According to Kouzes and Posner, “One of the most significant ingredients to cooperation and collaboration is a sense of interdependence, a condition by which people know that they cannot succeed unless everyone else succeeds, or at least that they cannot succeed unless they coordinate their efforts” (112).
The key to creating a healthy and robust commitment to interdependence is balancing the I and the We. The graphic below depicts how an organization must hold these two essential components in an intersecting tension.
When we reflect on interdependence, we must acknowledge that every person is a valued participant moving toward the transcendent North Star. Healthy interdependence of the group allows people to pursue their purpose as integral to the transcendent North Star.
We might ask each person three essential questions:
The answers often surprise the questioner. They open the window to ask how the community can support their aspirations as the collective pursues a bold vision. This concept became a reality for me when I consulted with a nonprofit that helps homeless women and children. Leading a focus group of homeless mothers, I asked what their vision of the future was. One woman responded: “I am the third generation living in poverty, and my hope is for my children to be successful and break the cycle.” Her response surprised me because I thought she would focus on life necessities, yet the depth of her desire was for a different future for her children. Her goal was also the North Star.
The understanding of each person's desires and wishes opens the doors for creating a collaborative organization. It establishes an appreciation of the system's interdependence. Thus, it widens its horizons to explore how the various areas intersect and impact the collective vision.
"Every member of a group has a pivotal role in achieving the larger purpose. A community is like a symphonic orchestra creating spellbinding music that stirs the soul.”
If one part is out of sync, it disrupts the harmonic sound. Similarly, a collaborative group creates a symphony of services to serve others. When the parts are no longer aligned, distrust, blame, and other negative consequences impact achieving the desired direction. The creation of a harmonious path takes trust, learning, and perseverance over time. These ingredients support synchronizing the various systemic parts to create a unified sound. Every person's integration of their creativity and passion makes that magic.
Shared Leadership transcends and complements positional leadership. Organizations, by their nature, are comprised of such various parts as administration, boards, committees, operations and service delivery, development, marketing, etc. The simple graphic to the left offers a lens into the variety of expertise within the organizational ecosystem.
Organizational research has affirmed that many significant breakthroughs or changes happen through individual initiative rather than positional leadership. Each member and group has a vital stewardship role, whether serving on a committee, leading a department, volunteering, or performing their everyday functions. The unique lens of each organization allows it to examine its collective strengths and growth areas leading to ongoing prioritization to achieve its North Star.
Three critical questions foster and maintain interdependence.
Read the entirety of Mark Clarke's article here.
Does each part of the system and person understand its importance and critical role in achieving the purpose?
Is there freedom for cross-functional teams to collaborate?
Are there shared learning and growth opportunities to strengthen individual and organizational capacity?
Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership.
John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2021.