Independence to interdependence

Monday, 2 February 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Cricket offers many examples of interdependence - AFP     We are about to celebrated our 67th anniversary of “regaining independence.” True, as a nation with pride we indeed treasure our political independence. Yet, the question is whether we are really independent in the holistic sense. Further, with a broader managerial perspective, discussing the need to move from independence to interdependence is timely and relevant.   Overview Moving from independence to interdependence is not moving back to “dependence.” It is much deeper and more delightful. Interdependence is important to individuals, interactive teams, institutions, industries as well as independent nations. In the fundamentals of management, we come across PESTEL factors, featuring political, economical, social, technical, environmental and legal aspects. Some have gone to the extent of adding one more E to make it PESTEEL with an ethical dimension featured. While being happy about our capabilities we need to harp on our connectivity. “Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being. Without interrelation with society he cannot realise his oneness with the universe or suppress his egotism. His social interdependence enables him to test his faith and to prove himself on the touchstone of reality.” That’s how Mahatma Gandhi viewed interdependence.   Synergy The primary aspect in interdependence is synergy. Stephen Covey, in his bestseller ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’, describes synergy as follows: “Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It shows that the relationship, which the parts have to each other, is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but also the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part. “Synergy is everywhere in nature,” he adds. “If two plants are placed close together for growth, the roots improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated. In short, one plus one equals three or more. The challenge is to apply the principles of creative co-operation, which we learn from nature, in our social interactions. The essence of synergy is to value differences – to respect them, to build on strengths, to compensate for weaknesses.” There is much food for thought indeed. “Probably we never fully credit the interdependence of wild creatures, and their cognisance of the affairs of their own kind,” a renowned American author Mary Austin said. The way geese fly in a ‘V’ formation and the way wolves run as a flock are just two prominent examples.     Symbiosis as the basis Synergy we see in nature is associated with the complex term symbiosis. It is close and often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species. In other words, a close prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may benefit each member. Way back in 1877, Albert Bernhard Frank used the word symbiosis to describe the mutualistic relationship in lichens. It is also described as the living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism, commensalism or parasitism. The term, ‘symbiotic relationship’ is often used in the area of sociology. The word symbiosis has first been used to describe people living together in a community. It is, in fact, a true adaptation from the biological meaning of “living together of unlike organisms.”   Interdependence through team effectiveness As we saw, synergy is associated with working together. Teams and groups are often interchangeably used to describe a set of people working together. In perusing through the literature of Organisational Behaviour, veterans like Stephen Robbins and Fred Luthans have identified a group as a set of two or more individuals interacting and interdependent with each other in achieving a common objective. A team is one step ahead. I would simplify a team as a group with synergy. We can get many examples from the field of sports. Let’s look at cricket where the next World Cup tournament is looming large. A cricket team is effective if it is consistently winning. What are the contributing factors for team effectiveness? I would propose four Cs in line with Stephen Robins’ recommendations. They are combination, composition, context and conduct.   Combination This refers to work design. Whether team members are having a set of specified tasks with the required autonomy to carry them out is important. For that to happen, tasks have to be well-designed with the set goals in mind. Team members should identify themselves with the tasks and see the significance of such tasks. In a cricket team, a wicketkeeper should know exactly what his role is in order to win a game. In the game of business, employees should be clear about why they do what they have to do and how best they should do it. A creative writer in an advertising team who has a sense of pride in his/her work with freedom to take decisions is one such example.   Composition As we know, the five fingers of a hand are all different yet they are all parts of the same hand. Diversity is a key factor of team effectiveness. Meredith Belbin did a fair amount of research on team roles and came up with nine different team roles. Ensuring that people with appropriate personalities fit the required tasks is essential in this respect. Flexibility of team members in moving beyond the specialised tasks for the betterment of the team is another important aspect. A specialised bowler in a cricket team should be a good fielder and also a satisfactory batsman. That is all about flexibility. In a business setting, the ability to attend to a colleague’s duty when the need arises is handy with a true sense of multi-skilling.   Context There has to be a climate of trust for teamwork to be fostered. As the old saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Scientists say migrant birds fly in a ‘V’ shaped formation to exert less energy, by way of using higher aerodynamic power through it. It is simply, trusting in one another. Leadership plays a vital role here. The team leader should be able to rally the team around a common vision and a common set of goals. Vision has to be shared with the team and supported by the team. In the field of cricket, we have seen the rise and fall of teams under different leaders. The same is true for business. Another contextual factor is the availability of resources. True enough that a team cannot have all the resources in the world, or for that matter, all that are nice to have. The optimum level of resources is what should be aimed at. You cannot build a great wall without solid bricks and mortar. Waste-cutting instead of mere cost-cutting is what is pragmatic.   Conduct This is all about a means to an end. Clarity of goals is one key aspect. There should not be any “social loafers” as Stephen Robins calls the category of people who are just “passengers.” Every team member should do their best in order to make their team the best team. The Sri Lankan Cricket team who won the world cup in 1996 is one such example. Conflicts among team members should be kept at a minimum level or else the process will not run smoothly towards the achievement of results. I have seen how the egos of different team players clash in search of supremacy and dominance. Some find it difficult to give up in order for others to take over. The end result is inevitably a losing team. Another key process aspect is team efficacy. It is the belief of the team in its ability to achieve the desired results. In the sporting world, losing teams lack team efficacy. First they give up mentally, without a winning mindset, before actually losing. The team which has a high degree of self-efficacy can wrestle a game from a losing grip. We saw that happening in the recent one-day series involving Sri Lanka. There are many instances where sales teams of local organisations with a high team efficacy have beaten their multinational counterparts.   Moving ahead with interdependence As Aristotle said a long time ago, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This applies to interdependence very much. It all should begin with the right positive attitude towards making your team a winning team. Sri Lanka’s corporate sector needs such interdependence more than any other time in converting the rapid economic growth to a more holistic, transparent and inclusive one in being more ethical and effective. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is the Acting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA.)

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