← to resource directory


Embracing Interdependence

On a key to becoming a "learning organization."

by Rich Price

In our professional lives, it’s easy to mistake time-tested advice like “take the initiative,” “be a self-starter,” “take responsibility” as an invitation to cultivate an “independent mindset.” In order to be a learning organization — whether it’s a company, a family, a team… — one of the first keys to success is to acknowledge “interdependence.”

  1. the state of being dependent upon one another
  2. : a mutually dependent relationship

The health of the ecosystem in which we operate relies on interdependence. In our daily silos, we tend to think we are highly independent — but in almost any organizational structure, it’s easy to pull back the curtain to reveal the ways in which we are deeply interdependent. In his book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge calls this “systems thinking.” Systems thinking (Senge’s eponymous “fifth discipline,” intertwined with the other four: personal mastery, group learning, mental models and shared vision) is an approach to problem-solving and productivity that focuses on how the parts of an organization inter-relate and interact to our advantage. Consider the everyday example of driving on the highway — at first glance, driving in your car appears to be an individual endeavor. But it’s actually a “group activity.” We are highly interdependent. In that moment, we are putting our lives in the hands of others that we are only subconsciously aware of, that they’re obeying conventions like staying in their lanes, braking with enough time, following speed limits, using a turn signal. It’s only when there’s a breakdown in that system (a crash?) that we realize our interdependence. 

Highly effective organizations are ones that champion personal mastery (initiative, self-improvement, responsibility) while also embracing interdependence. The interdependence is acknowledged before the crash, in ways that create the conditions for group learning, stronger coordination, deeper empathy and, in an increasingly complex and competitive world, encourages diverse thinking from all areas of the business.

Stay in the loop

Join our email newsletter and get helpful insights and updates every month.