Independence and Interdependence

July 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

I met with my lead team several months ago. In coaching terms, it was a “designing alliance” meeting. The essence of the meeting was for the team to be really open about what they needed from me, and for me to be open about who I am, how I work, what I needed from them. Designing alliances allow you to settle into a broader awareness of one another and what is needed to work constructively together.  Terms and conditions are open to readdressing by any party, at any time.  For what it’s worth, this foundational skill is something I introduced into Mozilla a little over 18 months ago. Functional and product teams now use this technique, managers and employees use it, and individuals use it with one another.  It’s a great way to set the stage for a relationship of any kind.  But designed alliance is not the point of this blog.  I introduce it as the setting for unfolding an awareness point that I have been chewing on since.

When are you an individual and what is the effect to your individuality when you are in-service to a group?

During this session a member of the team pointed out that I interact differently with them during 1:1’s than I do when I work with the team. In particular, the feedback was that the “intimacy” and individual connection they felt during 1:1’s was missing when I was leading the full team. And this dichotomy wasn’t working for some of the team. It created a sense of imbalance, uncertainty and fear. Ouch.

So first, great feedback. We all know (probably first-hand) what happens to team effectiveness, loyalty and productivity when tensions like that sit under the level of the surface.  Now I needed to understand their feedback and do something to change. Part of the solution was mine, part of it was theirs and part of it was ours.

I spent several restless nights in self-examination of how I was showing up and what I needed to adjust to be both an authentic and effective leader for the team. I have a deep responsibility for the impact I have on others. And I take this responsibility seriously. I followed up with each member of the team to better understand their needs, to share mine and to revisit our individual “designed alliances”.

I also wanted to better understand the root of this tension for the team. And I honed in on the larger group dynamic. I realized the team was a combination of strong individual contributors as well as those with deep experiences leading and working on teams. Part of the tension were a set of unspoken assumptions between when you are an individual and when you are working in service to a group.  There were those who saw themselves only as individuals, loosely coupled to the team. Others (me included) were working from the assumptions that the team was tightly coupled.

For us, it raised a core issue about when you move and act as an independent individual and when interdependency requires you to consider the needs of the broader group. The outcome was a follow-up meeting where we spent two days together creating explicit norms for how we will work together. We have a deep responsibility for the impact we have on others. And we take this responsibility seriously.

As part of the Tribe committed to changing the world of work, I’m curious if others have noticed or experienced this type of tension. I’m curious about how it shows up. I’m curious if it shows-up more in cultures that have high value on independence.  I’m curious about the implications of this type of tension on geo-distributed teams. I’m curious what others have done to mitigate it. I’m curious what others have tried that didn’t work out so well.

I’m curious what this posting brings up for you.


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