Ever wondered why roles are “unofficially” assigned to teams or staff members? What does is mean when you hear your boss say that a person is their “right hand man?” Or calls another their “go-to person” when things need to get done? These unofficial positions can garner a patina of weight, but most certainly they demonstrate varying degrees of favoritism. In this post I will explore what Lead-Member eXchange, or LMX, theory has to say about group behaviors.
LMX theory was developed to nurture staff feelings; as a bi-product, it also enhanced creativity. LMX theory can enhance staff positive behaviors and help foster good relationships, if used correctly. In order for LMX theory to work, management has to show a great deal of positive leadership skills.
What is LMX Theory?
LMX theory looks at dyadic relationships of leadership in management behavior, or more specifically, how an in-group member is treated in relation to the out-group.
LMX uses Vertical Dyads to describe the relationships of in/out groups in unique ways. These vertical dyads evaluate the quality of the relationships between management and teams and divide them into 5 categories:
- mutual trust
The out-group are those who are behind on the work given to them, thus they need help completing tasks and require more attention or assistance (i.e. training, mentoring, follow-up). They may be tasked with jobs they do not like.
Those who can accomplish work in an efficient manner are considered the in-group. Outside of the obvious benefits to the organization, an in-group person can benefit personally by being assigned favorable tasks or gaining specialized skills.
Negative aspects of LMX theory
- Management not allowing underperforming team members to progress to more significant roles once they master the work put before them
- Lack of support from management
- The feeling of favoritism from the out-group
Positives aspects of LMX theory
- Upward mobility
- Greater rates of pay
- Lower turnover
- Increased job satisfaction
Thomas Hobbes wrote that the first rule of life is self-protection and that behaviors originate out of self-interest and happiness. My personal observation is that those working within the in-group are most happy and that by doing so become “protected” in ways the out-group have not garnered. Group members understand the strengths and weaknesses of their teams.
LMX theory recognizes the in-group from the out-group. All organizational cultures are aware of these behaviors. My question would be, is it ethical or moral to have in-groups and out-groups? What are your thoughts on LMX theory?