Are you a Monochron or a Polychron?

In a recent article with colleagues, we explain how different industries can have very dissimilar velocity regimes (patterns of rates and directions of change). The four velocity regimes we propose – simple, divergent, integrated and conflicted – each has an industry dynamic that ranges from basic and homogenous to complex and diverse. So, while we know it is important for companies and individuals to keep pace with the rate of change, the notion of velocity regimes highlights that this can be more complex than simply being fast or slow. More often companies will be required to focus on, and to synchronize and coordinate activities to fit with multiple rates and directions of changes. In our paper, we then go on to explain that for certain velocity regimes managers and teams should have “temporal orientations” suited to tracking, making-sense of, and responding to the pattern of change in their industry.

So what is temporal orientation? "It is a cognitive concept that describes how individuals and teams conceive of time" (McCarthy et al. 2010: 621). The most common orientation in the Western world is “clock time”, where we chunk, sequence and follow time in terms of the days, months and weeks in calendars, and the seconds, minutes and hours in clocks. There are, however, several other related and overlapping temporal orientations, including “island time” – the difference in pace of life between a mainland and an island; “banana time” - organizing time around daily rituals; “event time” - such as scheduling something for a rainy day; as well as the two orientations we focus on in our paper, which are “monochronicity” and “polychronicity” (See: Ancona et al. 2001; Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988; Hall, 1959; Roy, 1960).

In our paper we describe how monochronics view time as a unified and linear phenomenon. They prefer to pay attention to and complete individual tasks in a serial fashion; and they hate missing deadlines. While in contrast polychronics view time as a heterogeneous and malleable phenomenon.  They like to work on many things simultaneously, and are much less concerned about missing deadlines. Table 1 summarizes these differences.

Table 1

A lot of the research on temporal orientations is concerned with the orientations of different countries and their cultures, and this impacts multinational companies and managers that come from a country with a different temporal orientation. We argue that the same logic can be applied to different industries, because at different periods in their history they can have very different rates and directions of change. For instance, the global fashion industry in the 1990s (a conflicted velocity regime), and the global computer industry in the late 1980s (an integrated velocity regime) both experienced tightly coupled change, where a change in the velocity of one aspect of the industry, say technology, impacted the velocity of other aspects of the industry, such regulations, demand, products and competition. This industry dynamic, in which everything is highly connected, suits and rewards managers and teams with a polychronic orientation as they can simultaneously coordinate multiple tasks and pay continuous partial attention to a broad set of issues. In contrast, in the two loosely coupled velocity regimes we propose – simple (e.g., the U.K. tableware industry in the 1950s), and divergent (e.g., U.S. flat glass manufacturing industry in the 1960s) – the benefits of multitasking, monitoring and simultaneously adjusting to the velocities of different dimensions are lower. Such situations, we argue, reward a monochronic temporal orientation that leads managers and teams to engage in tasks in a relatively independent manner, focusing on one issue at a time.

What is your temporal orientation? Take a test here to findout.


Ancona, D. G., Okhuysen, G. A., & Perlow, L. A. 2001. Taking time to integrate temporal research. Academy of Management Review, 26: 512–529.

Bluedorn, A. C., & Denhardt, R. B. 1988. Time and organizations. Journal of Management, 14: 299–320.

Hall, M. 1959. The theory of groups. New York: Macmillan.

Roy. D. F. 1960. Banana time: Job satisfaction and informal interaction. Human Organization, 18: 156-168.