How to Foster Team Interdependence

Eric Stutzman

[Excerpt from The Culture Question] 

In organizational culture, interdependence refers to the extent to which team members rely on each other for the functioning of their teams. Although every team is different from moment to moment, on a fundamental level, it is the interdependence of team members that makes a group of coworkers a team. As they come to realize and appreciate their interdependence, they look to each other for support in meeting objectives. Everyone contributes to the efforts of the group because they understand that the team’s success is also their personal success.

Peak performing teams develop only when each member understands the link between their unique skills and the skills of others on the team. Because leaders have a unique perspective, we play a key role in developing an appreciation for interdependence among team members. Just as we must highlight the importance of the team, we should also consciously affirm that each person is needed and needs the others on the team. During team meetings and planning sessions, we can highlight the group’s interdependence. And, very simply, we can encourage the expression of gratitude for the ways each person contributes by giving thanks ourselves.

Peak performing teams develop only when each member understands the link between their unique skills and the skills of others on the team.

Here are some ideas to help capitalize on the power of interdependence in the workplace:

Emphasize Shared Accountability

A large team project in which one person takes 100 percent of the responsibility for its failure or success has a high risk of failure because the rest of the team lacks accountability for the final product. Instead of relying on one person to be completely responsible, all team members should share collective responsibility for the outcome. When coworkers discuss success or failure while recognizing their interdependence, they are able to collectively take credit or be held accountable. This inherently builds a sense of unity and collective identity.

Cultural and Assertive Influencers

Influencers are those who have a greater than average ability to encourage and inspire other team members. They are the people their coworkers approach for clarification and advice about how things work. Influencers play an important role in creating a positive climate for team interactions. They are not always the people who hold the highest rank on an organizational chart. In fact, they may not even be official team leaders. Often their influence is much more informal. We have noticed that there are two main types of influencers.

  • Cultural influencers act as ambassadors among various teams or departments. They are often (though not always) the more senior employees and leaders. They usually know the ropes and have knowledge about key aspects of the organization, including tasks and topics they are not directly responsible for. These are the people who can most fully answer the question, “How do things really work around here?”
Just as we must highlight the importance of the team, we should also consciously affirm that each person is needed and needs the others on the team.
  • Assertive influencers, on the other hand, are those who are not afraid to confront difficult issues. They work hard and typically demonstrate long-term perseverance. Obstacles do not intimidate them, and they are able to keep working despite difficult circumstances. They are also adept at mobilizing people. Morten T. Hansen, author of Great at Work, calls these types of people “forceful champions” and explains that they often “make people angry about today and excited for tomorrow.” They do not simply work harder, they also work smarter. Assertive influencers know how to target their efforts for maximum impact. Their achievements are not temporary – they are models of sustained motivation and productivity. In our organization, Randy plays the role of assertive influencer. He has visions for the future, works with others to bring them to reality, expresses frustration when projects stall, and is never comfortable with the status quo.

Showcase the Results of Collaboration

When we highlight group successes and point out the ways in which people have worked well together, we encourage individuals to look beyond their own particular roles to appreciate the contributions of their coworkers as well. These affirmations communicate that we notice and value collaboration and have a culture that cares about teamwork.

One of our primary roles as leaders is to foster interdependence among team members. Helping our employees experience the satisfaction of team connection is vital to the long-term viability not just of individual teams, but of the organization as a whole. When employees shift their focus from individual success to team success, a crucial transformation occurs. Team members are empowered to keep each other accountable, and the quality of the work becomes the responsibility of all those involved.


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Authors: Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun.

This blog is an excerpt from ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work.

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