I discovered aged 12 that the people you depend upon most will not always be there for you. Losing my mother at that early age was both terrifying and isolating. Despite coming from a big family, everyone retreated into themselves, burying away the pain. I have very few photos of her and the ones I have are of poor quality.
At 19, I found my soul mate and decades later, we are still a formidable partnership. We have somehow muddled through those years with all their highs and lows; picking up wonderful memories and scars along the way; sharing experiences we have welcomed and others we have been forced to endure.
Today, my partner and I had a short conversation over coffee (one of the joys of both working from home). It went something like this:
My partner: “When I die, you are going to have to follow me, because no-one else will put up with you like I can.”
Me: “When you die, I’ll have become so much more likeable than I would have been without you, darling”
There was no sense of admonishment in this exchange. Instead, it was a playful moment of shared recognition. Both statements could apply equally to both of us. It was a moment of happy realisation that we had become interdependent: that both of us have been enriched by our partnership, becoming something more than the sum of our parts.
I’ve spent years dealing with the notion of interdependence. Sometimes deliberately, but often unconsciously. And as I reflect now, I realise that it started when I was twelve, with the death of my mother. That was when I became aware of the risks that surround dependency.
Dependency is a one-way relationship: an unequal partnership; one that leaves you utterly bereft when it comes to an end. And it can often drive people to ‘toughen up’ and try to go it alone. It can lead people to seek a State of Independence, one that is far less harmonious than the Jon and Vangelis classic. At its extreme, Independence is a protective cloak we might wear to prevent people getting too close. Or a blunt and provocative tool that allows one person or one nation to dominate another.
Interdependence is something entirely different. It is a blissful state: a win-win where all parties develop self-esteem and can grow to fulfil their potential. This means that when, for whatever reason, those relationships end, you are left feeling grateful and enriched. You can acknowledge that the person you have become was influenced but not dictated by that relationship. You are a better person for it, even though you still feel the pain of loss.
This is why I am so passionate about team working. When team members develop this State of Interdependence, they have the courage and support they need to soar. Through interdependence, they can discover and achieve so much more. By drawing upon the unique combination of skills, preferences, experiences, and knowledge of their colleagues, and freely sharing their own, they can uncover and create a whole new world of possibilities.
Teams do not spend enough time doing this stuff. They meet to discuss operational objectives and priorities and may even spend time talking about roles and responsibilities. But building a state of interdependence requires much more than that. And unless teams move towards this state, they will always underperform.