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<p>Looking for an innovative way to challenge your entrepreneurial staff and develop future branch managers? Think “out of the box” and try a Team Management approach where leaders take turns being the boss. We’ve all experienced similar challenges in growing new leaders, expanding into new markets and implementing fresh ideas and initiatives. It is these challenges that led us to thinking about a new way of managing a branch structure when we planned the opening of CUNA Credit Union’s third branch in the Madison suburb of Fitchburg, the county’s fastest growing area. We developed a team management approach when we opened the branch last August. It has worked well and other credit unions planning to open more branches might benefit from our experience. We wanted to accomplish the following: Create a sense of ownership among the staff to grow the branch. It is challenging to get employees to a level of buy-in where they treat the branch as if it was their own business. Develop an environment that encourages entrepreneurial thinking and the ability to pilot or test those new ideas. We wanted to create a branch where we could test new ideas before implementing those ideas throughout CUNA Credit Union. Provide a management training ground as part of succession planning. We have promoted people in the past who were outstanding at what they did at their current job, but were not trained properly to step into a full leadership role. We wanted to give employees an opportunity to move up and to “try out” their management and leadership skills without the complete responsibility of managing the branch. This would give our employees a growth opportunity in an environment where it is safe to try new things and to make mistakes. This training ground provides us with a resource of qualified managers to pull from when a branch manager opportunity arises. To address these goals, we took the idea of self-directed work teams and put it into a retail branch environment where we developed an “FSR (Financial Services Representative) Team Manager” concept to run our Fitchburg branch. We started with four FSR Team Managers who all came from within CUNA Credit Union. The four FSR team managers are equally responsible for the service experience, growth, financials, and culture of the branch. Their primary role is to develop relationships with members. They are considered a Financial Service Representative and a business development manager, drumming up business in the community. Every other month, the managers rotate the supervisory responsibilities of the branch. This includes the scheduling, day-to-day operations, and performance of the tellers, receptionist area, and loan processor of the branch. This gives each of them an opportunity to manage and coach. Performance issues of the staff are discussed among the FSR Team Managers in their weekly meetings, but any formal discussions with the employee is done by the manager that has supervisory responsibilities that particular month. The team managers also rotate the “communications position” responsible for attending all the pertinent credit union meetings and reporting back to the entire branch. This person’s responsibility is to keep everyone well informed. In addition, each manager has his/her own area of responsibility at the Fitchburg branch that would normally fall on one branch manager under a traditional structure. Examples of these individual responsibilities, that do not rotate, are: branch security, facilities/maintenance, proper forms/supplies, and branch marketing promotions. When the FSR Team Managers are not the supervisor or the communications manager, they are expected to spend most of their time working with members directly or are out in the branch lobby or community. The branch has growth goals that are also broken down on an individual level of cross-sale targets to reach. We introduced the concept to our staff more than six months prior to the branch opening. Our staff was excited about the idea and, as a result, we had many internal candidates from which to choose. Each candidate went through the interview process and was chosen based on passion for service, communications style, willingness to take risks and try new things and the ability to sell new ideas. It does require more time to coach and develop employees who are up to the challenge. We have found that four is the optimum number, at least for our branch. One of our initial managers within the structure did not like the concept and opted out. She has now been replaced with a new “fourth.” From this experience, I highly recommend other credit unions give it a try, especially if you are interested in growing from within and providing leadership training. Also, if one team manger is sick, at a convention or on vacation, another manager can take his or her place that month, so a larger branch does not become dependent on one or two people. We used a 360-degree feedback format for the FSR Team Manager review for 2001. The experience was positive. The greatest success thus far is in the ownership each team member has taken in the branch. They all want and have a vested interest in making the innovative CUNA Credit Union at Fitchburg a success.</p>


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