Introduction to Leadership Style
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In 1924, MIT professor Vannevar Bush began a series of experiments at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works, in Cicero, IL. He wanted to test the impact of specific changes in the work environment on the output of the workers.
The first study was the Illumination Study. Researchers turned up the lights. Productivity went up.
“Aha!” thought the researchers. They turned down the lights. Productivity went up.
This was not what anyone expected. Bush and his team ultimately decided that the simple fact of being paid attention to accounted for the changes in output.
In 1927, Elton Mayo and his colleagues showed up at the Hawthorne Works to conduct a second set of experiments. Their first round was called The Relay Assembly Test Room Experiments. This time they isolated a group of six women with established production rates. The women produced, on average, 2400 telephone relays a week.
Over the next five years, the researchers tried twenty-three different changes in the working environment to see what would happen. Productivity went up. And up. And up. By the end of the first round of experiments, it appeared that changes in the physical environment had no affect on productivity.
But absenteeism in the isolated group was a third of that for the entire plant. And the production of relays averaged 3000 per week per worker. Other interesting things happened as well.
As the experiment went on the women acted more and more like a team. The experimenters allowed them a say in how things were done and what variables might be changed. This “team” impact was demonstrated in another way in the final phase of Mayos experiments.
In 1931, Mayo and his colleagues began the Bank Wiring Observation Room Experiment. The idea was
The Hawthorne experiments are significant because they represent the first time that human researchers took a look at the human factors involved in work.
Work is a social function. While most of the writing about work before the Hawthorne experiments discussed work as an economic function, these experiments established the fact that friendships, personal satisfaction, culture and social norms were subjects worth study. Who we work with and how appears to be more important than environmental factors like lighting.
Groups are multipliers. In the Relay Assembly Test Room, the group, working together increased production. In the Bank Wiring Observation Room group norms worked against any production increase. Groups have an impact on how hard and how well members work.
Trust is a big deal. One big difference between the Relay Assembly Test Room and the Bank Wiring Observation Room groups was that one trusted the researchers and the other did not. In the Relay Assembly Test Room, average production increased by 25 percent without need for incentives. In the Bank Wiring Observation Room incentives had no affect on group trust or performance.
People like other people to pay attention to them. The Illumination Experiments seem to establish that simply paying