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Have you ever heard of co-leadership? A year ago, my answer to this question, maybe just like yours today, would have been “No, I’ve never heard of it.”

During my fellowship with the Diversity & People Programs, HR Germany team last year I was responsible for driving this topic for HR Germany, and I really got to appreciate what it has to offer and enjoyed working together with the big co-leadership community inside and outside of SAP.

Here is why I think co-leadership is essential for the future.  

What it is

Just like parenthood, Co-leadership is when two or more people are in charge of a team or group.

Co-leadership means that two managers lead a team together, sharing management responsibilities and daily tasks. This is not the same as job sharing, where two people simply share the same job, e.g. as project leads for a project.

Co-leadership can be useful in many different situations:

  • For a new leader coming into an established team

  • If you have an experienced and a less-experienced leader working together for a transition period or in the long run

  • For leaders who do not want to be managers only, but also would like to continue to work as experts for a certain topic

  • If you have a particularly large team to lead

  • IF you have a team that is spread across different locations and time zones

  • And many more…

At SAP in Germany, it has been mandatory to offer the options of part time and co-leadership for all management job postings since 2018.

Currently, there are about 40 official co-leadership tandems in Germany, and a few more worldwide although the program has been rolled out officially only for Germany.

What it is not

  • A program for part-time working employees

  • Only suitable for women

  • A short-term solution

What do I have to consider?

As is the case with all good relationships, a co-leadership tandem needs to be built on trust. Therefore, you need to take your time to find the right partner and take your time to align on common values and goals.

Secondly, you need include your team into the journey from the very start. They might have concerns, they might feel that this means for them that they have now two people that will hold them accountable, they might fear additional administrative overload.

Also, it is very important that you have the buy-in from your upper management.

Finally, you need to be willing to adapt and learn. Most probably, not everything you plan will work out and some things you have not planned for will happen. Also, the feedback from your team will help you to adapt the concept to what your team needs.

Ok, I see this can be good for leaders, but is it also good for the teams?

Yes, because there is always someone available when you need them, you get new and different input from more than one person, and you have the possibility to grow yourself, because co-leadership teams tend to rely more on a network of self-organized sub-teams and sharing of responsibilities.