Posts Tagged ‘Theory X and theory Y’

Satirical Substitution

June 19, 2015 5 comments

Here’s how a Theory-X indoctrinated manager interprets the definition of the Daily Scrum as written in the official Scrum Guide:

Satirical Substitution

Pick Your Theory: X, Y, Or T

November 26, 2013 3 comments

If you’re a student (or self-proclaimed/credentialed “expert“) of institutional behavior, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of Doug MacGregor‘s famous Theory X and Theory Y worldviews regarding social attitudes within organizations. And, if you’re a manager who is not into political suicide, you at least publicly espouse allegiance to the more ethically pleasing Theory Y view.


Well, in “The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong“, philosopher-turned-business-consultant-returned-philosopher Matt Stewart concocts an interesting, but perhaps more pragmatic, Theory T:

Theory T (for tragic): Some degree of conflict is inherent in all forms of social organization. Sometimes the self is at odds with the community, sometimes the community is at odds with itself, and sometimes, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, it’s a war of all against all. – Matt Stewart

Perhaps shockingly, but not totally out of the realm of possibility, Matt concludes:

It (Theory Y) is an attempt to trick our ethical intuitions— that is, to make workers believe that they are being well treated when in fact they are being exploited.

In this unsettling but thought-tickling view, Mr. Stewart asserts that the aim of both the bad-X and good-Y theories is to ultimately exploit the workery, but only Theory X is transparently upfront about it.

X and Y

Underlying Assumptions

November 27, 2012 3 comments

The underlying assumptions harbored by executive decision-makers drive an org’s processes/policies. And those processes/policies influence an org’s social and financial performance. As a rule, assumptions based on Theory X thinking lead to mediocre performance and those based on Theory Y lead to stellar performance. Most org processes/policies (e.g. the annual “objective” performance appraisal ritual) are Theory X based constrictions cloaked in Theory Y rhetoric – regardless of what is espoused.

Not Arbiters, Nor Catalysts

October 12, 2012 2 comments

When I was young and naive (as opposed to my current state: old and misinformed), I entered the werkfarce thinking that HR departments were supposed to be compassionate arbiters of disputes and employee development catalysts – until I discovered what they actually did:

HR groups are bright shining examples of POSIWID. “The Purpose Of a System Is What It Does” – not what it says it does. Alas, BD00 doesn’t think that most HR departments are maliciously evil, they’re just so indoctrinated and immersed in Tayloresque, Theory-X thinking that “they know not what they do“. How about you? Besides thinking that BD00 knows not what he does, what do you think?

A Succession Of Funerals

February 7, 2012 2 comments

Science advances one funeral at a time. – Max (walk the freakin’) Planck

As implied by the quote above, new and more effective ideas/techniques/practices/methods take hold only when the old guard, which fiercely defends the status quo regardless of the consequences, “dies” off and a new generation takes over.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, who many people credit as the father of “theory X” management science (workers are lazy, greedy, and dumb), died in 1915. Even though it was almost 100 years ago, theory X management mindsets and processes are still deeply entrenched in almost all present day institutions – with no apparent end in sight.

Oh sure, many so-called enlightened companies sincerely profess to shun theory X and embrace theory Y (workers are self-motivated, responsible, and trustworthy), but when you look carefully under the covers, you’ll find that policies and procedures in big institutions are still rooted in absolute control, mistrust, and paternalism. Because, because, because…, that’s the way it has to be since a corollary to theory X thinking is that chaos and inefficiency would reign otherwise.

Alas, you don’t have to look or smell beneath the covers – and maybe you shouldn’t. You can just (bull)doze(r00) on off in blissful ignorance. If you actually do explore and observe theory X in action under a veneer of theory Y lip service, don’t be so hard on yourself or “them“: 1) there’s nothing you can do about it, 2) they’re sincerely trying their best, and 3) “they know not what they do“.

Effective And Ineffective

In the 50 year old book, “The Human Side Of Enterprise“, Douglas McGregor lists the attributes of effective groups as follows:

  1. The atmosphere is informal, comfortable, relaxed.
  2. There is lots of pertinent discussion and it stays on track.
  3. The group’s task is well understood and accepted.
  4. Members listen to each other and have no fear of looking foolish.
  5. There is disagreement and no conflict avoidance.
  6. Decisions are made mostly by consensus.
  7. Criticism is frank, frequent, relatively comfortable.
  8. Members freely express feelings on problems and group operation.
  9. Clear assignments are made and accepted.
  10. The group lead doesn’t dominate and there is no struggle for power.
  11. The group is self-conscious and periodically reflects on performance.

So, do you think this list is outdated and inapplicable in this day and age? How many effective groups have you had the privilege of participating in?

For grins, let’s look at an inverted version of the list:

  1. The atmosphere is formal, uncomfortable, tense.
  2. There is lots of impertinent discussion and it wanders all over the map.
  3. The group’s task is vague, undefined and thus, unaccepted.
  4. Members ignore each other and put on a mask of infallibility.
  5. There is no disagreement and conflicts are avoided.
  6. Decisions are made by authority
  7. Criticism is personal and uncomfortable.
  8. Members cover up and suppress feelings.
  9. No assignments are made and tasks fall though the cracks – accepted by no one or the ubiquitous “we”.
  10. The group head dominates and there is much politicking to curry favor.
  11. The group is unconscious.

Which of these lists feels more familiar to you?

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