Have you heard of the two-in-a-box management model? If you haven’t, it’s a form of Job Sharing (or top sharing in this case) when two senior leaders with common and complementary skills co-lead (co-manage, co-direct) an organization. They generally have the same title and responsibilities, as well as some individual responsibilities. Unlike a typical job sharing arrangement, the two jobmates in this case may be full-time.
A recipe for disaster?
For the organization, it can be confusing and challenging: Who’s the boss? Whose lead should we follow? Who’s the decision maker? And for the co-leads, it can be just as challenging: Who sets the direction for the organization? Who’s accountable for the business? How do we resolve conflicts? At this point, you may be thinking, this is a recipe for disaster… Hang in there.
Despite the challenges, companies as diverse as Intel, Goldman Sachs, P&G, and Dell have used the two-in-a-box model to manage complex organizations and businesses, and more importantly, to cross-train and groom future leaders.
Sharing a couple of personal experiences
I had the unique opportunity to work in a two-in-a-box leadership role in two separate occasions for a few years. Perhaps the most challenging behavioral change was shifting from an “I” mentality to a “We” mentality. Think about it, for years you’ve been saying my organization, my project, my budget, my decision, etc. and now you have to think our organization, our project, our budget, our decision, and so on. And the organization should clearly see it.
When your jobmate is someone you already know
In my first experience, I was asked to work with a colleague to co-lead an internal startup venture for the company. We had already worked together on other projects and knew each other’s leadership styles, competencies, complementary skills, likes or dislikes, and such. There was already a great deal of mutual trust and respect between us. As a result, our partnership took off almost instantaneously. In a few days, we determined how to split our responsibilities, who/how to make decisions, how to run “our” organization, who covered which meetings, how to stay aligned at all times, and how we would communicate with the organization at large. We documented all of this and shared it with the organization so things were clear to everyone. We worked on the venture for about three years, successfully delivered the technology, and at the end, we were even closer friends.
Can you share a job with a total stranger?
My second experience was totally different. My jobmate and I were assigned to co-lead a new business venture for the company. We hadn’t worked together before and didn’t know each other at all. Our management had considered us as being compatible with good complementary skills. To us, it felt like we only had one minute to fly through the forming-storming-norming-performing process to get things going. Putting a sizeable organization on hold until we had figured out how to work together was not an option.
We scheduled two daily one-on-ones for the next few weeks to scope our challenges, coordinate, plan, figure out how we will do things, and actually do things. We bumped heads a few times early on and had to work on a few disagreements on business direction, ownership and responsibilities. At one point we even escalated the issues to our management. What they told us was priceless: “You two will succeed or fail together. Go work your issues out and don’t come back until you have a resolution!”.
We agreed that we were missing trust, which is so fundamental for making a two-in-a-box (or any job sharing arrangement for that matter) work. We decided to focus on getting to know each other as fast as possible. We met frequently outside work over a glass of wine (or two), sharing things about ourselves like our personal goals, career goals, our values, our families, and so on. Eventually, something sparked. We started to enjoy our conversations and we felt comfortable with one another. Was this the beginning of trust perhaps? Shortly after, we started to work in harmony and in lockstep. The organization also started to feel that vibe and followed “us”, both of us. Eventually, we went through the same process that I went through in my first experience and got things into shape, documented and communicated to the organization. We worked together for a couple of years, successfully delivered against all business objectives and more. We became good friends (still are) —which is a key indicator for success in a job sharing arrangement.
If I put these two experiences together and squeeze one key learning out of them, it’s this: the two jobmates should behave like two musketeers, meaning, they must behave with a “two for one and one for two” attitude! They must go from “I” centric view of the world to a “we” centric view in one minute.