Sure, almost any management structure can work, depending on the people, the environment and how lucky you are. Those structures in which there are multiple people responsible for the same team or deliverables, though, almost always fail. When there isn’t a single person who is the final arbiter and decision-maker, decisions and, therefore, execution, can drag out for extended periods, at best, and can potentially even lead to organizational paralysis. Furthermore, employees of fast-moving organizations need to have a go-to person to address problems and answer questions. If they have to address a committee, even a two person one, inefficiency and confusion will likely reign, creating a situation where decisions come slowly and making the employee question whether he/she should seek similar guidance the next time. No organization can afford this.
I see this happening in startups all the time. Two founders can’t decide or, more likely, choose not to decide who will be in charge. “We’ll be equals.” While it’s fine for two or more to share equal ownership in a budding enterprise (although there can even be problems with that when big decisions need to be made that require a vote of some sort), sharing corporate management responsibility is a mistake. Ultimately, there will be difficult decisions that need to be made when a consensus cannot be formed. What does a founding team of equals do then?
Aside from the decision-making issues, it’s easy to see how in some organizations employees may also use the fact that they have two bosses to get the answer they want. Like a child manipulating parents, the employee can play one manager off another or simply seek out the the right one for every decision. Yeah, adults do that too.
Obviously, this situation is not solely found in startups. Even if it’s not a co-CEO situation, sometimes co-VPs, directors or group managers can be found inside struggling companies. The same things happen at any level where management responsibility is shared – things slow down and get confused. The genesis of these situations is the same as the one for co-founders, above – people don’t see the need or, more likely, choose not to make the tough call in choosing the single person for a managerial role. Co-managers may also be assigned in situations where a particular single manager doesn’t have all the capabilities necessary for the role with the excuse that their knowledge and/or capabilities augment each other’s.
In any case, the situation should be avoided. Almost always, a management role with two people filling it shouldn’t even be created and if a single person doesn’t have what it takes to fill the role, they shouldn’t be hired for or promoted into it. This management snafu is pretty black-n-white and is, therefore, easy to avoid. Don’t let yourself slip into the easy solution in order to keep everyone happy or even to fill a temporary need. Management moves like this are like a crutch. Make the tough (smart) decision at the start and fill all managerial roles with individuals. A little pain now will result in better company performance later.