Is co-managing a business or department possible??

Co-managing a department is possible and co-managing businesses happen successfully everyday among partnerships and spouses.

However there are differences between couples and partners owning their own businesses and individuals working as employees managing a department. There are also similarities to successfully co-managing your own business and managing in a business or organization as an employee. This article will outline some of the pitfalls of co-management as well as my keys to success of how you can make co-managing work so that your time and energies are focused on being a well managed organization that benefits all of its stakeholders. For purposes of this article I will refer to spouses owning and co-managing a business together as partners.

Is it impossible for two individuals to manage an organization in the same way? Managing and leading a organization is a very individualized thing. While there’s volumes of books written about leadership skills, and management styles, each person applies these skills in their own individual way and has their own style of communicating with other stakeholders. Without exception each person has their own personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses that affect their management abilities and style. Personality traits such as whether you are  introverted, extraverted or somewhere in between have a huge impact on your management style and how you impact the performance of the other stakeholders in your organization.

There are some clear advantages if you can successfully make co-management work:

  • Having co-managers can be beneficial in that you’ve created redundancy so that there isn’t a gap or lapse in performance when one of these managers is out ill,  on vacation or leaves the organization. Each manager should have a basic understanding of the other managers responsibilities and have the ability to step in and fill the other’s role on a temporary basis so that until the other manager returns or can be replaced there isn’t a lapse in the day to day performance of the organization.
  • It is a great way for you to further the development and gain valuable experience for your managers and future leaders. You can determine who can take on larger roles within your organization and what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are. You may find a new or different role within your organization for one or more of these managers based on the job they did co-managing the department.  
  • If managed well co-management can be effective and allow you to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time than with one.

Keys to success:

  • Clear definition of responsibilities and expectations. It is imperative, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that there are a clear job description that details each manager’s role, areas of responsibilities and expectations. These should be written and shared among the other stakeholders so that each person within the organization understands what each manager is responsible for and who to go to with what question. However, without written job descriptions and a shared understanding of each person’s areas of responsibilities you’ve created a recipe for disaster that will end up in competition for control, each manager stepping on each others toes, sometimes unintentionally but often intentionally. It will create confusion among employees and other stakeholders as to who’s actually in charge and who can best help them fulfill their needs.
  • A strong pro-active leader willing to deal with conflict.  As a business owner or head of an organization when we create a management structure where two or more people are co-managing a department, we need to understand we have created additional work for ourselves and are ultimately accountable for the outcome, good or bad. By its very nature you have created a situation where two individuals are going to compete with each other, it is our job to manage those efforts and energies in a way that benefits the organization. As the leader we must lead to ensure there is a clear understanding of each manager’s role, area of responsibility and expectations of performance.  We must take the lead in ensuring the communication between managers is open and consistent. We need to be involved, even go as far as scheduling, daily or weekly meetings between the managers. Finally, I can’t emphasize this enough, be willing to step in early to resolve conflict. Ultimately you are responsible for the day to day operation of the department and if the management of that department isn’t working you are responsible.
  • Communication is the key. There should be daily or at the very least weekly one on one conversation between the managers as to what’s going on. What are the challenges and opportunities each is currently facing. Can the other manager help or offer another point of view?  Is the other manager better equipped to take on and solve the problem? Some decisions need to be made jointly and this allows for discussion among the managers and ensures each manager has the opportunity to express their opinion prior to these decisions being made. If these are co-managers reporting to a higher authority I would suggest the boss is part of these meeting so that all are on the same page and the boss has the opportunity to hear first hand from each of their direct reports. I would suggest the boss refrains for making decisions on behalf of these managers, however offering an  opinion is appropriate provided they let the managers come to their own conclusion. Their presence alone will have an impact on the discussions and on how these decisions are made.
  • Managing Conflict. In partnerships there are no bosses to settle conflict or to get a another point of view and ultimately settle a disagreement. If the partners are married this can be a dangerous things as conflict and disagreement can easily carry forward and affect family life or creep into the bedroom. If the managers are partners I would encourage setting time aside to discuss how to solve problems and share their opinions. This time might be at lunch or another place outside of the office. I might even suggest you agree on processes to resolve disagreements so they are resolved sooner than later. Letting ongoing issues continue to fester doesn’t get them resolved and can create all kinds of resentment and dysfunction that can eventually destroy a business, department and/or marriage. Don’t be fooled, if there is ongoing conflict between partners or managers, employees, coworkers and even customers know it.
  • Shared Vision & Mission. If two or more managers are pulling in different directions it won’t be long before they pull the department or organization apart. You all need to be on the same page working towards a common set of goals, have a common vision of where you want to take your organization and have the same mission for what you do. If you don’t have a Business Plan for your organization and departments, I would strongly encourage you to put one in place prior to creating a co-management structure. Involving these key managers in the creation of that business plan will ensure their respective buy-in and common understanding of where the organization is going.

Pitfalls of co-management. Before you head down the path of having two people share the responsibility of managing your business or department there are several significant consequences if this arrangement does not work that should be considered before creating such a management structure:

  • One of the co-managers will become frustrated, dissatisfied and will eventually leave. This often can be the better of the two managers. The one departing is often the stronger of the two, one that is better equipped to make decisions and create opportunity. Their decision to leave is a prime example of just that, they have made a decision to change and pursue opportunities this time for themselves, unfortunately not your organization.
  • High turnover within the department. We all look for leadership and want to be led, if employees can find that consistent leadership within your organization they will find it elsewhere. Without clear leadership, whether that’s accomplished with one or two employees, your employees  will become unsettled and confused about who’s in charge and the direction of the department, maybe even the organization.  It won’t be long before they  look for greener, more stable employment opportunities. You are operating at a clear disadvantage when you are spending your time and energies recruiting, hiring and training not improving your organization.  Your competition will run circles around you with a seasoned, trained, and motivated team.
  • There is a difference between leaders and managers. Leaders will almost always find a way to separate themselves from managers and not necessarily intentionally. To some lucky  individuals leadership and connecting with people comes naturally. People want to be led and will naturally gravitate to those individuals that show the greatest amount of leadership skills and empathy for the individuals they are managing . “Leaders don’t necessarily have to have a title to lead and just because you have a title doesn’t mean your leader.
  • Low morale and performance. Those employees that stay may lack the motivation to find other employment or are close to retirement and can’t afford to leave. However, their motivation for doing a good job will be lacking with ineffective management. Your department is a direct reflection of the environment you’ve created. If your department is in constant turmoil and stress because of conflict between your co-managers and your inability to correct the situation, it will function in a confused, stressed, and ineffective manner. Employees are often like children and they will look for the least path of resistance. It is very important that both managers have the same set of standards and operating guidelines so that they can consistently apply the organization’s policies.

As this article points out there are some clear advantages to successfully co-managing your business or organization. The real key is you and your strength as a leader. You have to be involved and positively affect the outcome.
Beartooth Business Consulting specializes on Strategic planning, organizational structure, and leadership training. We can assist in how you set-up and manage your organization. Please call us for a free initial consultation to see if you can benefit from our services. 406-690-5988 or email at

Is co-managing a business or department possible??
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