They are all varied groups of individuals who come together for a purpose.
This, according to some of the best brains around, is where things start to go
For any group to work well, the members need some basis of common
understanding with unwritten rules. This leads to ‘group thinking’. If you need
evidence of group thinking, just consider some of the major boardroom disaster
decisions we have seen over the past few years.
But this madness isn’t limited to the boardroom, of course. Everywhere you
look, groups of people get caught up in self-imposed illusions, and value gets
destroyed as a result.
But what does this have to do with the average, hard-working finance
When all around are losing their heads, who’s best equipped to keep a
foothold on reality? The chief executive, under pressure to develop new markets
and strategies? Marketing, operations and other commercial functions striving to
deliver these new plans? Or the finance function, staffed with people trained in
But there is a problem. Battling against the traditional image of the
‘accountant who always says no’, we’ve become scared of being seen as the one
who puts the brakes on innovation and creativity. As a result we often
co-operate in group thinking by voluntarily censoring our own critical analysis.
To be relevant in the 21st century, finance needs to be at the forefront of
business growth. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to facilitate
disaster or to hide behind ever more clever ‘financial engineering’ solutions
while the business heads over a cliff.
One of the most critical tasks for finance is to know when to say ‘no’, or
even when just to ask the simple question: ‘Are we sure?’ It can be difficult.
But, knowing when to say ‘stop’ as well as when to say ‘go’ puts us right at the
centre of the value-creating process. This is a very real contribution, and one
that finance is perhaps uniquely equipped to make.
Pat Scott is partner and executive coach at Woodbridge Partners
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