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People often confuse codependency with healthy teamwork without realizing it.

“A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”

― Melody Beattie, Author, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

“Interdependency can be considered the healthy cousin of codependency. Interdependency requires both people to be able to operate autonomously.”

Perth Counseling and Psychotherapy, Article, July 2021

The codependence I see in client sites is characterized by people focusing on what others will or will not do before determining their own commitments. Here are some of the codependent things I hear people saying when starting a culture transformation process (underlines are mine):

“I think this is good information if it can be applied by all. If even a few aren’t engaged and using the tools as they’re meant to be used, it can disrupt the flow of communication we are trying to establish.” 

“We need to hold each other accountable.”

“It will be hard admittedly and take much practice to get comfortable with it and honestly it will be dependent on others interactions and willingness. “

To the first quote from a top executive, I responded with: “Consider this: How do you feel when you focus on what others do? Does this strengthen your commitment or discourage, distract, and worry you? How does it affect others? Is it possible this creates a “back door” for dropping commitments if others don’t engage?”

In our work, our model is the opposite of codependency. Codependency is taking responsibility for others and expecting them to do the same for you. Codependency is not the same as healthy teamwork. Healthy teamwork is being a strong team member and bringing your strengths and gifts to the group, encouraging others to know they can be successful; it’s asking them questions so they decide to hold themselves accountable. It is interdependency.

As the Perth quote above states: “Interdependency requires both people to be able to operate autonomously.” Our model is a responsibility-based model and a purpose and values-based model because it teaches everyone to be accountable themselvesapart from what others do. Personal responsibility becomes contagious over time. But, when people focus on what others do when committing, they often abandon their own power and choice in exchange for a diffuse power that is tied to what others do or don’t do.

I said to this leader, “I want you to drop the idea and the conversation that this won’t work if it is not applied by all.” Sure, it would be ideal if everyone engages. You can find ways to encourage this by focusing on purpose and values and outlining your expectations this way, “I want you to follow through on your commitment no matter what others do. This model is where our bus is now heading and I sincerely want you on our bus! Are you willing?”  I told her, holding the idea and speaking it to others that success is dependent on all getting this and all committing to this, weakens individual autonomy.

Will you have challenges to overcome if some people do not engage at all or right away? Yes, absolutely. And when that happens, you all get to strengthen your individual commitments and strengthen your individual and team skills such as building intrinsic motivation, effective communication, trust, redirecting negative behavior, and many others. Sometimes you may need to cut people loose who don’t want to be responsible. Are you willing to stop focusing on others and saying this won’t work or be effective if not everyone engages?”

Healthy teamwork is having the right order in what and who each person manages. As Author Sam Keen put it:

There are two questions a man must ask himself: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’

If you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.”

As a leader, let us know if we can support you in transferring responsibility to your people so they pick it up and own their tasks. We help you transform codependency into healthy teamwork because you develop strong, committed, responsible individuals. This shift makes all the difference in your results! Call us today. 

This article is published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace, in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, March 2024.

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