Organizational Behavior

views updated May 17 2018

Organizational Behavior

The study of organizational behavior is an academic discipline concerned with describing, understanding, predicting, and controlling human behavior in an organizational environment. Organizational behavior has evolved from early classical management theories into a complex school of thoughtand it continues to change in response to the dynamic environment and proliferating corporate cultures in which today's businesses operate. Crafting an organization that functions as efficiently as possible is a difficult task. Understanding the behavior of a single person is a challenge. Understanding the behavior of a group of people, each one with a complex relationship with the others in the group is an even more difficult undertaking. It is, however a worthy undertaking because ultimately the work of an organization is done through the behavior driven actions of people, individually or collectively, on their own or in collaboration with technology. Therefore, a central part of the management task is the management of organizational behavior.


Organizational behavior scientists study four primary areas of behavioral science: individual behavior, group behavior, organizational structure, and organizational processes. They investigate many facets of these areas like personality and perception, attitudes and job satisfaction, group dynamics, politics and the role of leadership in the organization, job design, the impact of stress on work, decision-making processes, the communications chain, and company cultures and climates. They use a variety of techniques and approaches to evaluate each of these elements and its impact on individuals, groups, and organizational efficiency and effectiveness. The behavioral sciences have provided the basic framework and principles for the field of organizational behavior. Each behavioral science discipline provides a slightly different focus, analytical framework, and theme for helping managers answer questions about themselves, non-managers, and environmental forces.

In regard to individuals and groups, researchers try to determine why people behave the way they do. They have developed a variety of models designed to explain individuals' behavior. They investigate the factors that influence personality development, including genetic, situational, environmental, cultural, and social factors. Researchers also examine various personality types and their impact on business and other organizations. One of the primary tools utilized by organizational behavior researchers in these and other areas of study is the job satisfaction study. These tools are used not only to measure job satisfaction in such tangible areas as pay, benefits, promotional opportunities, and working conditions, but also to gauge how individual and group behavior patterns influence corporate culture, both positively and negatively.


The terms "corporate culture" and "organizational behavior" are sometimes used interchangeably, but in reality, there are differences between the two. Corporate culture encompasses the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs and other characteristics that define an organization's operating philosophy. Organizational behavior, meanwhile, can be understood in some ways as the academic study of corporate culture and its various elements, as well as other important components of behavior such as organization structure and organization processes. Organizational behavior is the field of study that draws on theory, methods, and principles from various disciplines to learn about individual perceptions, values, learning capacities, and actions while working in groups and within the total organization; analyzing the external environment's effect on the organization and its human resources, missions, objectives, and strategies. Therefore, managers need to develop diagnostic skills and be trained to identify conditions symptomatic of a problem requiring further attention. The problems to watch for include declining profits, declining quantity or quality of work, increases in absenteeism or tardiness, and negative employee attitudes. Each of these problems is an issue of organizational behavior.


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                                Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                 updated by Magee, ECDI

Organizational Behavior

views updated May 21 2018

Organizational Behavior

Organizational behavior is the study of individual behavior in an organizational setting. This includes the study of how individuals behave alone, as well as how individuals behave in groups. Organizational behavior is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to understanding individual and group behavior, interpersonal processes, and organizational dynamics. The purpose of organizational behavior is to gain a greater understanding of those factors that influence individual and group dynamics in an organizational setting so that individuals and the groups and organizations to which they belong may become more efficient and effective.

Organizational behavior is a relatively new field of study that draws most heavily from the psychological and sociological sciences. It also looks to scientific fields such as ergonomics, statistics, and psychometrics. Other topics of interest in the field of organizational behavior include the extent to which theories of behavior are culturally

bound, unethical decision-making, self-management and self-leadership, and work/family conflict.


One of the main reasons for this interdisciplinary approach is because the field of organizational behavior involves multiple levels of analysis. These different levels of analysis are necessary for understanding individual behavior within organizations because people always act within the context of their environment, which includes both objects and other people. Workers influence their environment and are also influenced by their environment, making the study of organizational behavior a multi-level endeavor. The different levels of analysis used in the field of organizational behavior are: the individual level, the group level, and the organizational level.

Individual Level of Analysis . At the individual level of analysis, organizational behavior involves the study of learning, perception, creativity, motivation, personality, turnover, task performance, cooperative behavior, deviant behavior, ethics, and cognition. At this level of analysis, organizational behavior draws heavily upon psychology, engineering, and medicine. For example, a study of organizational behavior at the individual level of analysis might focus on the impact of different types of overhead lighting on such factors as productivity and absenteeism.

Group Level of Analysis . At the group level of analysis, organizational behavior involves the study of group dynamics, intra- and intergroup conflict and cohesion, leadership, power, norms, interpersonal communication, networks, and roles. At this level of analysis, organizational behavior draws upon the sociological and socio-psychological sciences. For example, a study of how different personality types correspond to different leadership styles and levels of results operates at the group level of analysis.

Organization Level of Analysis . At the organization level of analysis, organizational behavior involves the study of topics such as organizational culture, organizational structure, cultural diversity, inter-organizational cooperation and conflict, change, technology, and external environmental forces. At this level of analysis, organizational behavior draws upon anthropology and political science. The various studies on organizational cultures, from William Ouchi's classic Theory Z: How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge (1981) to the more recent Organizational Culture and Leadership (2004) are examples of organizational behavior conducted at the organization level of analysis.


Much of organizational behavior research is ultimately aimed at providing human resource management professionals with the information and tools they need to select, train, and retain employees in a fashion that yields maximum benefit for the individual employee as well as for the organization. As one author has written, People are an organization's most important assets! The study of organizational behavior is an attempt to maximize the effectiveness of this asset.

Organizational behavior management utilizes studies of organizational behavior as a tool to improve productivity and profit. There is an attempt to develop scientific principles that improve employee performance. This goes beyond simply understanding the general principles of human behavior in the organizational context and focuses on such specific issues as:

  • Employee safety, stress, and health
  • Evaluation of employee satisfaction and feedback systems
  • Use of monetary and nonmonetary incentives
  • Development of self-management procedures
  • Programmed instruction, behavioral modeling, and computer-aided instruction
  • Positive and negative side effects of management interventions
  • Systems analysis of the way in which work gets done, measured, and evaluated


A number of important trends in the study of organizational behavior are the focus of research efforts. First, a variety of research studies have examined topics at the group level of analysis rather than exclusively at the individual level of analysis. For example, while empowerment has largely been investigated as an individual-level motivation construct, researchers have begun to study team empowerment as a means of understanding differences in group performance. Similar research has focused on elevating the level of analysis for personality characteristics and cooperative behavior from the individual level to the group level.

Another research trend is an increasing focus on personality as a factor in individual- and group-level performance. This stems from the movement toward more organic organization designs, increased supervisory span of control, and more autonomous work designs. All of these factors serve to increase the role that personality

plays as a determinant of outcomes such as stress, cooperative or deviant behavior, and performance.

Personality traits that are related to flexibility, stress hardiness, and personal initiative are also the subject of research. Examples of these personality traits include a tendency toward individualism or collectivism, self-monitoring, openness to experience, and a proactive personality. Forms of behavior that are constructive and change-oriented in nature are also studied. These forms of behavior are proactive in nature and act to improve situations for the individual, group, or organization. Examples of these behaviors include issue selling, taking initiative, constructive change-oriented communication, innovation, and proactive socialization.

Organizational behavior is a central concern of human resource managers. Research at all levels of organizational behavior continues to be an active field in both academia and management. A wide variety of issues and concerns are the focus of on-going studies and management techniques.

SEE ALSO Human Resource Management; Motivation and Motivation Theory; Organic Organizations; Organizational Culture; Organizational Development


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Hersey, Paul H., Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007.

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Schermerhorn, John, James G. Hunt, and Richard N. Osborn. Organizational Behavior. 10th ed. New York: Wiley, 2008.

Staw, Barry, ed. Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 28. London: JAI Press, 2008.

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