Section 1: Introduction to Organizational Behavior

What you’ll learn to do: Describe organizational behavior and differentiate between the three levels of influence

We have discussed management theories and their connections to organizational behavior, however, we have not clearly defined organizational behavior itself. In order to be successful in this course, it is important to fully understand what organizational behavior is, why it is important, and how it can influence an organization on multiple levels.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe how organizational behavior evolved into its own unique field
  • Differentiate between the three levels of influence

What is Organizational Behavior?

What is Organizational Behavior?

A loop indicating that the organization affects behavior and behavior affects the organizationIn a nutshell, organizational behavior is the study of how human behavior affects an organization. Organizational behavior aims to learn how an organization operates through the behaviors of its members. Instead of taking a strictly numerical approach to determine an organization’s operations, it takes a more psychological approach. By understanding people, you can better understand an organization.

Organizational behavior is intended to explain behavior and make behavioral predictions based on observations. If you can understand behaviors, you can better understand how an organization works. In addition, organizational behavior studies how an organization can affect behavior. So, if you think about it, behavior affects an organization and an organization affects behavior. Let that sink in for a second—it’s all connected! They each affect the other, creating a never ending loop between the two. Therefore, in order to have a healthy and successful organization, it is extremely important to understand the ins and outs of organizational behavior!

Evolution of Organizational Behavior

The academic study of organizational behavior can be dated back to Taylor’s scientific theory as we discussed earlier in this module. However, certain components of organizational behavior can date back even further. In this section we will discuss how organizational behavior developed into a field of its own.

Looking back thousands of years we can find components of organizational behavior. Famous philosophers like Plato and Aristotle discussed key components of today’s organizations including the importance of leadership and clear communication. While these seem like very basic and broad concepts today, at the time they were innovative ideas and helped to lay the foundation for organizational behavior.

If organizational behavior were a simple topic, this course would be short and sweet. We could simply say that organizational behavior is how people and groups act within an organization. But it’s not so simple!

A group of five people gathered around a laptop on a table. They have put their hands together in the center of the table.When organizational behavior grew into an academic study with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, it began to complicate what could appear to be simple topics. People began asking a lot of questions and started critiquing how organizations operated. Like many academic ventures, people began to deep dive into how behavior plays a role in organizations and why changes in behavior alter the way organizations operate. Along the way, organizational behavior has grown to incorporate components of management, psychology, leadership, personality traits, motivation, etc.

Organizational behavior has grown into its own niche within a wide variety of other genres. This is exciting because it allows us to really investigate each and every aspect of behavior within an organization! Today, organizational behavior is recognized as an essential component of an organization. Scholars and businesses alike recognize its importance and continue to help it adapt to current issues and new findings.

One of the great things about organizational behavior is that it is constantly changing. The rest of this module will discuss contemporary issues in organizational behavior and how organizations are adapting to and learning from these challenges.

Practice Question

Three Levels of Influence

If you have ever held a job, taken a class, or participated in an organized activity, you have seen levels of influence. The three levels of influence are the individual, the group, and the organization. The three levels are interconnected so it is critical to understand each one.

The Individual

Aerial photo of several small groups of people sitting at tables in a professional work spaceThe individual level includes each individual person within an organization. Each individual acts differently which affects group dynamics and the organization as a whole. If there are a lot of happy and efficient individuals, the work environment will be an efficient and productive one. However, if there are a lot of negative and disgruntled individuals, it can create a toxic environment.

It is impossible for a company to study each individual employee’s behavior, however, it is important for a company to create guidelines and expectations that will attract employees with desirable behaviors. For example, a company may hire employees based on their personality or how they answer behavioral based interview questions. At the same time, companies can help influence individual behavior. They do this by creating a code of conduct, establishing policy and procedure guidelines, and by developing incentives and consequences.

The Group

The group level includes any groups within an organization. Groups can range in size from a couple people working together, to a large group with dozens or hundreds of members. As we just discussed, individuals can affect a group and a group can affect an organization. And at the same time, a group can affect individuals and an organization can affect a group. Imagine organizational behavior as a large spider web over each organization. The spider web connects each level of influence with the two others, creating a pathway between each one.

The Organization

Finally, the organization level incorporates the organization as a whole. In case you haven’t picked up on the trend, it’s important to point out that the organization impacts the individual and group behavior and that individual and group behavior impacts an organization.

Practice Question

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