Collaboration

The Assumption of Interdependence

Posted on Posted in Change Management, Collaboration, Leadership, Project Management
By Erik Van Slyke, Managing Director, www.erikvanslyke.com

My view of organization effectiveness starts with two important assumptions:

  1. We are interdependent, and as a result
  2. We need to collaborate.

Interdependence implies that people need to cooperate in order to accomplish what they want.  In the workplace, managers need employees to accomplish results that lead to department or organization success.  Likewise, employees need managers to help clarify goals and objectives, give feedback about performance, and provide fair compensation for the work performed.  During change initiatives, technical resources, subject matter experts and stakeholders need each other to shape workable solutions.  In families and personal relationships, people rely on each other to enhance emotional satisfaction through mutual acceptance, support, encouragement, or love.

One of the most troubling and frustrating aspects of human existence, however, is this notion of interdependence.  We realize that our needs, wants, desires, goals and objectives involve the participation of others and getting their participation sometimes can be confounding.  We feel dependent upon them to satisfy our need, resolve the difference, or provide needed support.  On the other hand, we also feel the need to eliminate the obstacle—or the person—which stands in our way.  We want to get the desired results independent of them.  We wish we could get what we want through our own effort, or at least exist without this “problem” in our life.

So, we are faced with a dilemma.  Our desired outcomes require a degree of dependence on them. It requires their contribution, their input, and their feedback.  Our preferred way of obtaining the outcome requires independence of us.  It requires that I do it, I take responsibility, I become self-reliant, and I achieve the result.  We resent dependence because we are not in control and can be blocked from our goal or manipulated to a different outcome, yet we recognize that independence is unrealistic because others often have something we need.

The trouble with this binary thinking is that it leads to destructive conflict.  When getting what we want becomes challenging it triggers our fight or flight instincts, and as a result, we are tempted to either to try to dominate and control or to run away.  That’s why bosses become “bossy,” employees quit, business partners become litigious, and personal relationships crumble.

And that is our big clue:  Conflict occurs only between interdependent parties.  We would not be in conflict with someone unless we needed something from them.  But interdependence does not mean we must lose ourselves in order to get what we want.  Interdependence requires drawing out the value of we.  If I am independent, I can achieve a great deal because I am self-reliant and capable.  But when we work together, we can achieve much more than I could produce alone, especially if you have something that would enhance my success.  Interdependence requires that we create a better outcome by exchanging or creating something of value to each of us.

The first step is realizing the fact that we are interdependent.  That is Assumption #1.  Then, it is about embracing Assumption #2 by recognizing that interdependence requires collaboration.  And collaboration begins with understanding the needs, desires and goals of each party required to create mutually beneficial solutions.

The amazing result is that when we choose to work together to achieve our desired outcomes, we are more inclined to coordinate our efforts, attend to one another, and have increased levels of productivity.  We also tend to like one another more and participate in more constructive communication and exchange.

So, the key to hacking the buggy code of intolerance, and minimizing the The Dangers of Corporate Fundamentalism, is to make the shortcomings of independence more painful than the patience and discipline required of collaboration.  Only then will others come to the table ready to listen, learn and create.