10 Rules of Interdependence

Published: May 26, 2020

What actually constitutes a team? Two or more people working on a common goal? Not if they are working in silos. It’s entirely possible for coworkers to wear the same uniform, share the same space and toil away at the same objective yet still not function as a team. They aren’t a team until their successes and failures are tied together. They have to put their lives in each other’s hands.

Usually, we reserve the notion of interdependence for first responders and military service men and women. The stakes are so high it is impossible to imagine the consequences of a teammate failing to be accountable for his or her role. If one person experiences a lapse, someone or something dies. What if all teams held themselves to the same standard? 

The ground rules change when interdependence is required. Everyone goes “all in” on the following non-negotiable expectations:

  1. We rise and fall together.
  2. We achieve clarity about our goal early in the relationship.
  3. We establish consistent norms that support movement toward our goal.
  4. We navigate conflict and differences in perspective with respect and maturity.
  5. We assume accountability without having to prove it.
  6. We fix things we break.
  7. We take risks together.
  8. We move with the flow of change even when the future seems unclear.
  9. We make mutual investments in the sustained wellness of the team.
  10. We celebrate the richness of our connection.

This is a tall order. Few teams achieve interdependence without periodic glitches. The ground rules provide a useful gap analysis for knowing where to give attention when things are vulnerable. They apply for the life of the team as relationships suffer both abuse and neglect. Playing by the rules both prevents and repairs damage. 

The alternative to interdependence is simple collaboration. Everyone agrees to assume roles and divvy up tasks. Some teammates thrive while others struggle. The work of the team moves forward. But interdependence raises the reward if everyone on the team is committed to sharing the risk. These rare relationships can last forever.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.