What Is Organizational Behavior? How to Build the Business You Really Want

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“All happy [workplaces] are alike; each unhappy [workplace] is unhappy in its own way.”

Though Tolstoy was writing about families and not workplaces, the Anna Karenina principle still applies. To have a positive, productive organization, several key aspects must fall into place. The absence of any of those can cause employee dissatisfaction, poor productivity, and other problems.

So what are the similarities in happy workplaces? Chances are, those workplaces have worked hard to implement the principles of organizational behavior.

What is organizational behavior?

Organizational behavior (OB) is the study of how people behave in organizational settings. Its principles are applied with the goal of making organizations and the people in them work more effectively together.

Organizational behavior research can focus on individual behavior within the organization, how groups work together, how the organization itself behaves, and how all of these are interconnected and impact each other.

Why is organizational behavior important?

The principles of effective organizational behavior can be applied to many aspects of the workplace. It can be used to improve productivity and performance, boost employee satisfaction, increase motivation, foster better leadership, understand decision-making, and facilitate better cross-team collaboration.

As an academic discipline, organizational behavior is studied in many business administration programs. Organizational behavior is also researched and applied by a number of business roles, such as consultants or organizational management experts.

Types of organizational behavior models

Organizational behavior has been studied for decades, leading to a number of theories and models on effective organizational management. The following five management models make up a popular framework for thinking about organizational behavior:

Autocratic: This model can be used to best describe historical workplaces, particularly those during the industrial revolution. An autocratic model is based on power and authority, demands employee obedience, and is built on dependency on the boss for directions. Jobs within the autocratic model may provide no more than a paycheck for their employees.

Custodial: A custodial model is built on providing a sense of security and care from the organization to employees, such as through providing a strong benefits package. The aim with the custodial model is to provide incentives and economic resources that will build loyalty toward the organization.

Supportive: A supportive model is built on leadership motivating and inspiring workers. Unlike the autocratic model, it assumes that employees are self-motivated. So a manager’s job is to help foster that motivation by supporting the employee’s talents, interests, and goals. This is built with the understanding that with the right support, employees will take initiative and increase performance on their own.

Collegial Unlike the first two models, the collegial model acknowledges that social factors are a key factor in employee satisfaction. This model is built on the idea of colleagues working together as a team and fostering a sense of partnership. Power within the organization is shared to a certain degree and it could feature a flattened hierarchy without direct top-down direction.

System: This is the newest organizational behavior model, built on fostering passion and a commitment to the organization’s goals. The idea is that by giving employees a high level of meaning at work, workers will achieve greater satisfaction and performance. This system expects managers to show compassion and care toward their direct reports and work to establish a positive workplace culture.

What influences organizational behavior?

There are hundreds of factors that can influence organizational behavior. For example, one of the earliest OB studies was designed to investigate how lighting impacts productivity (in the process, the researchers discovered workers responded more to social factors than environmental ones).

That said, influential factors can generally be boiled down to a few main groups:

  • Social: Leadership styles, coworker personalities, group dynamics, relationships, etc.
  • Environment: Lighting, aesthetics, office/desk set-up, etc.
  • Structure: Employee hierarchy, organizational structure of departments in business units, etc.
  • Tools: Access to information, tools, and technology
  • Processes: Workflow management, reporting structures, project management styles, etc.

How to bring organizational behavior principles to your organization

Organizational behavior has been studied for decades and covers dozens of topics—far more than can be covered here. Each workplace will have its own specific issues to deal with. To start, survey your employees to learn more about what issues they see in the workplace. Employee engagement software can help you keep a pulse on satisfaction within your organization.

You could also look up the latest OB research that covers the topics you’re most concerned about.

To help you, here are some other posts from the Capterra blog that relate to organizational behavior:

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About the Author

Kristen Bialik

Kristen Bialik

Kristen Bialik is a senior specialist analyst covering customer experience for Capterra. She holds B.A.'s in English and Communications from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Journalism Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Follow her at @kebialik for insight on CX for small and midsize businesses.

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