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Case Study: Retail Bank


A division of a large retail bank is looking for a change. The department offers a range of financial and contact services for individuals and small to medium-sized companies, including running accounts, insurances and mortgages. The department consists of 3,400 full-time employees and is spread over 300 front offices, ranging from single-person desks in shops to local branch offices with 80 employees. Some of its branch offices are dedicated to offering all other services for personal banking clients like online services, contact centre, administrative support and coordination functions.



The retail bank is no exception to the influence of external factors that have urged many traditional banks to change course.

  • Technological advances over the past few years have driven banks to digitise their services.
  • The financial market today is flushed with small, agile competitors who are forcing traditionally-run banks to change fast.
  • The increasingly millennial workforce makes it clear that it doesn’t want to work within restrictive, highly hierarchical corporations.
  • Additionally, new legislation will make it mandatory for banks to share sensitive financial data with competitors – including fresh startups.

At this retail bank, particularly, one of the biggest challenges has been delivering top-quality customer experience. Clients have experienced long waiting lines and delayed attention. Many have also felt there were too many rules and procedures that complicate banking processes and undermine their bank interactions. All these factors meant the retail bank had to reevaluate its organisational model and transition towards self-organisation.

In 2018, they joined hands with the Semco Style Institute to:

  • Increase the impact of their personal interactions with clients, improving innovation and meeting customer needs better.
  • Deal with online-only competitors with greater confidence.
  • Digitise their banking services and offerings.



Some of the main reasons why the retail bank decided to explore the self-organisation route were to:

  • Enable its employees to focus better on clients.
  • Reduce bureaucratic red tape.
  • Improve cross-functional collaboration among employees.
  • And focus on creating happier clients who, in turn, created greater revenue.

However, the bank knew it wasn’t feasible to transform overnight from a traditional hierarchy into an agile, self-organisation. So, SSI advised them to begin with pilot projects to experiment with Semco Style principles and test key assumptions about performance, team size, working with minimal or no management and the new organisational model as a whole.

Between February and June 2018, the pilot phase included six teams, ranging between 10 and 30 members. Using them as a blank canvas, the bank tested if these teams could operate without managers and still manage to:

  • Meet performance targets
  • Act within certain boundaries
  • Meet customer needs better
  • Increase maturity in decision-making capabilities
  • And reduce rules and procedures to improve agility.

In parallel, the real implementation was prepared. The retail bank removed 300 of its FTE managers. Between May and June 2018, 100 more FTE managers were selected and re-assigned as team coaches, skill coaches and skill leads. With the help of Semco Style Institute, they were trained in their new roles. In 1 July 2018, 350 teams within the retail bank’s Personal Banking department have been brought into this new organisation model. The retail bank’s management team needed to take up a new agile leadership style with the Semco Style Institute’s proper coaching and guidance. 

Lastly, with help from the Semco Style Institute, the retail bank implemented a new performance management system where responsibility and accountability gradually shifted towards the 350 teams, overcoming the command and control structure.



The pilots turned out to be a great way to test and try rather than overanalyse and plan. The bank learned that teams need time for basic team building before growing into self-organisation. Pilot projects within the pre-phase have proved all assumptions right. Apart from that, the pilots proved that teams:

  • Work efficiently with less or no management, which helped reduce salary costs by 15%. 
  • Take up greater responsibility and empowerment towards their actions and targets
  • Can be facilitated by team coaches/ skill coaches/ skill leads in their new roles within self-organisation
  • Make decisions by themselves, and set and meet their own performance targets while adhering to certain boundaries of action – set and meet their own performance targets

The implementation of self-management in the period from June 2018 to June 2019 resulted in the following:

  • Increase in proactive employee behaviour
  • Research indicated strong growth in proactive behaviour and psychological safety within teams
  • Self-organisation held in high regard by employees
  • Continued decline in the number of sick leaves
  • Decrease in costs
    • 8% reduction in payroll costs
    • 5% savings on contractors and temporary employees
  • No productivity decrease during transitions
  • Increase in Net Promoter Score (reach a score of +30)
  • Strong upward trend visible in client satisfaction
  • 97% of employees consider the impact for the customer when making decisions (+30% compared to the previous year)

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