A variety of conditions lead some organizations to delegate jointly to more than one person primary responsibility for a business unit, task force, or project. The idea that more than one person can have "primary" responsibility for something is a bit of a puzzle, but nevertheless, it's a common situation. It can work well. And it can also develop into a potful of trouble. If you find yourself inclined to establish one of these configurations, or you're a co-leader yourself, or you work in or with a unit that has joint leadership, it's advantageous to know the risks. Knowing what kinds of problems can develop, and knowing what limitations these structures have, can be helpful. This post is a high-level view of the kinds of factors that can affect the performance of joint leadership teams (JLTs). I'll be exploring JLTs in more detail in coming posts.
Attributes of joint leadership teams
One way of categorizing JLTs is according to the size of the leadership group. Dyads, triads, tetrads, … all are possible. Probably the most common form of JLT is the pair, in which just two people are designated as having primary responsibility for the effort. Often, the number of co-leaders is determined by political considerations, especially when the group is supposed to "represent" the interests of a set of teams or business units. See "The Politics of Forming Joint Leadership Teams," Point Lookout for January 4, 2023, for more.
Other factors that affect the risk profile facing the leadership group include, as examples, the factors below.
- Group longevity
- The group Probably the most common form of joint
leadership team is the pair, in which just
two people are designated as having
primary responsibility for a group effortcan be a short-term task force, a project, a long-lived business unit, an entire enterprise, or something else. Groups with longer lifetimes face greater external risks, as the rest of the enterprise has more time to mobilize its political capabilities.
- Breadth of knowledge required
- The group might be trying to achieve something that requires a broad base of knowledge, best provided by a group of leaders. Settings in which success depends on divergent practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, or rules are likely to find JLTs appealing. [Gibeau 2016] Although a JLT might be appealing at first, it's important to weigh carefully the advantages and disadvantages of the JLT approach.
- Sources of funding
- In some cases, the organizations that provide funding for the group require specific persons to have leadership positions. This is one way funders can manage risks related to lack of knowledge about some of the leadership candidates. Unfortunately, although the JLT configuration might offer some comfort in that respect, it brings along risks of its own.
- A captive JLT is one that's embedded in an organization. Examples include the leadership teams of projects, task forces, task teams, or business units. These are likely the most common forms of JLTs. Members of a captive JLT are subject to the performance standards of the host organization, and (usually) supervision by a responsible superior. These mechanisms provide some mitigation of the risk of toxic conflict within the JLT.
In next week's post, I explore the properties of JLTs that affect their agility. In two weeks, I examine the organizational politics of forming JLTs. And in three weeks, I examine some risks that are specific to JLTs. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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See also Virtual and Global Teams and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
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