Mark Scantlebury is a co-founder of Quietroom, a consultancy of writers, trainers and strategists who share they job together, working with corporates and government agencies to help their stories make sense, their ideas come to life, and their messages stick.
The people at Quietroom love working with ideas that are complex, intangible and long-term – ideas like pensions, obesity or energy supply that are intimidatingly complex, widely misunderstood, and yet of massive significance to individuals and society.
Mark – working alongside his co-founder Vincent Franklin – has created an organisation that is built around, and thrives on, job-sharing.
He didn’t set out to do it this way, but Mark – working alongside his co-founder Vincent Franklin – has created an organisation that is built around, and thrives on, job-sharing.
Mark explains it to me:
"First, the people who work here love working flexibly, because they all have other passions. Vince, who started Quietroom with me, is still a working actor. Rhys, who was next in, is a singer-songwriter. Jane is a poet and screenwriter. And Simon is a mime artist. (He used to be a Tweenie.) Many of us, me included, are parents. All of us have things beyond work that matter to us. The way we work – flexibly, and in pairs – makes it possible for everybody to bring their best to our clients, without abandoning their other interests and passions and commitments. By making flexibility part of the way we do business, we have built an organisation of highly committed people who come to work for our clients energised and brimming with ideas.
"I love it. Because when I pair the right people up together, the alchemy of it means that one plus one doesn’t equal two, it equals three, at least.
"Second, as a manager, I love it. Because when I pair the right people up together, the alchemy of it means that one plus one doesn’t equal two, it equals three, at least. And if I insisted on 9 to 5, 48 weeks a year, I would never be able to tap into this incredible talent pool.
"And third, the clients love it. We often win work because people gravitate towards a really good team. When you see a good team, you want to join it, or harness it, don’t you? Because it looks like such fun. Teams – or pairs – are more attractive than individuals. Clients love having two different sets of talent and experience working on their projects."
Put like that it sounds so obvious.
So how could this model translate to the kinds of large organisations that Quietroom works with? How would larger organisations address issues like accountability? Guaranteeing a seamless service? Making sure the work gets done?
Job sharing takes organisations in the direction that they should be going.
"God, yes, the work really will get done!’ says Mark. ‘Of course, some things with job-shares are a bit more complicated. And you do have to give up a bit of control. And it does take a bit more thought, and clarity of purpose, and management. Or – not more management, but actually more thoughtful management."
[Teams of two] are self-problem-solving units.
But, he urges, it’s really not that hard. It’s about sensible ground rules, clear communications and decent tech support – all parts of getting any team, or organisation, to work really effectively.
And the upsides are huge. ‘You’ve got a more complex unit here. But what you get from the complexity, is absolutely worth the effort.’ A team of two is far more effective, because two are less likely than one to lose their way, or run out of ideas, or slide into bad habits, or just get stuck. ‘A team of two can problem-solve themselves out of most problems. They are constantly learning from each other. And they are responsible to each other. So I think they require less management. They are self-problem-solving units.’
In fact, says Mark, far from avoiding them, big corporates ought to be positively seeking out job-shares, because they model the very behaviours these organisations say they need. People in job-shares are collaborating, breaking down silos, playing with ideas, and solving problems: and generally they are having fun doing it. ‘Most people agree that it’s small teams with a clear purpose that get things done. Not individuals, not big teams. Well, job-shares are just that – they are small high-performing teams. And that is the Holy Grail.’
Quietroom helps organisations to think about hard-to-explain ideas clearly, and to communicate persuasively. So it is not surprising that Mark is so convincing. By the time we part I am struggling to understand why every job isn’t a job-share.