Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum

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Understanding Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum

Chris Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum is a theory of human personality development that proposes that humans have certain natural development sequence that could either be enhanced or thwarted by the organization.

According to Argyris, many organizations prevent their employees from reaching these desired states of a mature, independent personality through their overreliance on rules, procedures, and rigid formal structures. In other words, a person’s innate desire to become mature and independent is squelched by management principles that seek to keep employees in a dependent state.

Immature individuals are characterized by the following traits:
  • Passive — They are more likely to be controlled by others and to accept their fate without question.
  • Dependent — They rely on others for support and guidance.
  • Lack of confidence — They doubt their own abilities and are often afraid to take risks.
  • Need for control — They feel the need to control their environment and the people around them.
Mature individuals, on the other hand, are characterized by the following traits:
  • Active — They take charge of their own lives and are not afraid to take risks.
  • Independent — They are able to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
  • Self-confident They believe in their own abilities and are not afraid to stand up for themselves.
  • Self-controlled — They are able to manage their emotions and impulses.

Like Maslow with his earlier (1943) motivational theory, ArgyrisOpens in new window felt that growth was a natural and healthy experience for people. He proposes that all people progress from a very immature, dependent personality to a mature, independent one.

Argyris (1972) felt that organizations that acknowledged and aided this growth would be more likely to prosper than those that ignored or actively inhibited this growth. This conflict between organizational needs and personal needs stems from the incompatibility between individual’s innate desires to grow and develop their maturing personalities and the repressive qualities inherent in formal organizations.

Argyris (1971) views the growth process in seven specific stages that transform immature infants into mature adults.

  1. First, people are transformed from a passive state to a state of activity, becoming more active.
  2. Second, people seek interdependence with others and grow to an independent state (rather than being dependent).
  3. Third, people in immature state behave within limited behavior patterns, but when they become mature, they behave in diverse ways exhibiting unlimited behavior patterns.
  4. Four, immature people have erratic and shallow interests while mature people develop deep and intense interests (not shallow).
  5. Fifth, people move from a concern only for the here and now (a short time perspective) to a concern for the past, present, and future (a long time perspective).
  6. Sixth, people move from a subordinate position to an equal or superordinate position.
  7. Seventh, people develop high awareness and control over self in contrast to low self-awareness which characterizes the immaturity stage.

Argyris believed that people move along the maturity continuum as they gain experience and learn from their mistakes. He also believed that organizations can play a role in helping people to mature by creating an environment that is supportive of personal growth and development.

The table below summarized the immaturity-maturity continuum.

Immature TraitMature
PassiveWork attitudeActive
DependentDependenceRelatively independent
Behave in few waysBehaviorBehave in diverse ways
Erratic, shallow interestsInterestsDeeper interests
Short-time perspectivesConcernLong-term perspectives
Subordinate positionPositionEqual or superior position
Lack of awareness of selfSelf-awarenessSelf-awareness and self-controlled
The rigid structure in the work organization prevents this natural growth by keeping people in a more narrowly focused, subordinate state.

According to Argyris, an individual will be regarded as immature, irrespective of his chronological age, when he will be basically dependent and submissive with a few shallow interests and having only a short time perspective. In contrast, a mature personality will be endowed with relative independence, autonomy, self-control, many abilities and deep-rooted not superficial interests in life. He will also have long time orientation unlike the immature personality.

Essentially, Argyris emphasized that as individuals mature, they have increasing needs to be more active, desires to move from subordinate positions to superordinate ones, needs to develop many new and different ways for behaving, and deeper interests than they did when they were in a more immature state.

Argyris added that organizations that acknowledged and aided this growth would be more likely to prosper than those that ignored or actively inhibited this growth.

Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum is a valuable tool for understanding human behavior and for developing effective leadership strategies. By understanding the traits of immature and mature individuals, leaders can create an environment that is conducive to personal growth and development. Additionally, leaders can use their understanding of the continuum to provide support and guidance to help their employees reach their full potential.

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  • References
    • Introduction to Educational Administration: Standards, Theories, and Practice (The Immaturity-Maturity Continuum Pg 116-117) By Douglas J. Fiore
    • Prin Of Mgmt & Ob, 2E (Argyris's Maturity versus Immaturity Pg 175) By Mukherjee
    • Nursing Leadership and Management: An Experiential Approach (Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum pg 56-57) By Elaine L. La Monica, Elaine La Monica Rigolosi

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