Dr. Caroline Sauter and Sebastian Haug jointly head the Software Design and Development Delivery Unit at Sulzer GmbH. For both of them, it was a conscious decision to divide the tasks of managing such a unit between them. We talked to them about their working model and its advantages and challenges.
Sulzer: Hello Caroline, hello Sebastian, What is your working model?
Sebastian Haug (SHA): I work full-time and share the role of DU Head of Software Design & Development with Caroline. With a good 160 employees in eleven teams working on about 100 projects, there is enough work for two in the Delivery Unit.
Caroline Sauter (CSA): I work every day, but since I work part-time, I take my leave during the afternoon. Here I am also flexible, depending on what is planned in the calendar of my part-time job (family).
How do you manage the division of tasks or any handovers?
CSA: We don’t have a fixed division of tasks, but usually the person who started a topic finishes it. This saves us detailed handovers on a topic; it’s enough if the other person is basically informed.
An implicit division of tasks results from the fact that everyone has certain preferences and then works on topics that fit in more quickly than the other. In my view, that’s a great advantage of a dual leadership: you can complement each other well, because no one can and likes everything equally well.
SHA: Caroline has already taught me very well to record the results of votes in Confluence in order to keep each other up to date on ongoing processes. Additionally, we sat down at least once a week to synchronize. As a result, there are only a few cases where someone has to pick us up because, up until now, the issue was with the other person.
We also attend many appointments together. Contrary to the initial impression that this would be inefficient, our experience has been very good. With four eyes and two perspectives, we often achieve a good result more quickly.
Similar effects have also been observed with pair programming: when two developers program together at one workstation, they theoretically type at only half the speed possible through parallelization. In practice, however, they achieve higher-quality results more quickly. At the same time, they learn from each other and the joint work has a motivating effect.
CSA: As an addition: in addition to coordination via Confluence and in the exchange meeting, looking at the calendar also helps us. We have shared each other’s calendars and can therefore also see which topics are pending at the other’s.
Are there any particular challenges? If so, which ones?
CSA: I don’t see it as a challenge, but you have to be the dual leadership type. Both have the same rights and responsibilities. It’s like delegating, you have to accept that sometimes the other person will do it differently than you would do it yourself.
In addition, I can only imagine doing it with someone who basically has a similar attitude to mine. My first experience in this regard was with the business unit management. I had known my tandem partner for a long time and very well, and we had a friendly relationship. When the idea of sharing a DU line with Sebastian came up, we first had to get to know each other, get to know each other, exchange our views and find ourselves compatible.
Would you allow us a brief look at your private life?
SHA: I have three children who will be in the 1st, 3rd and 5th grade in the fall. We live with a good 300 inhabitants in a village about 30 km south of Munich. My wife works a good half day – fortunately in the lunch time care in the neighboring village, so we do not have to worry about that separately. Thanks to the support of a grandma next door and grandma and grandpa in Munich, we are very flexible and very rarely have conflicts between work schedules and private appointments such as the children’s afternoon activities.
CSA: I live in the east of Munich with my husband and two children. My husband works as a software project manager, so he can relate well to the stories from my daily work routine. When it comes to managing everyday family life, we pull together, so I don’t have any worries when I’m not at home. Meanwhile, the children are already very independent at 10 and 13 years old. That makes a lot of things easier, because the grandparents live too far away to step in spontaneously. In emergencies, my sister or niece step in as babysitters.
How do you personally experience the job sharing model?
SHA: I really appreciate the high degree of flexibility that results from our partially redundant setup. This means that it is usually possible to attend private appointments, e.g. at kindergarten, school or the doctor, at short notice and without making a fuss. Also in the distribution of tasks we are – I think – both alternately relieved when one of the personally unloved topics is taken over by the other. 😊
Feedback from outside has so far only reached me positively. By being able to search for appointments in two calendars, the role of YOU leadership is easier for others to grasp. Apparently, we mostly succeed in not getting caught up in striking contradictions 😉
CSA: For me, job sharing offers many advantages: among others, the high flexibility to combine work and family more easily. Peaks in the workload are much easier to handle and a job sharing partner with whom you can discuss topics again and thus get better results is really worth its weight in gold. For me, this outweighs the additional effort required by mutual coordination.
Some colleagues do mention in conversation that they are unaccustomed to a dual leadership role; however, when asked, they confirm that they cannot perceive any disadvantage in the collaboration.
SHA: The leadership role often involves analyzing complex issues and weighing the pros and cons of a decision. In these situations, a sparring partner is very valuable and I wouldn’t want to miss Caroline.
Would you do it that way again?
SHA: I’ve only had positive experiences with it so far – even before my current role.
CSA: For me, it’s a model with many benefits for me personally, but also for the company, so I would do it again any time.
How do you spend such days as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day?
SHA: Basically, I always enjoy spending time with my family as often as possible. But Mother’s Day was especially nice this year. There were three mothers from two generations.
CSA: I feel the same way as Sebastian. This year on Mother’s Day, I was at dinner with my mom, my sister, and our families. Afterwards we went for a walk. It was raining, but it was still nice.
Thank you for the interview.
Whether job sharing, part-time, sabbatical, etc. – Sulzer GmbH offers numerous flexible working time models to enable its employees to achieve a healthy wok-life balance. You can find out more about this and other benefits on our career page.