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Theory X vs. Theory Y

Do you lead or do you manage?  Do you believe in command-and-control or do you believe in team empowerment?  Recently, while presenting an Agile Enterprise Workshop, we discussed Theory X and Theory Y with our workshop attendees.

Theory X and Theory Y are two extremes introduced by Harvard Professor Douglas McGregor in his book “The Human Side of Enterprise”.  It was published over 50 years ago.  Still, you can find both theories in practice today.

Though the theory of x and y are not absolute in how human nature plays out in our places of work, there will always be those among us who are polarizing and think of life as a side of a coin.

So, which do you believe?

Theory X and Theory Y


HT: Dan Pink

HT: Sanjiv Augutine

HT: Wikipedia

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of ALM Platforms at LeadingAgile. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon). Novice angel investor.

10 Responses to “Theory X vs. Theory Y”

  1. August 23, 2011 at 3:34 am

    Theory X makes me want to stab at my eyes with a spork.

    • Anonymous
      August 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      Ha! But what is sad is you can walk into any large organization and see it happening.

  2. Donna Burgess
    August 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    It’s not as black & white as Theory X / Y – more of a sliding scale IMHO 

    • Anonymous
      August 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm

      Donna, I totally agree. Even Douglas McGregor stated in his book that there would be different degrees of both X and Y. I listed the most polarizing to see if they resonated with anyone. Thank you for raising a very valid point.

  3. August 23, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I think the goal has to be theory Y, the question, as you mention, is can you actually get there? Here are some examples of how Netflix tries to amp up their ‘Y’, that I thought were fairly imaginative:

    • Anonymous
      August 24, 2011 at 2:19 am

      I give Reed Hastings and the Netflix team a big plus for giving it a go. Imagination is a good thing.

  4. August 24, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    It depends on what you are up to. If you know everything in advance, command-and-control may work. Problem solving like software development however doesn’t work well that way. The right solution needs to be learned iteratively, and a team working on this acts like a feedback control system. A commander doesn’t have more knowledge than the team. However, teams are not perfect. They may get stuck, set wrong priorities etc. It requires leadership to iron out such things. This kind of leadership is more about giving feedbacks than about commanding.

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