It always sounds great to say, “Y’know, we are all on the same team. We don’t need a hierarchy. We can make decisions together.” But, for how long does that really work?

This article tells an interesting tale about a start-up and how the two founders tried to run things together, but eventually learned that they needed, “one strategy, one vision, and one decision maker.” Other cases are presented, but they always circle back to the idea of an agreement on vision and establishing accountability. And, we know that having co-CEOs doesn’t always work for big companies, either.

Having shared responsibilities is a good thing. Small businesses have always had partners, which can essentially be co-CEOs, but many have operating or managing partners as well, which indicates where the buck stops. Additionally, dividing up executive tasks can also lead to a better work-life balance for those in charge as one person does not have to do EVERYTHING.

There’s been some research on using co-CEOs. Interestingly, it shows that a clear, but not too large, power difference between the two leads to better organizational performance. This implies that there needs to be a clear number 1 (or 1a), but not so much so that one CEO feels that s/he is being pushed aside.

There are important implications of these ideas for teams that are not in the C-Suite as well. One is that having a leader, or, if you’d prefer, someone to set structure and hold people accountable, is critical for a group’s success. The other is that people on a team either want to know who the final decision maker is or will ask whichever co-leader they think they’ll get the “right” answer from when they have a question. For the purposes of “one strategy, one vision, and one decision maker,” the former is preferable.

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