SBM Articles


Codependency or Healthy Teamwork?

by Judy Ryan

“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 Counselling and Psychotherapy, Article, July 2021

The codependence I see in clients’ behavior 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. “

I responded to the first quote from a top executive 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 and encouraging others to know that they can be successful. It’s asking them questions so that they decide to hold themselves accountable. It is interdependency. As the Perth quotation 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 themselves, apart 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 engagement 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?’” Additionally, I told her: “Holding the idea and saying to others that success is dependent on all getting this and all committing to that 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, and 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?”

Judy Ryan (, human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!


Submitted 115 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Extraordinary Workplace
Views: 271