Inter-Dependence Day

Being that close to 20 countries around the world celebrate their independence day in July*, this is a good time as any to ask if independence has a place in the real world of work.

Admittedly, for all these nations independence was a necessary step to end oppression and inequality. But in the 21st century world of work, where interconnectivity, collaboration and team-work are the rule of the day, the time has come for independence to move over to make way for interdependence.

In the words of the best-selling author Stephen Covey:

“Independent thinking alone is not suited to interdependent reality. Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players. They’re not coming from the paradigm of interdependence necessary to succeed in…organizational reality.”

Bring on interdependent times

For those labelled on a contract “employee” as defined as: ”one who works for another” it’s crucial to understand that that label exists only for legal and tax purposes. It should not and it must not define a state of mind.

In an interdependent world, the reality is that an employee does not work for an employer.  That would be defined as dependence.  By the same token, it’s not necessary for an employee to claim their independence and work against an employer.  The winning mindset in an interdependent world is that of an employee who works with an employer, as a partner, regardless of labels.

Even though this is not about your boss or your employer, it’s worth noting that from their perspective, your independence may not be as bloody as it was for those free nations, but it’s certainly costly.  Take for example (adapted from real life) an employee who takes 8 hours creating a contract from scratch for a client, when instead they could collaborate and use a template their colleague created – and instead take an hour to get the job done.  (I’ll let you do the math)  When your boss insists on collaboration and team-work, it’s their way of saying: ”leverage existing company resources – that’s what they’re there for.”

Back to you

At the individual level, interdependence has many fringe benefits.

Here are my favourite perks:

1. Effectiveness – where the rubber meets the road, two heads (and three and four and more) are better than one.  With the right leadership and direction, a team has the potential to achieve more in less time than an individual working in isolation.  It’s simple logic. The likelihood is that in a team, members will complement their strengths and weaknesses. Where weakness lies in some, other team members will be strong.. In a collaborative environment there is no room for individual weaknesses – what really counts is the sum of the team’s strengths.

It’s worth making a mental note that collaboration should not be mistaken with delegation.  It is not about sending someone else off to do the work for you.  Okay, if they volunteer (and they insist, as sometimes those who kill with kindness do), I say, by all means take them up on it.  Especially if you have a to-do list that is bulging at the seams and they have time to kill. Quite simply, in the world of work, it’s about delivering results.  In the ego-ruled monarchies of the past millenium, it was about who took the credit. In today’s ultra competitive global environment, the winning team (and company) is the one that delivers results.  I am not advocating that you become so good at collaborating – or even delegating – that you skip learning how to do your job. I guarantee that in this environment, sooner or later that strategy is likely to land you in the redundant pile.  What I am suggesting is that you focus on getting the job done – even if that means having to swallow your pride.

2. Learning opportunity – If you’re open to learning, you’ll benefit from the natural transfer of knowledge and skills that takes place when people work together.  For that reason, you should aim to collaborate with people who are better than you – however humbling that might be.  As an avid runner, and learning from this sport,, one of the best  ways to improve your running time is to go for a run with someone who is fitter and faster than you. The same applies at work.  That’s one of the reasons why I’ve made it a priority to choose to work with companies that attract smart people.  Personally, I’d feel that there’s something wrong if I’d be the smartest in the team.

3. Greater reach – When you’re open to the fact that a. you’re not alone and b. it’s about getting the job done – not getting the credit, it becomes easier to accept roles that you do not necessarily have experience in.  With the right attitude, most of the time you’ll be able to get support and help from someone else in your team or company.  It’s virtually impossible to know every single detail in our jobs before we take them. For that reason, it’s crucial to be able to ask for (and accept) help and learn fast.

4. Collaborators have more fun – by nature, as humans we are social beings.  I say this even to my fellow loners out there, who enjoy working on their own. The fact is, it’s human nature to enjoy interacting with people. Looking at how our brain works, a happy brain, with serotonin flowing through it is a more focused and productive one too.

Claiming interdependence

Unlike independence, interdependence need not be bloody. 

Here are the essentials:

  1. Trust – In a collaborative environment there is no room for hidden agendas.  These will only suck life out of the interaction.  Open communication and transparency will go a very long way when it comes to getting things done as a team.
  2. Self-reliance – The strongest teams are those made up of individuals who are able to hold their own weight.  Understand that this is not about hiding your weaknesses or being dishonest about them either. It’s about focusing and developing your strengths in order to make the greatest contribution, and about recognising your weaknesses in order to complement them with others’ abilities.
  3. Team play – As in the soccer field, it’s crucial to pass the ball to other team members who are better positioned to score a goal. In short, don’t be a ‘ball-hog’.  Keep in mind that how you add value to a company (i.e. what makes money – and pays your salary) is your ability to deliver results – even if it costs you your pride.  You were not hired to be an island.

What do you think? 

*Wikipedia’s ‘partial’ (their wording, not mine) list of countries celebrating independence day around the world


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