There is often a cloud of doubt surrounding the likelihood of success when it comes to co-managing a small business. Will there be cohesion? Will it last in the long run? If it does work is it because one of the two partners is more dominant than the other? This is a common opinion that seems to be promoted by the media, among others.
Two men running a company? Sure. A man and a woman? It happens. Two women? You’re going to have a hard time finding many companies that fit this ticket.
Up until now, it has always been challenging enough for women to reach the highest levels of management in any company, let alone start their own. What are the chances that two women can come together to make something such as their very own business work? Common opinion says “fat chance.”
Female Business Partners in German Startups
The difficulties faced by women climbing a corporate ladder in a large company aside, let’s take a look at the startup climate. The startup scene has already thrown the traditional corporate standard to the wolves and has transformed the professional playing field the world over.
Leaders such as Anna Alex and Julia Bösch from Outfittery, Anike von Gagern and Kathrin Weiß from Tausendkind or Susann Hoffmann and Nora-Vanessa Wohlert from Edition F are just a few examples of women whose startup endeavors have made a difference.
These female partnerships have not only made an impact for women, they underscore many of the benefits of dual leadership. The largest benefit is probably that the future of a company’s success is not dependent on a single person, their well-being, or their decisions. There is a balance, a synergy, that allows for a more thoughtful management style, an aspect that lends itself well to promoting success and prosperity.
Kolibri Online: 9 years of dual-leadership success
With 9 years and counting as a successful content marketing and translation agency, Kolibri Online hardly counts as a typical startup. Our managing partners, Tine Stensbjerg and Alaitz Anasagasti have anticipated the trends of female leadership growth and built the agency into what it is with their dynamic pairing.
Together, their success with Kolibri is a testament to their leadership capacity as a duo. The founders of Kolibri know that co-management of a startup comes with more than a few trials and tribulations, which makes it doubly important for partners to work together to counteract any issues that may arise.
Managing partner Tine Stensbjerg has summarized the basic rules that co-managers should follow in order to maintain a successful business partnership, and ensure growth and continued synergy.
The secrets to success: 6 tips for maintaining dual management from Tine Stensbjerg
“From conversation with other entrepreneurs, I know that there are many pairs that don’t work out so well and can actually be detrimental to company management. This is a pity, because from my point of view dual-management is a great way to help balance the personal and professional work balance; it helps make it possible to spend time with your family while still allowing your business to thrive. I think this is a valuable dynamic for people to consider when starting a business as a team”
“From the beginning, Alaitz and I have protected our partnership – especially when it comes to problems that arise suddenly in a busy entrepreneur’s day.
In my opinion, in addition to a high degree of mutual trust, there are a few certain rules of conduct need to be laid down for such a partnership to flourish.
1) Task distribution. It needs to be clearly defined who is responsible for which tasks, and who needs to take responsibility when something fails. We have divided our HR, administration, controlling, legal & tax, IT development and marketing, and advertising divisions as well as the strategy and company development and the daily management amongst our three teams. It is important for us that these areas of responsibility are kept transparent throughout the company so that everyone is always up to date at all time. At the beginning of the year, targets and goals are set and are reviewed at regular intervals as the year progresses.
2) Working hours. When someone works more, they get paid more. It’s pretty simple. We keep everyone’s working hours in a simple Excel table. If someone wants to work longer hours over a greater period of time, that time can be drawn up with ease. This creates a certain clarity and simplicity and helps prevent us from disputes about which one of us works more hours, which causes more problems than it solves.
3) The company objectives. We always make sure that we agree on the objectives of the company and that they are in harmony with our own wishes and vision for the future. In a given day you don’t always notice time passing as quickly as it does. And over time our goals and vision often change; and these are not always analogous with those of our partners. While one may be burning for business expansion, the other may prefer to reduce their time to 20 hours and devote themselves more to their family. These discrepancies are better ironed out quickly and simply rather than later. There are always solutions when it comes to balancing two peoples’ priorities, but only when they are committed to communication and honesty.
4) Commitment. It’s still important to take one’s own responsibility into one’s own hands when part of a team. It’s not so different from parenting – when co-parenting, at least, it’s essential for both caretakers to be aware of their own responsibilities and to find ways to solve disputes between themselves, and their children, amicably. As business partners it is also important to retain these individual contributions and responsibilities. Each partner should be treated as an equal and the relationship characterized by respect and trust.
5) Communication. It’s important to keep the discussion going – even when it comes to somewhat superficial topics. Misunderstandings can be kept to a minimum with an adequate exchange of information and sentiment. Alaitz and I take at least half an hour each day to talk about everyday life and the impacts that our personal lives could have on work – then act accordingly and sympathetically. If a leadership team takes the time for this exchange only when serious challenges arise, there is always a risk that this exchange is characterized by reproach rather than constructive criticism. You can also learn more about each other by sharing perspectives – which creates a closer bond that can only help company management and synergy.
6) Decisions. Discuss, discuss, discuss – and when in doubt compromise. By separating tasks clearly, it’s easier to make smaller and mid-sized decisions independently. In the case of major decisions, however, your partner retains a veto. This allows the discussion to continue until a solution is placed on the table. A compromise is reached and the most logical decision wins. In addition to these bigger decisions, there are also very big decisions. These include things such as the future of the agency and major company goals. If we can’t agree in such cases we sit down, lock the door, and don’t emerge until something is worked out and totally agreed upon – both of us fully behind the decision even if it involved a compromise.
If these 6 basic rules are respected, from my point of view, there is no reason why a business partnership cannot be successful. Perhaps the most important basic rule to keep things on the right track is simply to leave one’s ego behind. We all preach fair play to our employees and promote team busilding. With these principles, however, it is essential to lead by example. Set the course for those you wish to follow you, and everything will turn out just fine.
[This article originally appeared on Tine Stensbjerg’s LinkedIn page in March, 2017, and has been adapted from its original German]