Understand the Three Types of Task Interdependence and Why They Matter
In any organisation, team members need to work independently and within a team. However, even when you work independently or in separate teams, the tasks you complete and your performance affects other members and groups within the company.
December 4, 2018

In any organisation, team members need to work independently and within a team. However, even when you work independently or in separate teams, the tasks you complete and your performance affects other members and groups within the company.

So, what exactly is task interdependence and why does it matter? The sociologist James Thompson described three types of interdependence in his book, ‘Organizations in Action’. Today, we will break down the different types of interdependence and the business implications they have for organisations.

The Three Types of Interdependence

An understanding of task interdependence helps business owners grasp how different departments and team members rely on the performance of one another. Even if they work independently, there are various consequences (positive or negative) that leaders should be aware of to create the most effective processes.

Pooled Interdependence

This is the most open type of interdependence. While each business unit completes tasks that are separate from one another, they do offer contributions to the main overall goal. If one department fails, the entire project or goal could also fail. While working independently, team members are still sharing the loose or unstructured responsibility for reaching the goal.

For example, imagine a company institutes a policy of unlimited time off as long as no one takes advantage of it and it doesn't impair the team’s ability to meet deadlines.

The goal of the new policy is to increase employee satisfaction to allow more employee autonomy, but if one team starts becoming less productive, the policy is replaced with a stricter one because one department failed to use it appropriately. If one team fails to make the policy work, everyone else may have to suffer.

Sequential Interdependence

Sequential interdependence is exactly what the name infers. It happens when one department or team must accomplish something before another team can do their job – similar to the concept of an assembly line. A product must be fully assembled before it is wrapped, and wrapped before it is shipped. Skipping a step derails the entire process.

A more modern example of this type of interdependence would be a marketing and sales team. The sales team needs their funnel filled with qualified leads so they can do their job.

Marketing teams place advertisements, send direct mail and email campaigns and do social media outreach to fill the sales funnel with qualified leads for the sales executives to follow up on.

This sequential interdependence makes it possible for companies to be profitable. If marketing doesn't provide the qualified leads, sales are quite unlikely to follow.

Reciprocal Interdependence

Reciprocal interdependence and sequential interdependence share one thing in common: They are both models where one team relies on the performance or output of another team in order to accomplish their goals.

However, reciprocal interdependence is a two-way street. Both teams or departments rely on one another, making everyone highly responsible for accomplishing goals and tasks. It's a cyclical workflow.

Let's imagine how what the cyclical workflow would look like at a software company. A development and engineering team makes a great product. The marketing team creates qualified leads and opportunities for the sales team to make sales, increasing revenue. The onboarding and customer success teams provide great customer service and support to the customers.

The company becomes more and more profitable as the cycle continues. They are able to recruit more and more quality talent to scale the business. However, if one step in the cycle failed, this model suggests the entire process would fail.

Promoting Effective Task Interdependence With Software

Especially in large organisations spread out among different locations, it can be difficult to recognise task interdependence and the effect it can have on reaching goals. When team members aren't in frequent contact with one another, it's easy to lose track of how they impact one another's work.

Smart companies use tools and software that help them keep track of their tasks and goals. Tools like Samewave, a performance management software, simplify the process. Teams create tasks and goals in one transparent place and foster accountability towards reaching them with Promise-Based Management and Social Discipline.

With Samewave, everyone knows who is responsible for what and when it needs to be done. Project managers can also communicate via direct and group chat streams and generate automatic reports at the frequency of each person's choosing. Additionally, Samewave is available in a web browser, PC or Mac desktop application, and Android and iOS mobile apps.

Best of all, Samewave is free. Download it today and begin using it with your teams to improve productivity and reach your goals faster.

Optimise Your Project Management Process

Understanding task interdependence across the organisation can be tricky to optimise, because it isn't always easy to see how one team can affect the outcomes of another team without ever working together.

Management teams should encourage the use of tools that foster robust communication and transparency across your teams so everyone can fully understand how their work impacts the overall goal. Create a culture of accountability, trust and cooperation so team members can work on interdependent tasks effectively.

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