Autonomous Teams: Navigating the Dependency Cycle in Organizations


Teams’ autonomy emerges as a cornerstone for success and adaptability. This autonomy, however, does not occur in isolation; it mirrors individuals’ journey through the Dependency Cycle—a concept enriched by transactional analysis and Nola Katherine Symor‘s insightful contributions. This article first examines the Dependency Cycle at the individual level, setting the stage to explore how these principles apply to teams, ultimately guiding leaders to foster autonomous units within the broader organization.

The Individual Journey Through the Dependency Cycle

At its heart, the Dependency Cycle reflects an individual’s psychological evolution through various stages of growth and maturity. Initially, individuals often find themselves in a state of Dependence, like a child dependent on its parents, looking to others for support and direction. This stage is natural and forms the foundation of early learning and development.

As individuals progress, they enter the stage of Counter-dependence, marked by a push against established norms and authority—here lies the seeds of personal identity and independence.

The subsequent stage, Independence, represents a period where individuals assert their self-reliance, often valuing their own judgment above others.

However, true maturity is found in the stage of Interdependence, where individuals realize that collaboration and reliance on others can coexist with personal autonomy, leading to richer, more effective interpersonal dynamics.

Nola Katherine Symor and Transactional Analysis

Nola Katherine Symor, a proponent of transactional analysis, identified these stages as crucial in understanding both personal and group behaviors. Transactional analysis provides a lens through which we can view our interactions (transactions) and understand the roles we assume in various contexts. Symor’s application of this theory to group dynamics offers invaluable insights into how teams, much like individuals, can navigate through dependency to achieve a collective form of interdependence.

Applying the Dependency Cycle to Teams

Just as individuals journey through stages of dependency, so do teams within organizations. Recognizing the parallel between individual and team development allows leaders to craft strategies that are sensitive to the nuances of team dynamics, guiding their units through similar phases toward the ideal of interdependence.

From Individual Autonomy to Team Interdependence

The transition from personal independence to team interdependence is pivotal. It requires the cultivation of a shared vision, open communication, and mutual respect among team members. Leaders play a key role in this transition, acting as facilitators of change rather than enforcers of rules.

Leadership is instrumental in guiding teams through the Dependency Cycle. Recognizing the current stage is critical, followed by adapting one’s leadership style to suit the team’s needs—from directive to supportive, as teams move toward interdependence.

The BEPS Navigator, which stands for Business, Execution, People, and System, serves as a comprehensive model for this purpose. By evaluating your approach across these four critical axes, you gain a well-rounded view of your leadership and can identify specific areas for growth and development.

The Emerging Leadership Assessment is a practical tool that aids in this introspection. It’s designed to help you reflect on your strengths and areas that require attention, allowing you to chart a path toward balanced and effective leadership. This assessment is adaptable to various industries and roles, offering tailored insights for personal and professional evolution. It’s not meant to be a comparative metric but a personal development instrument.

To begin this transformative journey, you can take the self-assessment and receive a personalized report that guides you in balancing your focus across these pivotal aspects of organizational life.

We’d encourage leaders not only to take the Emerging Leadership Assessment themselves but also to invite their peers and team members to do the same. This collective reflection can catalyze meaningful conversations about leadership practices and set the stage for concerted organizational growth. By understanding individual and team dynamics through the BEPS navigator, you can identify specific areas for improvement and collaboratively work toward enhancing team autonomy and effectiveness.

Promoting Team Autonomy

Key strategies for fostering autonomy include:

  • Develop leadership at all levels by mentoring and supporting team members to take initiative and lead projects or initiatives.
  • Encourage team members to connect their work to the wider business vision, fostering a sense of ownership and purpose.
  • Cultivating an environment where team members are encouraged to set personal and collective goals.
  • Championing a mindset where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and innovation.
  • Distributing decision-making power, ensuring that team members feel their voices are heard and valued.
  • Streamline systems to reduce bureaucratic overhead, allowing teams to focus on innovation rather than administrative hurdles.


Understanding the Dependency Cycle at both the individual and team levels presents a compelling framework for leaders aspiring to cultivate autonomous, innovative, and cohesive teams. By harnessing the power of interdependence, organizations can unleash their teams’ full potential, ensuring agility, innovation, and sustainable success.






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