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NEWS - 2018 10 12 - 11:00

Decade of improvement: why business services centre needs tribes?

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar has calculated with how many people on average we can consciously foster and maintain relationships. The so-called "Dunbar’s number" published in 1992 does not seem to be so impressive – it’s 150. However, according to scientists, similar number of people formed communities in primitive human settlements, meanwhile, nowadays tactical unit of the army, a company, consists of the similar number of people and most of coherent human groups are limited to 200 members.

This is an interesting challenge faced by many organisations. When a company has several or more employees, leadership, process management, knowledge sharing, and other important issues often seem to be solved naturally, by themselves. This changes, however, when a group of people working together reaches dozens or hundreds – inevitably, there is a need to clearly and precisely define responsibilities, accountability, competencies, to develop a structure and culture that will ensure a coherent functioning of the company or organisation and the cooperation between the members.

The number of employees of SEB Global Services has increased fifteen times within the ten years of operation. An international branch providing services to SEB Group companies and banks in twenty countries started its’ operations in Vilnius with a team of 68 specialists. Now more than 1,500 people are working in the service centres in Vilnius and Riga. As the scale and the complexity of the services increased along with the size of the team, we had to look for new ways to organise the operation of the service centre to ensure the most successful cooperation between all the members of the organisation and provide world-class services to our clients.

We started out as many – a company with a usual structure, stable groups with well-defined functions and processes. However, as the scope of our service centre activity and the whole team broadened, new challenges arose making it necessary to update our attitude towards the organisation of the company. Based on the practice of organising SEB Group activities, in 2014 we began to apply agile project management approach and cooperation between different groups. We started to create service and business solutions in short cycles making the groups more integrated and flexible. We have noticed that the deployment of such business model allowed the service centre to develop comprehensive, end-to-end IT and business process solutions.

A more flexible organisation of activities, the autonomy of teams and their members in our organisation helps to form a distinctive, continuous development and culture that seeks for the most effective solutions. Thus, with further development of the SEB Global Services and its’ functions, we evaluated the possibility of setting up the so-called tribal structure. It is well-known in the world of IT and by companies in this field but only recently the tribes began to penetrate other areas of business.

Tribes are social groups united by leaders, common goals and culture. In the organisation tribes not only facilitate communication among members, but also stimulate the willingness to cooperate. Such groups are limited to several dozen members (let us keep in mind “Dunbar’s number”), and in the case of SEB Global Services – usually around 60-80 employees.

The tribe consists of several flexible teams that are focused on developing solutions and services. At present, the service centre has a tribe that is tasked to deliver more efficient financial data provision solutions for bank clients and employees. Members of these groups are specialists in financial operations, process development and IT. The tribe leader points out how many professionals and from which areas are needed to carry out the given task, then these professionals are sought within the organisation or, if necessary, hired. This process also involves the product owner representing and expressing needs of the client for the tribe and accepting the work result, while the activity of the tribe is supported by the scrum masters, ensuring compliance with the agile work methods and advising teams. Such cross-functional groups agree on their rules of conduct, principles, mission, and vision by themselves.

Formally, a tribe can be set up within two-to-three months. But for such a structure to function effectively, time and effort is needed. Sometimes – very direct. For instance, when implementing such structure, we had to reorganise office space more than once so that tribal members could work closer together. Members also need to agree on roles and activities and, sometimes, a leader is needed so that everyone could understand how we act, set our goals and choose priorities.

By mastering the principles of agile project management helping increase efficiency of SEB Global Services, we will gradually move towards the tribal structures in those areas of our organisation where we aim to develop comprehensive end-to-end solutions. To fulfil the vision of the SEB Group - to provide world-class services – we must constantly improve our own activities and the principles of work organisation. IT, product and process developers need to act as a cohesive team and we are convinced that the best way to do this is to bring people groups into tribes where such model is of obvious value. It makes it easier to make decisions, manage organisation, and, ultimately, make its’ operations even more transparent.

Author: Rūta Jasiulionienė, Branch Manager of SEB Global Services in Lithuania and Latvia

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