I'm U.S.-based, But My Co-CEO Is in Europe. Here's How We Make It Work. Leading a company with employees on five continents can be a challenge.
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As the co-CEO of an international company, my counterpart co-CEO and I oversee a software development company with more than 250 employees spread across five continents. While I'm based in the United States at our Orlando headquarters, more than half our business is in Europe, which means a good deal of my focus and attention needs to be on Europe. For several years, my co-CEO worked across the Atlantic in both the Czech Republic and remotely from Italy, requiring us to share leadership responsibilities across offices and time zones.
Communication and collaborative technologies have done a great deal to enable work across time zones, countries and cultures. But, our experience working as co-CEOs from separate continents taught us that these tools are just part of what it takes to lead a company from half a world away.
My co-CEO and I credit our cross-continental success to a few key principles that guide our interactions with each other and with our employees.
Clarity in responsibilities
The first of these principles is clarity in each of our responsibilities. When I joined the company in 2013, it was each of our first experience working as co-CEOs. Thus, a clear understanding of roles within the organization was non-negotiable. We had to understand each other's working styles and figure out the duties we'd do individually and which overlapped. We also needed to consider the business activities that required input from both of us, and communicate clearly to each other and our employees.
We strive to make the same level of clarity in responsibility known to all of our employees. Without it, daily actions have little context, getting lost in a sea of day-to-day minutiae and losing sight of the company's greater goal. Empowering employees with role clarity and autonomy is essential to an employee's ability to perform without fear of overstepping authority.
Maintaining effective communication across channels is vital for every productive company, and certainly plays a role when communicating with teams in different time zones on a daily basis. Especially at the beginning of our time working as co-CEOs, the more communication that occurred, the better. As we initiated our business relationship, we knew we would experience bumps in the road, but we both approached the situation with open minds and lots of dialogue.
Like many international companies, we take advantage of the abundance of communication technologies including email, Skype, Google Meet and Google Docs. These tools allow communication and collaboration without each team member needing to be awake or working at the same time.
Even though technology makes it easier, communication should not be taken lightly. For my co-CEO and I, communication has to be substantive and go into greater detail about what we think on a particular matter because later, it may be too late to pick up the phone and ask clarifying questions.
As defined by The Balance, "flexibility on the job includes the willingness and ability to readily respond to changing circumstances and expectations." International work requires flexibility in several areas: work hours, communication styles and an understanding in different cultures. I typically start working at 6 a.m. and occasionally work until 9 p.m. or later so my workday overlaps with Europe in my morning and Australia in the evening. On days when being available to a specific office in a different time zone is essential, it's important to change your working hours to match your colleague's.
Little changes like this make a huge difference in the long run, because as The Balance notes, "employees who approach their job with a flexible mindset are typically more highly valued by employers."
The final component to our working relationship is unrelenting trust. Management consultant Patrick Lencioni notes in his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team that the entire team foundation is built on trust. Without it, the concepts above it do not compute.
I must trust my co-CEO to drive forward the company's agenda in his areas of responsibility as he trusts me to do what is required in mine. There can be no "I wish he'd done it differently'" mentality; the decision gets made and we move on. We're in this together. With a foundation of trust and utmost respect for each other, we work in tandem without fear that something irreparable will happen.
Leading the company together with my co-CEO from a different continent has been much more manageable because we're clear on our responsibilities and put in the time to communicate effectively, and we've laid a foundation of respect and trust. This is the way to make one plus one add up to more than two.