The I in Team: I is for Interdependence

The I in Team: I is for Interdependence

The I in Team: I is for Interdependence

"I is for Interdependence"
from The I in Team
by John J. Murphy and Michael McMillan

One of our favorite exercises in team-building workshops is a simulated "survival" activity. We begin by having participants complete a paper and pencil instrument independently, ranking fifteen items in terms of their importance to surviving a crisis event (e.g. a crash landing in unknown territory like a desert, subarctic, or jungle region). The idea of the exercise is to examine how people make decisions, first individually and then as a team. Once everyone has completed ranking the items independently, we form teams and have them repeat the exercise using an interdependent, consensus process. In both cases, the participants select their items based on limited information and assumptions. It becomes quite clear that flawed assumptions can be disastrous in the exercise, just like in real life.

An interesting result of this simulation is that the teams consistently outperform their own average individual scores. In fact, most teams survive (according to a survival expert's well-researched ranking), while most individuals do not. Why is this? What is the secret? It is clearly more than coincidence.

The answer is interdependent thinking—how can we help one another help one another? How can I help you help me? Where is the creative, win-win solution?

One of the most powerful creative problem-solving techniques we know is to find at least three options for each problem. It is simply too easy for someone to say, "Don't come to me with a problem without a solution." We all hear this from time to time. The wise leader suggests, "Don't come to me with a problem without at least three solutions!"

Why is this important? Because when we explore additional options with an open mind, new insights appear. We may have originally assumed that option A would be best. By searching for an option B and C, we are forced to think beyond the first "right" answer. This approach also helps teams break free of gridlock and impasse over option A or B. If we can't agree or come to consensus, let's look further. There are always alternatives.

Now the question becomes, which option are we likely to go with, A, B or C? We often ask this question in workshops and we regularly get a range of answers from A to C. The more common reality is option D, an option that was not even listed as a choice! When teams brainstorm multiple options to a problem, it is amazing how often the ideal solution is "none of the above" or "all of the above" in some hybrid fashion. Either way, this powerful team-building technique reminds us that we are better off focusing on interests and not positions. Interests are what we generally all have in common (like survival). Positions are conclusions we have made (most often based on assumptions) on how best to get there. Interdependent thinking reminds us to think we-opically and find solutions that are win-win for all. It does us little good to solve one problem and create two or three more problems in the process. High-performing teams use interdependent systems-thinking to unite cross-functionally, align with a shared vision and unite as one. Look carefully at great teams in action. You will see another i in play. It is called interdependence.

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April 19, 2017
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