Autonomy and Intrinsic Motivation – The Painted Doll Story

Autonomy and Intrinsic Motivation – The Painted Doll Story

Allowing team members as much control over their work as possible is always a good way to develop intrinsic motivation and improve performance. I recently came across a great story that beautifully illustrates the power of autonomy and participation. I’d like to share this to hopefully inspire some of you try this concept out with your team.

The story originally comes from Money and Motivation by W.H. Whyte published in 1955. I read it in Reframing Organizations by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. Bolman and Deal do a wonderful job telling the story. I’ll try to summarize the main points here.

The story involves a group of women who painted dolls in a toy factory. The women would take a doll from a tray, paint it, and place the painted doll on a moving hook in an assembly line fashion. The women were paid hourly and received a group bonus.

While the job was not difficult, production and morale were low. The women thought the room was hot and that the hooks moved too fast. Management provided fans and morale improved. After further discussions, management decided to allow the women to control the speed at which the hooks passed. Unexpectedly, both morale and production soared.

The bonuses earned by the women due to their greatly increased productivity caused their pay to exceed that of workers in positions requiring more skill and experience. Unfortunately the story has an unhappy ending.

It seems the other workers resented the women due to the increased pay they earned. To address this problem management returned to a fixed speed belt over which the women had no control. This resulted in greatly reduced production. Morale also took a dive. Bonuses and pay dropped due to the reduced productivity. The reduced pay and low morale eventually caused most of the women to quit.

The story illustrates how people can respond positively to being given more control over the work that they are doing and by being brought into the decision making process. It also shows how improved morale tends to increase productivity. Happy people work better.

Take a moment and consider the following:

  • Participation – How involved are your individual team members in the decision making process? Obviously everyone has their job on the team and the leader or manager has the responsibility to make the decisions, but to what degree? Team members should be the most knowledgeable regarding the work that they do. Do they have an adequate opportunity to provide input? Is their input taken seriously?
  • Morale – How would you rate the morale of your team? How would they rate it? Is morale something you proactively manage or do you tend to be reactive with morale issues?

Please take some time to consider and share your thoughts on the following:

  • Are your team members eager to participate in the decision making process or would they rather leave that up to you?
  • How much control do your people have over their work?
  • How do you encourage autonomy and participation in your team?

©2017 Joseph T Drammissi

2017-06-21T18:47:12+00:00 February 9th, 2017|Categories: Management, Workplace Culture|Tags: , , |0 Comments

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