What is Organizational Behavior?

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Organizational behavior is an integral feature included in several fields of study, from human resources and business modeling to the social sciences and humanities. Such is the case because these fields focus on how groups, made up of individual actors, come together and recursively impact each other and the group as a whole. It is, at its foundation, a series of models that describe a primary human social behavior. For anyone interested in exploring a field that works with complex groups or corporate bodies, these models are crucial.

Related Resource: 50 Most Affordable Master’s in Organizational Behavior Degree Programs

Human Group Dynamics

Humans have practiced organizational behavior even before they were modern, with brains of comparable size to those walking around in the world today. How can this be, many might ask when the concepts underpinning the theory have only been codified in the last century? The answer lies in its evolutionarily advantage. The core of this behavior is cooperation or productivity and its converse.

Without cooperative, productive action and the associated pro-social tendencies, the genus Homo would never have survived to evolve at all. To thrive, early Homo species that preceded Homo sapiens had to accomplish several primary goals. First, tool making and abstract thought; second, resource allocation and processing; and finally, reproductive success and maintenance of a thriving, diverse breeding pool. None of that happens without cooperation and management of interpersonal dynamics.

This essential trait to cooperate is easily recognized and has been marked in philosophy and literature for centuries, most notably following the Enlightenment in Western Europe. But how do companies and scholars alike use it today? While it has a place in modeling done by psychologists, anthropologists, and other scientists, it features prominently in the analysis of corporate culture and productive mechanisms required to create capital.

Approaches and Models

When considering its use in business, there are four main models or set-ups. These describe positions of relative power and the direction in which profits or influence flow. The popularity of each of these designs and the perceptions they elicit from involved parties ebbs and flows with cultural attitudes about individual and group dynamism. However, most who study them would gauge their effectiveness and longevity differentially—some work better than others.

The authoritarian model is a type of business most Americans have experienced, and while it does serve to goad productivity, the power structure is unstable. According to an article published on Chron, this creates an environment in which the paycheck is used as both a reward and a goad, and in which loyalty is subject to personal power of any leader rather than the company or organization. This corresponds to what anthropologists identify as a dominance hierarchy.

However, prestige hierarchies are more stable structures of social influence and power within stratified cultures, such as those enacted within businesses or educational institutions. The Custodial Model itself encourages a paternalistic relationship dynamic between employees and management, which is only slightly different from the Authoritarian model. The primary difference being that reward is used in place of fear of punishment and loyalty is shifted from individuals to the company idea or ethos.

Shifting farther towards egalitarian ideologies, both the Collegial and Supportive Models shift the emphasis increasingly onto the hierarchy of employees, seeking to identify specific goals and render loyalty and pro-social action via binding those goals with the concept of the business as a whole. The Systems Model is the ultimate realization of binding employees to a corporate motivation by aligning individual goals with company outcomes, team-building or socially-cohesive language, incentives, and a softer approach to managing individual needs.

While businesses have an ultimate purpose, which is earning a profit and selectively rewarding actors within a corporate hierarchy, there are several ways of accomplishing these goals. Psychology, anthropology, and economics all indicate that some methods are better and have more longevity than others. By studying organizational behavior, individuals interested in either business modeling or another related field can assess which approach is most appropriate to a given group or situation.