Organizational behavior is a misnomer. It is not the study of how organizations behave, but rather 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.
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. The field also includes the analysis of organizational factors that may have an influence upon individual and group behavior. 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.
Organizational behavior is a relatively new, interdisciplinary field of study. Although it draws most heavily from the psychological and sociological sciences, it also looks to other scientific fields of study for insights. One of the main reasons for this interdisciplinary approach is because the field of organizational behavior involves multiple levels of analysis, which are necessary to understand behavior within organizations because people do not act in isolation. That is, workers influence their environment and are also influenced by their environment.
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.
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.
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.
Other fields of study that are of interest to organizational behavior are ergonomics, statistics, and psychometrics.
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.
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.
Jerry Bryan Fuller