Can Independence Foster Healthy Interdependence?

INTERdependenceA lively and insightful #PeopleSkills chat on Twitter led by Kate Nasser and David Moore got me thinking more deeply about the relationship between independence and interdependence as it applies to teamwork.

As I began to make the case for the value of those who work well independently to a team, Simon Harvey reminded me:

“We are all connected, independence is within the imagination.”

There are, of course, those independent types who are of the “prima donna” or “lone ranger” variety. Their thinking and behavior often reveals a denial of the reality that, like it or not, we are all connected and inherently interdependent. These folks may be very aware of self, but are not likely to be very aware of the impact they have on others.

Also, as Kate Nasser pointed out, an independent person who refuses to develop interdependence can break morale and the team.

However, there can be a dark side to interdependence, as Sonja Blignaut ‪indicated in the form of co-dependence or unhealthy boundaries. I have also witnessed another trap of interdependence in that it can inadvertently cause people to collude to maintain the status quo rather than work together to create or accomplish something truly remarkable.‬

Suffice it to say independence and interdependence are not mutually exclusive. Both are essential to any healthy relationship and organization.

However, the independently minded can and do make a distinct contribution to the success of a team because they naturally practice these 3 habits:

1. Taking Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility breeds ownership. [tweet this]

The point of view that “success is up to me” is a strength for an individual and their team as long as the focus is on maximizing contribution rather than credit.  It is the people who own the outcome, not just their part that are typically the people leaders count on most when the going gets tough because they will do whatever it takes.

2. Thinking Independently

Independent thinking ignites fresh ideas and illuminates new pathways. [tweet this]

As my good friend and coach Rich Largman reminds me “if we both think the same way then one of us is probably not needed”.   And as Jackie Yun pointed out: “an independent thinker can bring alive a stagnating team”.  The status quo doesn’t stand a chance around an independent thinkers because they have little tolerance for the way things have always been done as a reason why something new can’t be done.

3. Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries foster accountable relationships. [tweet this]

As Sonja emphasized, good boundaries are essential to maintaining a healthy balance between independence and interdependence.  Someone who is independently minded own their promises and tends to expect others to own theirs.  That can translate into a willingness to hold others accountable because they are not as invested in keeping the peace or maintaining the status quo.  They will be less inclined to save others and instead focus on what is needed from them to ensure success of the team.

Of course these habits are not limited to those who are more independently minded.  Yet in answer the question “can independence foster healthy interdependence?” my answer remains a resounding yes.

Independence that brings out the best from our innate INTERdependence can fuel an extraordinary team. [tweet this]

That’s what I think.  What do you think?


Enter A Comment

Brenda Siara (@Siara)   |   24 July 2013   |   Reply

I agree, Susan. Independent thinking brings fresh ideas to the table and to flourish in our interdependence we need to discover and bring in our best self.
There is power when we hold hands, but it in each pair of hands there’s unimaginable potential encoded in the unique set of finger prints.

Susan Mazza   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

Beautifully said Brenda!

Jim Morgan   |   24 July 2013   |   Reply

Within a true “team” you are right; but within a work group, there can be a place for independent people. There are people who through some combination of genetics and early background do not enjoy teamwork. I use the common business term “individual contributors” for these folks, and know several among my current software clients’ organizations who add great value without being team players. They focus on bug-fixing and customer support, which can be done mostly independently, leaving the project work (and related meetings) to project teams within the larger organization. And there are groups, like many sales orgs, where everyone can be independent and succeed. The trick is for managers to determine the right organization for their function, and then to not squeeze square pegs into round holes.

Susan Mazza   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

Excellent points Jim. I think we have unwittingly diminished the value of “individual contributors”. While even individual contributors must be able to cooperate at some level with others the kind of teamwork required for true collaboration is not for everyone. Long term success of an organization requires both individual contributors and team players and as you point out be mindful of attempting to put round pegs in square holes. I do, however, believe that those who can be both are increasingly valuable. Thanks for enriching the conversation here Jim!

Tammy Schaefer   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

Susan, you are right on! Last May while attending a leadership conference I experienced the balance of independence and interdependence. The activities we worked through taught us to have personal responsibility without leaving any person behind. This was new to someone who was used to covering her butt. We are all connected so we can bring the whole of who we are to benefit the team. Thanks for this reminder!

Susan Mazza   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

Thanks Tammy! This idea of “personal responsibility without leaving anyone behind” is an important one. And as you point out it is not the same thing as “covering your butt”. Ultimately personal responsibility strengthens BOTH the individual and the teams those individuals are a part of.

Jackie Yun (@JackieYunTweets)   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

Hi Susan!

Independent thinking is crucial to avoid the comfort and ease of single-minded groupthink. For that to work well, each team member needs to have a strong sense of self-confidence, a certain courage and a heavy does of respect for each other. Then the magic begins!

Enjoyed your post, Susan ~ and thank you for including my tweet from the #Peopleskills chat!


Susan Mazza   |   26 July 2013   |   Reply

Thanks Jackie for elaborating on your point about independent thinking and for the conversation at the #peopleskills tweetchat.

A “heavy dose of respect” for others is definitely key for independent thinkers to be heard past the drone of group think. When you are the outlier you must often show respect before you can be respected.