It is interesting to recall how different clients have different working styles. I have worked with various client types, but the universities I have worked with, particularly the academic departments, do have a collegial practice which I find appealing. This contrasts with many private companies I have had as clients which have a competitive culture. It is individualised working, even if accompanied by an emphasis on team working.  That is not to say all private sector clients have a competitive culture, nor that all education clients have collegial working. Indeed the ‘marketisation’ of universities at present puts a lot of pressure on the remaining elements of university collegial working.

What does collegial mean? Well, for me, it means that instead of joining groups of co-workers and competing in a pool of talent, the group sees themselves as working to a common set of challenges, ideals, culture and values and lexicon. These drive the ‘how’ rather than the what. Trainees are inducted into a community of practice, rather than trained to be able to compete. The whole is gently changed by the introduction of new junior and senior appointments which gently move the overall and morph it into a new position. I am always struck by research groups and how they see themselves as training the next generation and how generous senior staff are with their time for their juniors.

The most appealing element of this mode of operation is the the idea that knowledge is formed not by brilliant individuals (though in some academic disciplines this is more the case) but instead formed by a group working and spending time together to think through challenges. With one particular academic department I have worked with, and I understand this to be true with many others, the most important place is not the library or lecture hall, not the laboratory or computer room, but the tea room. The tea room is the place where the culture of the department and norms of working require all staff, postgrads and relevant UGs to gather together and talk at 11am over coffee. It is in this room, acting as a fulcrum, that the ideas of the few are debated by the many, new lines of enquiry suggested, in short, knowledge created.

I rather think internal auditing is much like research. Various auditors are working on various problems. Some at a strategic level, others more compliance and operational. The key point is that they are all working to form opinions (the equivalent to a research answer) using a scope of work and an audit output (normally report, similar to an academic paper). Surely, audit then, requires the same type and level of engagement?

Perhaps all audit departments, instead of scattering auditors to the four winds, should actually have a tea room? Perhaps we need to think as a profession more about what community of practice we are introducing our trainees to? The half and half state of the qualification status of the profession’s auditors (many CIIA qualified, but so many not) make the establishment of single values and a common lexicon more challenging, but not impossible.

I am not advocating ‘group think’ here. That would be unhelpful and destroy the creativity that internal audit (and academia) should have. Rather it is a common set of structures and bases within which audit work and thinking can occur. Audit is stronger with collegial working. As a CAE I need to form an opinion, and I am ultimately accountable for it. I am not, however, always responsible for forming it. I have both added to, and had added to mine, strength of opinion, through debate and discussion with my professional colleagues.

So next time you are struggling to complete a piece of audit work to impress, try instead to draw others into it and work collaboratively. Even if your overall opinion is not changed it will certainly be strengthened. I would even go so far as to say that the opinion could be strengthened through collegial working with the management team (after all we are all working on the challenges to deliver the same strategy). This, in my view does not weaken audit’s independence, rather the ability to maturely debate and listen to others can only enhance its standing.

So when are you building your audit tea room?

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