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Defining Interdependence in Business

“No man is an island.” English poet John Donne addressed the basic human need to be a part of a community to thrive. Even before the Industrial Revolution, people recognized that everybody has a role to play and that collaboration is key to a functional society. This established interdependence extends to many aspects of our lives, primarily in the workplace, where three types of interdependence have emerged.


Pooled Interdependence

In this model, each department performs completely separate functions. They may not directly interact or depend on each other to fulfill their individual tasks, but they all contribute to the overall success of their product. As a result, the failure of one department can cause the entire company to fail. For a system using pooled interdependence, the company would require standard procedures that are well-explained, streamlined, and communicated to every department.

Consider a clothing retailer whose employees make different articles of clothing. Each person is responsible for one type of garment, but when clients order several different pieces the success of the entire order requires all components to be correct.

Sequential Interdependence

Like the name suggests, sequential interdependence involves one unit completing its job, then the next unit completing its tasks, and so on down the line. Each unit is dependent on every prior unit to complete a product. This is most commonly demonstrated by an assembly line. Sequential interdependence allows for some level of flexibility, but all units need to be on the same page with the company’s plan and schedule.

Reciprocal interdependence

Very similar to sequential interdependence, reciprocal interdependence is cyclical and requires a lot of interaction between departments. Reciprocal interdependence is more difficult to manage because it is a complex system in which items can pass back and forth multiple times between departments. In order to achieve success, there must be excellent communications between all departments; everyone must share information and adjust processes as a team.

The Bottom Line

Interdependent teams and relationships are found throughout society, from group projects and teams in your youth to the business world as an adult. These relationships no longer apply to just a single production plant, but can encompass multiple areas. These interdependent relationships continue to evolve as the world changes and new technologies allow companies to streamline processes. 


Understanding the type of interdependent relationship that applies to your company will help you assess possible areas for improvement. If you aren’t quite sure where to start, Cornerstone Consulting Organization’s knowledgeable consultants are available to help. 

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