Independence is highly valued in American culture. Our independence from England, the independence of thought expressed by our right and responsibility to vote, the independence of a capitalist system where consumers choose which products to buy, and the independence to live and work where we choose. Interdependence takes our ability to act and think independently to the next level.
In the workplace interdependence is an essential element of success. Success is indicated by productivity, employee engagement, (how happy people are at work), and market share. For many years management and leadership theory articulated interdependence in industrial environments, picture Lucy and Ethel on the assembly line, for example. Employees in white collar positions, those higher up in the organizational ranks, were encouraged to be loyal to the company, but practice ‘healthy competition’ with their co-workers. This is illustrated in a somewhat extreme way in the play, “Glengarry, Glen Ross,” where the employees are made to compete for sales in order to keep their jobs.” This method of managing people to be competitive is often used when there is a commission, but not uniquely. At one of my prior employers, for example our bonuses were based on both our performance and the company’s quarterly profits. The employee evaluation system forced department heads to give only one employee the highest possible rating, thus a higher bonus. This inevitably resulted in a competitive attitude toward co-workers, even though in our department our success was not measured by the number of clients or dollars earned by the organization. This method of managing people discouraged collaboration and interdependence. When I was in graduate school there were several people in my program who were highly competitive. They would not share ideas until they did so with a professor, to assure that they would get credit for thinking brilliant thoughts. I was competing with myself to achieve more intellectually than I had ever done before in my life not my fellow students. The lack of trust by many students and some professors’ inability to encourage a free exchange of ideas among the students resulted in an unhealthy type of competition!
People like to be interdependent. I have long been a person who loves helping others. I enjoy being needed and am the ‘go to’ person when out with friends and someone needs a bandage, or an aspirin, or etc. One of the greatest things that I have learned however was not how to help, but to let others help me. Interdependence eliminates feelings of guilt or of owing the other person when they help you as you know that you will be helping them sooner or later. What is even better about interdependence is that what two people come up with when they collaborate is not twice as good as what one person can come up with on their own, it is exponentially better! I know that working interdependently will help me to create something better than I can on my own and so do my colleagues!
Strategic planning sessions are interdependent group exercises. Oh, I can come up with a plan on my own, even a pretty good one, but that plan will be created from my perspective, based on my experiences and knowledge and competencies. When I participate in an interdependent strategic planning session, everyone’s perspectives, experiences, knowledge and competencies are included equally in the process and the results are alwaysmuch, much better.
I am an idea woman. I have all kinds of creative, fun ideas every day. I love having new ideas and imagining them being put into action. Again, if I operate on my own, what I have may be a good idea or a great idea, possibly even a revolutionary idea, but without the interdependent experience of sharing and examining that idea with others it cannot be as good, great or revolutionary.
People, strategies and ideas are alwaysbetter when we collaborate with others. We cannot successfully collaborate with others unless we understand that we are interdependent. That does not mean that we understand or agree with everything that everyone says, does or thinks. It means that we allow different thoughts, ideas and perspectives to influence us by being open to who is sharing them. This is why I chose the light bulb with the gears as an image for my website. The gears represent our interdependence, the bulb the resultant, amazing idea!
There is an international movement to make people aware of our global interdependence. The short film, “A Declaration of Interdependence” by The Moxie Institute does so beautifully!
May 2, 2013