As a person moves to higher levels of cognitive development, their focus moves to what can be done for others, rather than what one gets for oneself. The bottom line is that talented interdependent thinking group members move on to greener pastures when caught in biterly competitive or dependent work environments because they are less safe and are filled with drama.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series

By Dianne Crampton                    

Developmental psychologists describe interdependence as the third of four human development stages and the launching pad from which ethical, quality focused, loyal, service oriented and successful group relationships are formed.  It is the state where the concept if we win, I win is the standard and where group-centered thinking rather than self-centered thinking thrives. 

The two earlier stages are dependence (stage one) and independence (stage two). The fourth stage, after interdependence, embraces global consciousness and a global world view. 

The dependent stage relies on others for support, needs gratification and success.  The thinking process associated with this state is needs-based and narcissistic.  This means that people are unable to think about themselves to self reflect beyond getting their own needs satisfied. 

The capacity for self-reflective awareness doesn’t exist yet, so the world is seen as an extension of self. Because the distinction between me and not-me is still fuzzy, the narcissist is unable to take the perspective of another person. This means that when a need is desired it must be granted regardless of where that need stacks along side the needs of others.  This is a reasonable perspective for young children, but not for adults.  Instead of if we win I win, the thought process is you provide for me — It’s your fault if I fail

The independent stage matures from dependence.  This stage can also be narcissistic but people learn to satisfy their own needs and become accountable for their own decisions and subsequent consequences – good and bad. 

Children who are raised by emotionally healthy parents or who have affective mentors learn to gradually become more accountable for their actions and consequences, to establish goals, to make decisions that serve their goals, to develop morality, and to understand how what they do impacts others. Instead of the thought process if we win I win, the process is I win.  This means that power struggles often erupt among independent people who must win and expect others to accommodate or compromise resulting in a focus that is competitive and in some instances combative.

To mature into interdependence, developmental psychologists suggest that the two previous stages must be completed.  If group members are still narcissistic and feeling entitled to having their needs met – now – then dependence exists.  If highly competitive group members are butting heads or secretly laying the groundwork to beat other team members to rewards or resources, the talented and more interdependent group members will leave the group.  This is because as a person moves to higher levels of mental maturation, the focus moves more and more to what can be done for others, rather than what one gets for oneself. The bottom line is that talented interdependent thinking group members move on to greener pastures because competitive work environments are less safe.  To mentor another group member to succeed could result in one’s own position being replaced.

Abraham Maslow, for example described the other-oriented perspective as self actualized, which is higher on the needs continuum than groveling for resources.  This means that organizations where groveling for resources and vying for positions is the norm have problems pulling together healthy, high functioning teams and group members.  In order to anchor interdependence, other levels of need fulfillment must first be met which include physiological safety, love/belonging/social needs, esteem, cognitive opportunities to learn and grow, and aesthetics.

Therefore, interdependence, which forms a foundation for healthy group dynamics, is required in today’s information age where group-centered processes call upon higher levels of relating than expected of employees during the industrial age.  Now that team skills are expected of college-bound students graduating from many high schools, more young adults are entering the workforce with interdependent skill sets and subsequent expectations. 

For example, an article recently appeared in the Bend, Oregon’s Bulletin highlightingAmityCreekMagnet school’s holiday youth talent show, which is produced and directed by grade school students.  The 10-year old school annually produces the youth talent show as an alternative to a holiday school pageant.  PrincipleCarol Hammett explains, “It isn’t really about the performances but the skills, like cooperation, collaboration and learning to give a little.”  I am sure you have similar stories within your own communities.

Interdependence relies on sharing, service, openness, acceptance, respect, support, and wholeness.  It means that two or more people appreciate and rely on one another’s strengths and are mutually responsible for personal limitations.  Accordingly, people must be willing to be self-reflective and accountable for their relationship and work actions.  This is where TIGERS executive and team coaching has helped motivated leaders and teams achieve interdependent and collaborative practices.

Because interdependence requires self-awareness and appreciation for others and the willingness to serve the team, it demands high levels of self-security and self esteem from team members.  This builds reverence and respect that elevates human interactions and a sense of curiosity about another person’s perspective or world view. 

Since interdependent thinking produces the framework for if we win I win outcomes, interdependence is essential for:

  • Effective interpersonal communication
  • Creative conflict resolution
  • Problem solving and critical thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Collaboration.

As a value, interdependence demands respect for other people’s rights, beliefs, likes, dislikes and vulnerabilities.  And, interdependence asks leaders to behave and model interdependence daily in the culture they create and how they treat people.   Since it is unreasonable to expect all group members with varied life experiences, socialization and subsequent developmental levels to have achieved interdependent world views, here are some examples of outcomes and strategies that effective groups have identified to support interdependence in the workplace. 


Desired Outcome Strategies
Improved performance Group members are responsible and accountable for team decisions and goals, therefore, avoiding the group dysfunction, risky-shift.*Create a process to reward superior group performance tied to financial goals and strategic initiatives.Create a process to educate all group members on how their
work fits into the organization’s business plan, financial goals and strategic initiatives.


Consistency    Strategies and processes are flexible based on what is required in different situations.  
Comfort in not knowing what is unknown Encountering the unknown through planning andevaluation processes, feedback loops, reflection, refinement, and adaptation. 
Creativity Create a process that allows a team member to make improvements.
Cognitive growth Create a process for self-selecting members to learn new skills.
Emotional management Create a process where effective communication, honesty, creative conflict resolution, empathy, and service are rewarded.


*Risky-shift is the abdication of personal responsibility for decisions made in a group to the group.  If the group fails because members are not accountable and responsible then the failure is reasoned to be the group’s fault.