The Hawthorne Experiments & Teambuilding
The Hawthorne Experiments - what it teaches us about productivity & teambuilding
The hawthorne experiments
The Hawthorne Experiments were conducted by Professor Elton Mayo, from 1927 to 1932, at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Chicago. The experiments were primarily started with the intention of studying the relationship between productivity and work conditions. Professor Mayo started these experiments by examining the physical and environmental influences of the workplace (e.g. brightness of lights, humidity) and then moved on to the psychological aspects (e.g. breaks, group pressure, working hours, managerial leadership).
The Hawthorne Effect
The findings in Hawthorne Experiments have been generally described as the “Hawthorne Effect”, which can be summarized as "Individual behaviors may be altered because they know they are being studied." This is, however, only one of the many useful conclusions that Professor Mayo made. For example, Mayo also found that worker productivity increased with the psychological stimulus of being shown individual attention, feeling involved, and being made to feel important.
About the Experiment
Mayo selected two ladies from the factory, and they in turn chose another four ladies to participate in the experiment. The team worked in isolation, under the supervision of a friendly supervisor who established a working relationship with them. He took time to explain the changes that were to be introduced, asked for their feedback and listened to their complaints.
Mayo then varied the working conditions like working hours and number and duration of rest breaks in stages. The level of production is mechanically recorded, while the supervisor recorded the team’s behavior.
Elton Mayo's Conclusions on Team Performance
Among other findings, these conclusions made by Mayo have significantly impacted the way management ran their production plant from then on and, we believe, resulted in the eventual birth of the concept of team building:
• Relationships between supervisor and workers affected productivity. Mayo discovered that the relationships between workers and their supervisors affected production. The working relationship that the supervisor established with the workers was not a usual on at that time. Women did not have a high social status at the workplace and when the supervisor asked for the feedback from the ladies and listened to their complaints, it gave them a sense of self-worth. Mayo believed that this spurred them on to produce more even when all the privileges were taken away.
• Workgroup norms significantly affected productivity. If most people produced at a particular level after a change was made, everyone tended to produce at that level, as it was ‘a fair day’s work’ (this confirmed similar conclusions made previously by other researches)
• The workplace has a culture. A worker’s performance is affected by internal and external social demands. Informal groups within the work plant influence the habits and attitudes of the workers.
• Being taken care of. Being recognized for their work, feeling secured and a sense of belonging is more important that physical conditions at work.
Emergence of team building
One of the most crucial conclusions from the experiments is that toward the end of the tests, when all of the privileges were taken away, productivity continued to rise to an all time high. It was reasonably concluded that the production team were more motivated to work hard by the factors listed above than the physical working conditions. The researchers also noted that there was a possibility that the production team was grateful that the experiments were extended from the initial arrangement of one year to five.
In the decades that followed, employers became aware of the importance of maintaining a positive work culture and relationship with workers and probably led to the emergence of team building exercises and retreats.