Nature is designed to be an interdependent system. The more diverse our ecosystems, the more generous they become. This is because they flow with and optimize interdependence – instead of ignoring or defending separation. This statement is powerful. It needs to be unpacked to see how interdependence can be an asset, particularly when it is optimized to its maximum potential. When we think of interdependence, many see it as a constraint to individual freedom. Nature doesn’t see it that way. Instead, nature sees interdependence as a way to build the collective resilience of an ecosystem.
Here’s a great example. A food web provides lots of different routes to food security in an ecological system. This deeply woven interdependence lets multiple relationships form that create powerful exchanges of nutrients. Because nature doesn’t waste anything, the waste of one species can be nutrients for another species. Mutually beneficial relationships also form when one species or plant has an abundance of some resource that is necessary for another and vice versa. The exchanges of abundant nutrients for sought after resources only shows up in interdependent systems that are filled with diversity. In systems (and organizations) that are characterized as siloed and separate, the abundance of nutrients is hoarded by the system even if they can’t use them to build their own resilience.
Leading with an interdependence mindset
Since the onset of technology our organizations have built a high degree of connectivity within them and between them and the outside environment. Connections over time develop into interdependent relationships and break down silos that might have existed in the past. The leadership question is how can I help myself and others to see and optimize the interdependence in our system?
When a leader assumes interdependence, key shifts in their priorities occur:
- The integration and alignment of the leadership to the mission becomes a priority where silos, competition, separation, and protection of departmental boundaries might have been important earlier.
- Cooperation and sharing of information among the leadership team and divisions helps the whole organization become more effective.
- Mutually beneficial relationships would be encouraged and developed.
- Diversity of opinions would be essential to the future vitality of the organization because the interdependence of the system changes how we see the whole. Interdependence means that where you sit in the system, changes what you see and how decisions would impact your area. Sharing those differences helps everyone see the larger system or organization they are leading.
- Leadership and team meeting agendas would be filled with topics that would “feed the whole” organization rather than promoting or dominating topics that are important to one area but not the rest of the team members.
Interdependence and Change
When we see our organizations as interdependent, our leadership strategy on influencing change shifts. Instead of asking who can make this change happen based on positional leadership, power, capacity, and resources; an interdependent system requires us to ask different questions:
What interactions will make this work?
What is the synergy that can occur when we involve others and utilize the connectivity of the organization?
If we ignore our relationships and connections, the decisions we come to and the change we drive down from the top won’t be sustainable. They can be held in place with resources and positional power, but as soon as the focus and attention shifts, the change will erode.
The change strategy in an interdependent system is to connect and integrate the organization and its external environment. Work with the flow of the system to design sustainable change. This strategy flows from the assumptions that things are interconnected.
For more about what nature can teach us about leadership and interdependence, read my previous blog Wind, Wings, and Interdependence.