Pair Leadership — When one plus one is greater than the sum of its parts

Porsche AG
#NextLevelGermanEngineering
5 min readApr 6, 2021

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Marcel Bertram and Daniel Diener, User Experience Designer at Porsche, share their experience of collaboratively leading the topic of UX Design Operations. Together they have explored the new meaning of leadership in an agile organization and how to benefit from the operation model of pairing.

In today’s rapidly changing environment and digitalization, most companies find themselves in the transformation into an agile organization that requires a rethinking of the traditional hierarchical management model, which is considered to be too slow and rigid.

Pairing like in driving rally — two people complementing each other striving for the same goal.

Being successful in this transformation is inevitably connected to a new style of leadership. A culture that cultivates the freedom for and trust in self-reliant decisions. In order to truly lead competent people on eye level, leading managers must be subject matter experts and empower autonomy towards clear objectives instead of telling people what to do.

Two heads are better than one — the concept of pairing

The operation model of pairing is mostly known from areas that you might not yet think about explicitly. Areas, in which two self-reliant people collaborate closely towards achieving a shared goal. Think of airplane pilots or rally drivers, where two people are perfectly complementing each other with individual skills and shared responsibilities. Same concepts also already exist in the area of engineering where it is a common practice that two developers are jointly programming simultaneously by sharing their keyboard. In contrast with the common belief, this working model is not inefficient and costly. Because both developers can immediately reflect their thoughts and work with each other, the outcome is achieved faster and with better quality.

Unfortunately, these benefits are not yet well trusted and experienced in other areas of practice like the management. The changing culture of working and new requirements for management are the breeding ground for the operation model of pair leadership. We want to share our experiences, obstacles, and recommendations in the following.

Under the right conditions, leading as a team is beneficial for both, the pairing people, and the organization

In our case, Daniel and I started four years ago in the same team within the marketing department. Both of us have been working independently as project managers mostly by approving visual designs and features from a marketing perspective.

Being part of the agile transformation within our digital product organization, we both were facing the same new challenges and we both felt independently that something is not sufficiently taken care of: The user’s experience. Arising from this unified motivation, we developed a shared ambition and interest to empower the whole organization in efficiently creating exciting user experiences and shaping a Porsche culture for digital design.

As there was no dedicated Head of UX design in place, we had to start from the very beginning to act as if we were this person and all his activities have to be done by ourselves, together. Forming a strategy, continuously promoting and establishing new methodologies, and gathering a team of experts around us. To sum it up, this is today’s Porsche UX Design Operations. No department, no hierarchies but a group of people with a shared interest.

Every step along the path and of our daily practice, we do it in such a consensus and complementary way, that it has become almost like our trademark to operate as an inseparable pair.

Daniel and Marcel jointly promoting UX Design Operations at Porsche.

Reflecting our path and our working model, we definitely can speak from experience when talking about benefits.

● Everything we do, we immediately challenge and therefore, the output is always on a higher level of quality.

● We are complementary counterparts where at least one of us is an expert and the other one has some experience. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other ideally. What we are and what we do is always complete.

● We have less problems with availability or information capability. We think the same way and speak with one voice. And regarding our excitement, we are always on. If one is down, the other is up.

● The weight of our responsibilities lies on two shoulders and decisions can be discussed and made together. That feels so much better. And it gives space for having more fun.

● Referring to the traditional span of control, we can manage a team with the joint size of two average teams. So all these great benefits come without any increase in management cost.

Considering the outcome of having two managing leaders, it is definitely more than a catchphrase, that one plus one is greater than the sum of its parts. We stand by Pair Leadership and hope that the rising understanding of its benefits and the underlying managing principles will result in a better acceptance within organizations and willingness to try it out.

To encourage this transition it is essential that organizations reflect their status quo and act open-minded for change. Things must grow organically — just like mentioned with great leadership — two people in the same position can become a team.

Because we all know. Everything’s better together :)

Marcel Bertram and Daniel Diener
Marcel Bertram and Daniel Diener

Marcel Bertram and Daniel Diener as Pair Leaders for UX Operations at Porsche.

About this publication: Where innovation meets tradition. There’s more to Porsche than sports cars — we’re tackling new challenges, develop digital products and think digital with a focus on the customer. On our Medium blog, we tell these stories. It’s about our #nextvisions, smart technologies and the people that drive our digital journey. Please follow us on Twitter (Porsche Digital, Next Visions), Instagram (Porsche Digital, Next Visions, Porsche Newsroom) and LinkedIn (Porsche AG, Porsche Digital) for more.

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Porsche AG
#NextLevelGermanEngineering

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