Accidental job sharing?
You might be thinking, “Wouldn’t you know if you were job sharing?”
Tracy Tanner & Blake Howard Norton GT Therapy Group Co-founders & Co-directors met up with me IRL for coffee, kid time, and to talk GirlTalk Therapy’s origins, how they built their practice and how they became accidental job sharers. The Austin-based team enthusiastically shared their “aha” when they discovered Work Muse on Instagram and realized they were job sharing.
BTW, it’s a thing.
The business partners say they fell into job sharing, each working with clients independently while sharing the responsibility of running their practice together. As anyone starting a business today knows, there’s so much more to do with the addition of social media, content, and online communities, and job sharing allows these busy moms to give the most to their thriving business. Together, they’ve expanded GT Therapy Group’s team of therapists and services, while finding the work-life balance they need job sharing to raise their young families.
It was uncanny how many phrases commonly used by traditional job sharers popped up in their lively conversation about the way they work, like “synergy”, “we complement one another”, “pass the baton each week”, “divide and conquer”, or “we’re really compatible.” They built their business and job share organically, and I can’t help but think their therapist backgrounds led them intuitively to the right partner.
Work Muse: Who are your role models and how did you decide to begin your own therapy practice?
Tracy: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, duh! Hahaha!
Blake: And Romy and Michelle, two of the original business women!
Did I mention they are also spunky, full of energy, and hilarious?
Work Muse: How did you meet and how’s your relationship evolved?
Blake: We met in grad school and will always tell people that we didn’t totally click at first.
Tracy: We were both the “raise your hand first” kind of student and while we weren’t competitive, we didn’t initially realize how complementary we are. After grad school, we both worked at Austin Child Guidance Center for a time and began to really warm up to each other!
Blake: We had a mutual friend who ended up moving away for a few years and it prompted us to begin spending more time together. We both have a lot of ambition and drive, and a passion for the work we do and were looking for ways to support our creativity outside of the agency setting. That’s when we first collaborated to run a middle school girls therapy group as part of a local public school’s after-school enrichment program.
Tracy: We had so much fun together that we began looking for ways to keep the fun going and that quickly evolved into ongoing therapy groups and workshops for schools and groups like Girl Scouts, National Charity League and even small groups of friends in homes.
Blake and Tracy: Our relationship has become very much a deep friendship first, and a solid business partnership second. We’ve grown to trust each other unfailingly, delight in each other’s company and wisdom, and generally just come alive in each other’s presence. It’s a rare gift.
Work Muse: What conversations and considerations came into play when you decided to become business partners?
Blake: It probably helped that we had no idea what we were getting into! We started slowly and formed a small side business running the therapy groups while we built our private practices separately over several years. It was only last year, after six years of collaborating, that we merged our private practices into one umbrella group practice and now we are basically more married to each other than to our spouses. I don’t think we could have done this six years ago, but as we began our families and our individual practices thrived, it made sense to find additional ways to support each other.
Tracy: Partnering in this way has allowed us to feel so much more supported and has allowed us to grow our group practice, hiring five to six additional therapists to work with us.
Work Muse: What strengths did you each bring and what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from one another?
Tracy: I’m pretty good at starting a job and Blake is a strong finisher. Got a blog post to write? I’ll definitely do the begrudging task of fleshing out some content and then I send it over to Blake via google drive so she can put the dazzle and sparkle on top. This combo action really helps me because I’m a lot more likely to get something going knowing that Blake is there for back-up and extra support. When it comes to our work leading group and workshops, my role tends to be one of crafting activities and experiential ideas. Blake keeps us grounded and on-topic (and always on time, she’s our unofficial timekeeper!). Early on, we tasked ourselves with the things true to our nature and own strengths. Blake became the “webmistress” and I the “secretary.” We’ve unfolded other titles and roles as the business has grown. I think we’ve both learned how to keep better boundaries in work, but it’s still a work in progress. We hold each other up and help each other manage anxiety.
Work Muse: One of my favorite parts of job sharing! At the end of the day, there’s nobody else who’s got your self-care back like your job share partner. Am I right?
Tracy: Totally! When one of us gets anxious about something, the other person does a great job at saying, “slow down.”
Work Muse: You fell into job sharing without really knowing that’s what it was. How did that happen and how do you job share?
Blake: When we began hiring therapists to work in our group practice, we had no idea how much additional work would go into managing the group. It’s a very different kind of work from our therapy work and something that grad school did not prepare us for. We’ve had to learn how to run a business from the ground up as we go, and we divide and conquer along the way!
Tracy: When we first started our families, we knew we needed to do something different to support us in taking maternity leave, working fewer hours and having a sustainable income for our families.
Blake: This has evolved into creating an accidental job share leadership team for our group practice. Over the years we’ve really learned what each of us is naturally good at (and willing to do without complaint) and we’ve got a crazy rhythm with each other.
Tracy: It’s a creepy mind-meld thing!
Blake & Tracy: We’re able to work in the office part-time, be home with our kids part-time, and run a successful and growing group practice as co-directors, while also maintaining our ideal caseload for our therapy work.
Work Muse: What’s your schedule and how do you share & divide responsibilities?
Tracy: I wish I could say that we keep work at work, but the truth is that in some ways we’re always working. This practice is our baby, and it’s growing, and it needs a lot of care and attention, as do the wonderful humans who work at GT Therapy Group. We each see about 12-20 clients per week on top of supervision meetings with our team of therapists. Earlier this year we hired our first office manager, Lindley, who has been a godsend for us. She now manages a lot of the day-to-day administrative tasks that were really bogging us down and keeping us too tethered to our phones when we were ostensibly on mom-duty.
Blake: Some of the perks of figuring out how to share this director position have been incredible. We’ve been able to take partially paid maternity leave, which is unheard of in private practice. I stay home with my toddler for a half day every day, and every other Friday is my day to take the kiddo on adventures all day long. I use naptime and bedtime for email and phone check-ins, and Tracy and I are pretty much in constant text communication about work and home life (since we also essentially job share this whole mom thing). It’s a continual work-in-progress that changes as our needs change, as GT Therapy Group changes, as our families’ needs change.
Tracy: And we’ve got such an easy rhythm with each other that we adapt as we go. Our nontraditional job share may look different because we don’t split the workweek or even work days, we each work the schedule that fits our lives and our families. Sometimes that means we overlap and other times it means neither of us is in the office or actively on-duty. This takes a lot of communication with our staff (who work very independently and don’t need us to be available 24/7) as well as with each other so that we can attend to emergent needs without feeling constantly tethered to our phones or the office.
Work Muse: Can you tell us more about your communication system?
Tracy: We are in constant communication with one another. We text, we email, we call. We have an unspoken agreement that the first person to see an email is the one to take the “lead” on whatever the email is about.
Blake: However, there are obvious cases when one of us is more suited to the task and we always feel comfortable jumping in on an email thread to ask a question or steer it in a specific direction. We are the “reply all” queens—the reply all button allows us to know what’s churning and working in the background even if we aren’t the one who is leading that bit.
Tracy: Our sit down meetings with each other usually start with a heartfelt, “Hi, how are you?” It’s important for us to know what is going with one another behind the scenes and we each give each other time and support for our personal lives because we know that impacts our business decisions and workload.
Work Muse: What kind of impact has job sharing your therapy practice meant to your personal life and work life?
Blake: It’s really freed us up to divide our days in the way that best suits us and our families. It gives us financial stability and consistency.
Tracy: It allows us to let go of the things we can’t control with much more ease because we always have each other’s back and trust that we’re always going to give as much as we’re able.
Blake: This also means that we regularly step in to pick up any slack without being asked if the other’s personal life leaves us without as much to give to the business.
Tracy & Blake: We can both give and receive help and support from each other with ease and gratitude, and unshakeable trust that the other person will be there for us the next time life throws a curve ball our way. From sick kids to moving homes, from navigating complex relationships to coping with postpartum recovery, we have really been there for each other through it all.
Blake: And because we’re therapists, you know all this stuff is getting talked about!
Work Muse: What advice would you give people thinking of job sharing a new business?
Tracy: This isn’t about going into business or working with your best friend. Blake and I have developed our friendship through the business. I liken it a bit to finding that perfect roommate. Just because you are friends, does not mean that you should live together. Same goes for business. We realized that we were a good match because we could easily pass projects back and forth. Each time an idea landed in someone’s lap, it only got bigger and better because we didn’t contribute the same thing to the idea nor did we change the other person’s idea.
Work Muse: That’s a key point for future job sharers who tend to be high achievers; it can be hard to let go of control, especially in the beginning. You really have to trust that your differences will make the end product much better.
Tracy: Yes! Together, we can craft something incredible because our core values, vision, and mission in work are inherently the same — we may uncover those in different ways, we may showcase them in different ways, but ultimately they are the same.
Blake: Business partners don’t have to fit into anyone else’s mold. Sharing responsibilities means also getting to share in benefits that otherwise might be elusive to someone going it solo. Being adept at talking through changes and frustrations is really helpful, and that’s something that evolved for us over time.
Tracy & Blake: We started small, we recognized our shared vision, we divided tasks and roles according to best fit and level of interest, and we grew steadily and with a lot of mistakes along the way. We’re still growing, evolving, and looking for new ways to support each other’s dreams, family lives, professional goals and sense of meaning, purpose, and alignment.
Blake: Even if you don’t job share in a more traditional sense, finding ways to partner with others and reduce the burden of work can be so freeing. In a typically isolating line of work like private practice, finding someone to share resources with can be so critical to sustainability and support of your personal and professional goals, even if you don’t want or need the exact same things. Job sharing has made our lives easier and infinitely richer.
Melissa Nicholson is the Founder & CEO of Work Muse, a job share solutions firm. Job sharing is a partnership between two people to share the responsibilities of one full-time position. Work Muse drives adoption of job sharing in business as a source of competitive advantage while helping individuals find work-life balance. Join the#JobshareRevolution here –– events, resources, and relevant content to empower you in work and life! For more info, firstname.lastname@example.org.