Every business with employees relies at least to some extent on workflow interdependence in carrying out daily operations and meeting long-term business goals. Interdependence, also known as “handoff,” exists when processes, functions or employees must rely on or collaborate with each other to produce an intended outcome. The structure and relationships involved in workflow interdependence range from those requiring little input or interaction to those with a need to consistently share or exchange information or business resources.

Perceptions of Interdependence

Workflow interdependence can be perceived or actual, depending on factors such as the degree to which a business functions in team-oriented environment and how business teams interact. Perceptions are subjective notions employees hold regarding task dependencies. For example, in a business with a hierarchical organizational structure and a formal communication pattern, employees may see little to no connection between tasks they perform and tasks employees in other departments perform regardless of actual workflow dependencies. In contrast, employees in a business with a flat organizational structure and multi-directional communication patterns may perceive a high degree of workflow interdependence, more in line with actual dependencies.

Pooled Interdependence

Pooled workflow interdependence is the most disconnected, as it requires little to no communication but does require resource sharing. Although departments may share resources such as advertising, marketing and human resources, business rules and standard operating procedures provide the information each department needs to operate independently. For this reason, pooled interdependence is uncommon in small business operations but is common in large business with multiple branch locations or corporations organized by function or into multiple, distinct departments.

Sequential Interdependence

Large and small manufacturing businesses, the construction industry, supply chain management and financial service departments commonly exhibit sequential workflow interdependence. With sequential interdependence, workflows follow a process in which processes or steps start in one department or location and are progressively transferred to other departments or locations until the process is complete. Each progressive step relies on the previous steps being completed successfully to achieve the intended outcome. A higher level of communication and workflow cooperation is required, as the process or task relies not only on shared resources but also depends on each department or employee performing correctly.

Reciprocal Interdependence

Reciprocal interdependence workflows exhibit the highest degree of interdependence and require more and better levels of communication and coordination than any other type. Multi-directional dependencies characteristic of reciprocal workflows mean each employee must be ready, willing and able to communicate with and respond to other employee’s needs. This is because with reciprocal interdependence, no single workgroup can complete a task, make a decision or accomplish an objective without active contributions from all. This typically includes businesses such as restaurants and hotels, where multiple processes are regularly performed simultaneously.