Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum

Understanding Argyris's Maturity-Immaturity Continuum

Chris Argyris Opens in new window, a behavioral scientist, proposes that humans have certain natural development sequence that could either be enhanced or thwarted by the organization. Like Maslow with his earlier (1943) motivational theory, Argyris 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.

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.

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

  • First, people are transformed from a passive state to a state of activity, becoming more active.
  • Second, people seek interdependence with others and grow to an independent state (rather than being dependent).
  • Third, people in immature state behave within limited behavior patterns, but when they become mature, they behave in diverse ways exhibiting unlimited behavior patterns.
  • Four, immature people have erratic and shallow interests while mature people develop deep and intense interests (not shallow).
  • 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).
  • Sixth, people move from a subordinate position to an equal or superordinate position.
  • Seventh, people develop high awareness and control over self in contrast to low self-awareness which characterizes the immaturity stage.

The table below summarized the immaturity-maturity continuum.

Immature TraitMature
PassivityWork attitudeActivity
DependenceDependenceRelative independence
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-awarenessAwareness and self control
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.

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