As we transitioned to a co-CEO model in 2019, Carl Erickson (Atomic’s founder), Mike, and I wanted to create a structure and a repeatable means of reducing risk in CEO succession. We hoped the high-level structure and relationships between co-CEOs, executive chairman, and the company would create an inherent context for performance, accountability, and resilience.
Driving in a layer deeper, Mike and I believed we needed to sweat the details on our job design as co-CEOs. We wanted to make sure we could work effectively together as co-CEOs and provide clarity to everyone else in the organization about who should be involved with what. This post shares some tools we used and the decisions we made in designing how we work together.
At Atomic, we talk about our ATOC architecture — our core structural elements of Atoms, Teams, Offices, and Company. In 2019, we had just under seventy Atoms working in two geographically separate offices. Our offices are supported by a company team.
We had been using some Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) tools at the office level since 2018, and we decided to use a few EOS tools and concepts for approaching the detailed design of our co-CEO working structure. We focused on three key considerations:
- Align on accountabilities and responsibilities
- Visionary and integrator roles
- Share or split functional responsibilities
1. Align on Accountabilities and Responsibilities
Mike and I first started discussing if we were going to share or split functional responsibilities. We soon realized that we needed a common mental model of what we’d be sharing or splitting up. This led us to discuss and create an Accountability Chart for Atomic’s company-level functions and how the company interfaced with offices.
Since we’d worked closely together at Atomic for years, I figured we’d be 95% or more aligned on how to draw the accountability chart. In practice, we were probably closer to 80% aligned.
We were both surprised and happy our work on the accountability chart prompted healthy discussion and iteration on how we viewed the functional organization of Atomic. We spent many hours creating a draft of our accountability chart. Then we took the draft chart to Atomic leaders and office teams for their feedback. We also worked with Carl to include his role as executive chairman and several functions included in Atomic’s operating agreement.
I could write an entire post about this experience and the insights it drove, but the main takeaway here is that I suggest you work through the accountability chart exercise because it creates a shared mental model for how responsibilities and accountability are spread across the organization. The shared mental model allows for effective execution and a common foundation when considering growth and change.
Our accountability chart design supported decisions on how to organize our work between each other and with others in the organization.
We continue to use our accountability chart when considering who should be involved with initiatives and emergent considerations.
2. Visionary and Integrator Roles
EOS includes the concepts of the Visionary and Integrator roles. The Visionary is someone who is more naturally focused on new ideas. The Integrator is someone who is more naturally focused on driving operational excellence.
Mike and I discussed if we should each focus on one of these roles and split our responsibilities based on the Visionary and Integrator roles. I skew a little towards the Visionary side of the spectrum and Mike towards the Integrator. But based on our working history, we knew each of us has the capacity and talent for either role.
Nevertheless, we were concerned splitting our work based on these roles could create an unhealthy dynamic where the Visionary didn’t carry enough responsibility. Instead of creating Visionary and Integrator functions in our accountability chart, we created a single co-CEO function with breakdowns on focus areas in the organization.
3. Share or Split Functional Responsibilities
Mike and I discussed if we should broadly share or split responsibilities across company functions. We believed sharing everything would be inefficient and less effective. We wanted to avoid:
- Both of us being in too many meetings.
- Communication confusion because others don’t know whether they can talk with one of us or need to schedule time with both of us.
- Needing to discuss and align on decisions across and within all functional areas of the business.
We decided to split responsibilities. Mike took on responsibilities guiding the functional areas of:
- Service delivery across offices
- Shareholder management
I took on responsibilities guiding the functional areas of:
- EOS practices coordination for the company team
- Human resources and people development
We each work with leaders and managers who own responsibilities and have accountability for the functional areas we are involved in.
Our detailed, structural design decisions have been working well. Part of the success is how communication and information flow across functional areas. My next post will share details about our functional meetings and how information flows to keep us informed and aligned.
This is the second post in a series about Atomic’s co-CEO model that Mike Marsiglia and I started working in during 2019. We are openly sharing our experience to help others who might be considering a similar model.
Atomic’s Co-CEO Model
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