The T-Shirt Test

You pass the t-shirt test when people proudly wear a t-shirt with the logo of your organization on it.

Would you proudly wear a t-shirt with your own name?

I would.

Would you proudly wear a t-shirt with the name of your spouse?

I would.

Would you proudly wear a t-shirt with a drawing by your children?

I would.

Would you proudly wear a t-shirt with a photo of your pet?

I would.

Would you proudly wear a t-shirt with the logo of your employer?


We spend most of our days living with ourselves, our partners, our children, and our organizations. And maybe a dog. Or a chinchilla. A happy life should include feeling happy about the relationships that you maintain, with yourself, your spouse, your kids… and your colleagues. (And your chinchilla.)

I call it the T-Shirt Test. An organization passes the t-shirt test when employees will proudly wear a t-shirt with the company logo on it, hoping that other people notice the name of the organization. Hoping that other people say, “Wow, you have a chinchilla? you work for company X? That’s so cool!”

When your colleagues don’t care to associate themselves gladly, in public, with the image of your organization, you might have a problem.

Are you wearing the name of your company?

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

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  • Bob MacNeal

    Your clever T-Shirt Test is one of the simplest and astute measures of organizational health I have encountered.
    As I considered the people and organizations I have worked with over the past 34 professional years, there were no T-Shirts I would wear except from the company I co-own.
    My reasons varied. Some organizations missed by minor transgressions, while others were organizations controlled by people who considered little more than personal gain. My wear or not-to-wear criteria boil down to some combination of ownership, connection, responsibility and loyalty.
    Interesting post. Thanks.

  • Glen B. Alleman

    Every firm I’ve worked for over the past 33 years had some form of “logo’ed” clothing. Most were large industrial organizations. Only the last one was in that “don’t wear” category. Because of the conditions you describe so well.
    All others had clear mission outcomes, near perfect employee support processes – hire the best, let them lead to solution, and reward them for that.
    My experience seems to be the inverse of Bob’s. I’ve discovered over time to work where the success of the mission is the overwhelming mission – heavy construction, defense and space, industrial processes based on software. When everyone in the building knows what “done” looks like, the shirt or jacket is a symbol of the shared outcome.
    Another motivator is when the founders of the firm ( have the same clear and concise mission. This was the firm that closed a major nuclear weapons plant,, ahead of schedule, under budget, and safely. I still wear the leather jacket from those years, even though the job is long over.
    I’d say the decision is based on the recognition that the firm is held in esteem by the public and professional communities.

  • Nick Jenkins

    I wore the company shirt for 4 years recently – because it didn’t need to be ironed!
    I don’t think it’s a great test. I wasn’t ashamed of the company but wouldn’t I say it was a healthy, happy place to work. I left because I didn’t agree with what it was doing to people – it had high aspirations but failed to deliver.
    Also it’s ethno-centric. I worked in London for a company who’s tattoo I’d happily wear, let alone their t-shirt – except they made us ALL wear suits and ties. To each, their own.

  • Mr_jcb_1973

    That’s a great test – I love the simplicity. It’s provoked great debate here at – the feeling is that whilst all of us would (and do!) wear our company t-shirts with pride, we wouldn’t necessarily want to wear a t-shirt for all of our projects…
    That’s useful to know – and I think I’ll be using a form of this exercise in retrospectives.

  • VFQDev

    Would you proudly wear a t-shirt with the name of your spouse?
    Erm, probably not. I love her and all but …

  • Erwin Verweij

    I agree that this is a good test. But the t-shirts also need to be cool. I wouldn’t wear something that makes me look stupid. Hey i’m a bit vain. But I have been in this situation. Working at a cool company and everyone was wearing the shirts. In another company nobody could be bothered. And both matched the company atmosphere and feeling.

  • soung

    Working at a cool company and everyone was wearing the shirts. In another company nobody could be bothered.

  • Nikolay Sturm

    I think this test only works in the positive case, that is, if employees wear the company shirt proudly, all is probably well. But what about the case where all is well, but the product is not cool? In that case I might not want to wear the shirt but still indentify with everything else in the company.

  • Panagiotis Kontogiannis

    Very impressive article that made ​​me think about it and write my vision, in my blog. I think to wear a company T-shirt has should my relationship with them to be more than normal. And in 90% of the cases are not. 😉

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