What Is Organizational Behavior?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is organizational behavior

What is organizational behavior? Organizational behavior is the field that studies how humans interact in structured group settings. It also touches on how organizations themselves appear to operate as a result of all the individual inputs and interactions within them. Organizational behavior is an object of study in industrial and organizational psychology as well as a practical matter for business leaders to master.

Everyone is a different someone at work. It’s such an obvious characteristic that most people perform the switch between their work role and their home role unconsciously. Professionalism, standards of conduct, business ethics, and other frameworks set the parameters for our conduct at work. And if someone catches themself in a moment of over-familiarity in the workplace, that behavior is compartmented and regularized almost immediately.

But for leaders, the very fact that individuals behave differently in group settings than they do on their own is a source of some concern. There’s also the fact that behavior can vary based on factors such as:

If leaders aren’t concerned with organizational behavior, who else will be?

It’s also a subject of fascination in the field of psychology, particularly industrial-organizational psychology. Why is it that we shift our behaviors in groups? What are the rules or standards? How can this be studied and explained?

There’s no single organizational behavior definition that satisfies everyone.

But for leaders in organizational behavior management jobs, there’s a real need to understand what organizational behavior is and how to manage it.

Why Is Organizational Behavior Important in Leadership Studies?

leader explaining plan to teamFor leaders studying organizational behavior, improving performance and commitment in the workplace is the ultimate goal.

For human beings, cooperation is in our nature. In the bands and tribes we evolved in stretching back to the earliest eras, cooperation was survival. And in those small, kin-based groups, social mores and culture kept us focused on the necessity of working together.

In the pre-industrial era, most workers labored more or less autonomously. Completing piece-work didn’t require a great deal of coordination. Agricultural labor had cooperation dictated by the season and needs of plants and animals.

But by the time industrialized production rolled around, the group efforts required in labor expanded by leaps and bounds. Suddenly, teams of hundreds or thousands were needed to work together closely and in some harmony to be effective.

That state of affairs remains today. And for leaders of modern organizations, figuring out how all those cogs fit together represents a huge part of the actual work of management.

That work is informed by anthropological data, psychological models, and historical research. The complexities of how people relate to one another in small and large groups are still being worked out. But the entire field of study is important to anyone who hopes to lead such groups toward any specific goal.

Why Leaders Want to Foster Good Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB)

large group meetingAlthough everyone in an organization has some sort of official job, often with a formal definition of the duties and responsibilities, it’s also the case that most employees extend their efforts beyond the lines of those strict definitions. In the world of organizational psychology, those types of voluntary efforts over and above the norm are called organizational citizenship behaviors.

OCB is the phenomena that keeps people working past closing time, to pitch in to help their teammates when they don’t have to, to get together with coworkers in evenings or one weekends to talk shop and bond.

A workplace that has a lot of OCB going on is more cohesive, more motivated, and more effective than those without it. And that’s all music to the ears of leaders in pursuit of excellence and achievement in their organizations. Motivating staff to go the extra mile and get the job done against all odds is exactly what strong organizational leaders strive for.

By developing a clear understanding of the psychological and social roots of how teams are built and perform, you have the basic elements you need to assess your organization and to tune it up.

Leaders without the knowledge of the latest psychological studies and organizational behavior theories are working blind. They may see the effects and outcomes of the social structure and culture of their team, but they won’t have the insights into the causes behind them. And they’ll be left without the tools to change problematic behaviors into more effective ones.

How Organizational Leadership Degrees Teach Organizational Behavior Management

woman raises handIf you are getting the idea that organizational behavior is a pretty complex concept, with many applications and a lot of scientific data to take in, you’re exactly right.

That makes it the kind of field where high-level college study is necessary to really understand the concept. And it’s a natural fit with leadership studies. In fact, leadership itself is a concept that really only fits in with organizational behavior. After all, without a group to lead, can you really be a leader in the first place?

But such questions are mostly found on the theoretical side of the ledger. Leaders have to be practical. Organizational behavior has to be more than a concept—it has practical applications. For many future leaders, a degree in organizational leadership offers both the core understanding of behavior and the tools to manage it with.

How Organizational Leadership Degrees Bring Clarity to Organizational Behavior Theories

It’s possible to earn an organizational behavior master’s degree or even a PhD in organizational behavior, but these programs leave out the other types of essential training that good leaders require:

To get an education in all those key skills and qualities, with a cherry of organizational behavior study on top, a degree in organizational leadership is the way to go.

Although organizational leadership is a field with practical applications in every industry or group activity, it leans on a lot of behavioral theory to train effective leaders. After all, understanding how best to resolve conflicts or to message new changes to your organization also involves understanding the psychological setting in which they will be reacting.

To develop that understanding, you’ll study organizational behavior and human decision processes, organizational behavior concepts, and all the essentials of organizational behavior management.

Organizational leadership classes will cover organizational behavior examples, drawing in the psychology through case studies and role play.

But where an actual OL degree pays off is in translating those examples into actionable, real-world concepts and systems:

With both practical and theoretical training behind you, an organizational leadership degree allows consistent, effective, and ethical uses of organizational behaviorism to help get your team across the finish line.