Leadership in Action – Building Healthy Interdependence Within Your Teams

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While teaming and collaboration are ubiquitous in our organizations, high functioning teams are not. And while most of us and our team members have learned to play nicely in the sandbox, larger goals and incentives still can create a competitiveness that prevents the team from fully functioning at an optimum level.

In one example, as a team member was getting praised by the leader for their accomplishment, another member felt the need to speak up and share their own success. This prompted the first member to comment, “While the sun may be shining on me, it does not mean that it is raining on you.” This clever assessment of the situation shows the tendency of some of our team members to believe if someone else is getting the spotlight, then I am being ignored. A tendency to feel frustrated, when another team member is successful, is at the root of ineffective teams.

This underlying competitiveness, between team members, holds them back from providing helpful information that could help another member be more successful. At the extreme, this threat perceived by team members, of each other’s performance, can cause them, individually, to come to you the leader. They’ll explain why that person should not be part of the team, what they are doing to screw things up, and so on. In this process, they believe they are helping you by making you aware of the shortcomings of the other member. In fact, they are unconsciously saying, ”Don’t worry about my performance – the real issue is “Pat.”

When leaders have this type of behavior within their team, the usual cause is, inadvertently, they have created a hub-and-spoke relationship with the team. The leader has a connection with each team member, but the team members do not really have a connection with each other. Shifting to a more web-like structure (where each member is connected to every other member), creating a healthy level of interdependence, is a key step to building an effective team.

To create a healthy level of interdependence within the team, first start by setting out your expectations of how the team operates and how members interact with each other. Your job here is to focus on the collective outcome, as a team requires the connection and participation with each other, inside and outside of formal team meetings. At a minimum, if someone is a member of the team, we support them and work to ensure their success, as well as the other members of the team.

Second, stop the one-on-one meetings about an “other” team member. This needs to be unacceptable behavior. If there is an issue in working with “Pat,” then set this expectation of action:

  • Expect them to first have a conversation with Pat before they bring the issue to you.
  • If the issue persists, then your team member and Pat meet with you to work through the issue. As the team leader, you need to lead this conversation and create a clear set of expectations for both team members to follow while working with each other.

Third, actively create interdependence. When one team member needs help or advice on a project, connect them to another team member who has experience in the space. Instead of you being the hub of all knowledge and skill, celebrate the unique gifts and abilities that each team member has to create positive experience and appreciation.

These three actions will Connect the Dots for your team, so they operate as a high functioning team of interconnected members, with a common set of expectations and goals.