Parenting

'Two in a Box' Management Works Like Equal Parenting

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Ever heard of 'Two in a Box'? It's a corporate management structure created within Cognizant, an IT services provider, and now embraced at least in part by other companies such as Dell...and it's a lot like equally shared parenting for the business world.

The basic premise of Two in a Box is that a division or group or department or even a project is coordinated equally by two managers. Two heads that can think more clearly, come up with better ideas, and reach out more thoroughly to outside clients and internal customers. Two management styles that dilute out individual neuroses, hopefully making employees who report to their two bosses happier (or at least offering them respite from a singular bad boss-employee match). Two people who must lead by a team approach, making joint decisions and setting joint standards and expectations. No one person gets all the credit or takes all the blame; both can cover each other to end up providing far more than full time service or to prevent project down-time during vacations or personal emergencies. And you end up with a good shot at work/life balance for the boss!

For the past 12 or so years, I've had the extreme good fortune to have a Two in the Box job. And it has been fantastic. I make it a point not to blog about my workplace in any specifics here, but I will sing a few praises now. I co-manage the clinical pharmacy program at my job (a large multi-site medical practice) with my work partner, Marianne - each working about 30 hours per week and balancing work with time for our kids, partners, and outside lives. Together, we supervise 7 (soon to be 8) clinical pharmacists and run several committees and many projects. We have different management styles - I'm more of the daily operations person and she is more of the big picture/special assignments person. I'm forever making lists of tasks to be done - a classic project manager type. Marianne is forever pushing the envelope, setting the boundaries, framing the goals. Together - she and I agree wholeheartedly - we are far, far better at running the show than either of us alone would ever be.

In Marianne, I've got the perfect equally sharing worker. Neither of us is after career fame and glory, but both of us are deeply dedicated to our program and our employees. And we pinch-hit for each other all the time - during our vacations, kid-care situations, early morning or late night meeting requirements, etc. Sure, it takes a bit more communication to make Two in a Box successful, but just like with ESP, that dance of communication becomes automatic in pretty short order. And I appreciate what she does, and she appreciates my work, because we walk in each other's shoes.

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I know that, again just like ESP, Two in a Box management is still rare. On the surface, it sounds inefficient and expensive, doesn't it? Why hire two people when you can get the work from one? Won't this just cause both people to be mediocre managers since neither can step over the other in the race for the top? Won't they spend all their time bickering about whose turn it is to sign the timesheets? This sounds familiar, right? These are the same arguments that naysayers spout about ESP. But the truth, at least from my experience (and also from Cognizant's and Dell's) is quite the opposite. Just like ESP.