Teamwork Basics: Creating Positive Interdependence in Groups

“Outcome interdependence” (i.e., linked fates or the feeling of being in the same boat together) — not interpersonal attraction or the quality and quantity of communication — is the number-one predictor of group cohesion and thus high-performance teamwork.

In general, managers and leaders foster way too many feelings of negative interdependence in their organizations. That is an unintended consequence of compartmental- ization, single-point accountability, budgeting, and sub-optimization in the name of organizational efficiency.

The Unfortunate Result

People are running around in each other’s way instead of helping each other toward the collective goal. Then we call problem-solving meetings to blame each other for being in each other’s way.

Interestingly, people’s behavior changes instantly and organically the moment they feel — not think, feel — that they are in the same boat together. They stop complaining and fighting for dominance and start supporting one another, coordinating with each other, giving and asking for help, and making contributions toward the whole. So perceptions matter, a lot. This is really about the meaning of work, not the actual design of work.

Keys to getting everyone feel they are in the same boat

    1. Stop shining your huge spotlight on the pieces and start shining it on the whole. Spotlight the collective outcome or mission and hold it there while using just your tiny pen-light to illuminate the myriad assignments. Pursue that focus with the group, regardless of the size, until you achieve a condition I call “shared task clarity.” That condition is reached when everyone is completely clear about what the collective must achieve together. Only when that happens can everyone also stop worrying about whether others are working at cross-purposes to them.


    1. Solicit help shining the light. Many of us attempt to clarify the bigger picture by independently crafting and sending a message — perhaps a statement of vision, mission, or purpose. If this achieves the desired condition, fine, but most of the time it doesn’t. Usually a dialog process, sometimes ongoing, that invites people into the process of pursuing shared task clarity is much more successful. Successful leaders understand the condition they must achieve at the beginning of a project — perceptions of shared task clarity — while others merely check off the “purpose statement” action item.


  1. Know the standard you are striving to achieve. Here’s is the question the group (project team, staff group, partnership, etc.) must reach consensus on: What must we do together that is bigger than each of us, requires all of us, and none of us can claim individual victory until it is done?

It is exciting to observe the immediate and organic behavioral shift in people when they have successfully achieved this condition of feeling like they are in the same boat and are eager to help each other work toward the same goal. That’s the art and science of collaborative leadership at work.

Christopher Avery helps leaders worldwide to operate their business — and lives — far more productively and successfully. To find additional resources to master leadership or build a responsible team, please explore and The Leadership Gift.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership, Responsibility, Teamwork on 10/18/2010 01:01 am
double line