Job shares: Making two heads better than one

teachAs the first job share partnership at Teach First, we’ve been on quite a journey, during which we’ve learned a lot about how to make our set-up work. We’ve also met some remarkable co-leaders along the way who are shining examples of how to get it right.

Experience has shown us that trust, respect and collaboration are at the heart of successful job shares. Here are our tips for bringing them to life.

Set out clear plans and parameters

From the start, we drew up a clear plan of how we wanted to operate as a partnership. We knew our vision and values were similar, but we also knew we needed to agree what that meant in practice, and discuss how we would tackle any issues. For example:

  • How did we want to be viewed as partnership?
  • What was the culture we wanted to create?
  • What was the impact we wanted to make?
  • How would we manage disagreements?
  • What would we do if one of us wanted to separate?

Over time, our ambition and confidence has grown, and our partnership has developed with it. But the work we put in at the beginning is the cornerstone of our success.

Agree shared objectives and responsibilities

Our role is a busy one, with both internal and external responsibilities. So we felt it was important to share both objectives and accountability.

We take collective decisions on three things: strategy, people and money. For everything else, the Director who is working on a particular day takes the decisions, with the other’s full support.

Support and champion each other

A key strength of our partnership is our willingness to give each other honest, constructive feedback. We discuss what is going well and what we need to work on, and jointly celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes.

As well as accelerating our professional development, this has helped us acquire a huge amount of strength, resilience and momentum. We respond more quickly to set-backs, our decisions are better and our impact has been amplified.

Put a robust handover process in place

Our handover process is the engine that makes our partnership work. Hannah writes a briefing note every Friday and Claire does the same at the end of Tuesday; we read them before we come back in to ensure we stay up to speed. We also share an email account and make sure we read anything flagged up by the other before we start our first working day.

Use your time together wisely

We both work on Wednesdays, beginning the day by setting aside time for a detailed handover, in which we focus on any strategic issues. We then tend to head off to different meetings or locations to maximise our reach and our value to the organisation.

About once every four months, we take a Wednesday away from the office together, to consider whether we are meeting our objectives and plan our next steps.

We believe that leaders often fail because they are isolated or have a set mindset. Our set-up allows us to bring our different perspectives and experiences into play as we tackle the toughest issues together.

Make the most of technology

Recently, Claire heard from a long-standing, pioneering job share who started in the 1990s. They would write out their handover in an exercise book and leave this and their shared mobile phone on each other doorsteps. Thankfully, things have moved on.

Our shared OneNote, phone number, Skype, calendar and email address have been critical to making our partnership work. We type notes in meetings so that the next Director can pick up where the other left off, and keep a rolling To Do list which we both update daily, and review twice weekly when we handover.

Too often, people focus on the reasons why a job share (or talent partnership) won’t work. But the benefits to the individual and the organisation can be enormous if done well.

By retaining us both, Teach First has kept hold of our knowledge and experience, and benefitted from our collaborative way of working, without any drop in performance. And we have been able to balance our high-level careers with our other responsibilities.

We are always happy to share our experience and support partners and organisations looking to take co-leadership seriously. You can find us (individually) on LinkedIn or (together) on Twitter @walker_essex.

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