkins, Morrison and her team have faced many challenges as they’ve driven changes through the business. Key to this has been listening to concerns and having open conversations about the need for change and obstacles that need to be overcome.

She learned there is no silver bullet. “What you have to do is sit down with your people, understand their concerns, truly listen, and create a space where they feel that they can voice their concerns.”

This was challenging for Morrison’s transformation team. They’d go into the meetings with other teams telling them that they couldn’t do what they were doing anymore, but because they created the space to encourage open debate, they had to hear all the complaints.   

“As a leader, you have to be supportive of your teams, you need to show up, and you need to be there. And sometimes you have to manage the room and remind people that we’re all colleagues and we need to be respectful of each other and this is a shared problem,” said Morrison. 

It would have been easier to deliver the changes through a dictatorship approach, but the outcome would not have been as successful. By listening and adapting Morrison’s team has delivered positive changes for the group that have already been adopted across the business and have paved the way for the successful implementation of the new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.  

“You need to be willing to have a bit of give and take,” explained Morrison. “You need to bring people on the journey and have the conversations so everyone knows it’s a joint problem.” 

Manage the transformation

As a self-confessed control freak, Morrison put together a guide to ensure the high performance flows through the team. She wrote the guide after having managed the team through a redundancy process and realised that not everyone was managing their teams in the way she had expected.  

A lot of information included in the guide could be just deemed as common sense, but Morrison said that having it in black and white underlines what good looks like. 

The first level of managing a high-performing team is the “boring work management” tasks. This is laying out the job, expectations and what you want your people to deliver. In order to deliver this, you need to have regular one-to-one meetings. “You must build an effective communication route. If someone isn’t delivering as expected, first and foremost you must discuss it with them, understand why,” she said. Back to one of the earlier points, most people are capable given the right environment and tools.  

“It’s imperative that you learn to understand the people who work for you, if you don’t know about them you can’t understand how to manage and motivate them. You’re treating them like a machine and people are so much more than machines,” she said.

To get the best out of your team, she said managers need to understand what their team members care about and their values. 

“Because if you don’t understand those things, then you might assume that the woman who’s rushing into the office at 9am in the morning looking harried doesn’t get up very early, when in reality, she has to take her four kids to school, because her husband works offshore,” she said.

“The more you understand about somebody, the more open they will be about what they’re concerned about, and the easier it becomes to unblock what overshadows their ability to perform in the best way.” 

So inject some curiosity into your interactions with your teams, be present and listen. Try to put some of your biases to one side.

Evaluate and improve  

If you want a high-performing team, Morrison encourages other finance leaders to continuously make sure you’re taking advantage of all the people in the room. 

“You want to be looking around the room and see who looks like they want to say something, but isn’t saying anything, and encourage them. Show that you’re listening to what they say. As a leader, you cast quite a shadow. I didn’t have a lot to input into a recent meeting, but it was really important that I was there backing up the people who were trying to resolve the problem.”

Your role is not only as a leader but you also have to be aware of the tensions in the team and continuously evaluate how you can get people to work together. Morrison added: “There was one point where I could see there was quite a lot of pressure on one individual. So I just messaged her and said, ‘Look, this is hard. You're doing a great job – carry on.’”

Replies (3)

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By ColA
22nd Feb 2024 11:05

No doubt real work gets in the way! Leadership in any team depends on role-modelling of the immediate leader & the wider management context.
Experience as a customer of TP would suggest that several Himalayan summits have to be climbed before any whisker of transformation emerges.

Thanks (2)
Replying to ColA:
By FactChecker
22nd Feb 2024 14:02

I'm not a customer of TP, but with the incisive insights shown I've no doubt that transformation will take place - but focussed on improvement or degradation?

Morrison added: “There was one point where I could see there was quite a lot of pressure on one individual. So I just messaged her and said, ‘Look, this is hard. You're doing a great job – carry on.’”
Nothing like hands-on empathy - and that's nothing like ...

Thanks (2)
Replying to FactChecker:
By ColA
29th Feb 2024 16:59

Often such ‘change experts’ are merely on an upward ego trajectory, but like periodic celestial events of shooting stars.

These occur frequently, minimal effect, and the Earth still rotates pretty much the same, given a micro second or two.

Real transformation depends on dynamism with & from team leader to team. Rare in all too many instances.

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