Tomer Bar Zeev, CEO and Cofounder of ironSource, is one of the lucky ones. He's been fortunate enough with his business growth to be able to acquire other companies early. But those acquisitions didn't mean Zeev sent the founders of the smaller businesses packing. Because his focus was merging companies with the same goals and principles, Zeev invited those founders--all nine of them--into ironSource's inner team, and they readily accepted.
Yes, that means that Zeev now has nine people used to calling the shots responsible for his business.
Ok, so how exactly does that work? After all, when you've got lots of experienced, opinionated, strong people in a group, preventing clashes and fostering real cohesion can be an enormous challenge.
To move forward, step back
"The most important part of making this work," Zeev says, "involves creating an environment which encourages leadership and ownership. What that means for me is actually acting much less like a typical CEO, but rather making space for other leaders to lead. It's a full-time job to manage CEOs, and the only way to do it is to encourage CEO behavior in everyone else and then get out of their way."
In terms of everyday operations, that means every CEO knows what they're responsible for and has the freedom to take charge of those elements. Each individual applies their skills, knowledge and expertise as a sort of specialist.
"[Structurally]," Zeev explains, "each founder has a clear area of ownership, either managing their own P&L or a specific product line, where they are empowered to make decisions and strategy."
The secret ingredient that makes the setup work
Now, you might think this looks a lot like traditional siloing, which has philosophically and logistically become a real thorn in the side of contemporary companies. But behind this arrangement is one essential component that differentiates the approach, and that Zeev says is a must for innovation and global growth--trust. While each person can assert their authority in their own areas, they understand that no one area is more important than another, and that all areas are required for ironSource to operate well. They have faith that the others will give their best effort, keep their word and follow through. Nobody, including Zeev, interferes with what the others are doing or tries to micromanage. Instead, they reach out to each other as needed to achieve the bigger picture of what ironSource is trying to do. And because they focus on the whole even as they acknowledge and respect individual expertise, nobody truly isolates in the destructive ways found in old-school siloing.
"You can't just talk about trusting or empowering your cofounders," Zeev insists. "You actually have to mean it and be prepared to stand by the consequences. That means that, if issues arise, you can't swoop in and overrule someone in their specific field, especially given that they are the most qualified to make that decision, being an expert in their area of the business.
"In the rare event that issues are brought to me, rather than handing down a decision, I'll try to find a way to mediate between two parties and help them arrive at their own decision. Ultimately, however, it comes down to an alignment of interests. If all the cofounders are on the same page when it comes to the long-term vision and goals of the company, then specific conflicts on how we get there are eventually solvable."
Zeev stresses that this trust isn't just about making sure the cofounders are all on task doing what they're supposed to. It's also about encouraging them to think beyond their specific role, getting them to consider how they affect the company at large, and then arming them with the tools and support necessary to make their great ideas reality.
It's not always easy to balance resources across all areas with this approach. But Zeev says that, because his company relies on different divisions that each have strong leaders, there's always plenty of fresh perspectives on given problems particular cofounders might have. That, in turn, means a more diverse product offering that yields more revenue streams and increased stability.
The bottom line is...
Great companies don't need one "helicopter" or "I'm-the-law" leader who insists on managing everything. They also don't need to be cut up into parts that are cut off from each other. They do need many leaders--experts--who can see everyone's objective, who consciously choose to connect transparently to each other in a division of responsibility built not on pride, but on mutual respect. In this sense, you shouldn't be afraid of having many strong people on your team. They're an asset! You simply have to believe in each of them as much as you believe in yourself, set up paths for effective communication and then get the heck out of the way.