OB – Course Outline


Outline of Level 5 Module

Module Contents

  1. Organisation – Basic Concepts
  2. Modern Organisations
  3. The Nature of Work
  4. Scientific Management in C21st
  5. Human Relations and Motivation
  6. Leadership and Citizenship Behaviour
  7. Culture and Values
  8. Individual Differences
  9. Team Working
  10. Organisational Change


1. Organisation – Basic Concepts

1.1 Module Introduction

Organisational Behaviour (OB) is a subject (or discipline) that studies how people make organisations and the impact that organisations have on their members. It draws on sociology and psychology for its theory. This module extends the module Business Psychology and it supports the module Cross-Cultural Management and HRM modules.

This module adopts the viewpoint that organisations existed before modern business and are a phenomenon that is an intrinsic aspect of humanity. There are organisational aspects to families, to religions, to countries, to sports, to government, to education as well as to business. Because of this, what you learn in this module is applicable in all aspects of all our lives though we shall mostly focus on modern business organisations.

1.2 What is an organisation?

When is it an organisation and when not?

There are many ways to define ‘organisation’. After all, people do a lot of organising and much of it without conscious thought. For the purposes of this module, an organisation has two defining characteristics:

  1. It consists of a group of people who have a common purpose.
  2. There is a hierarchical structure so that some organisational members have authority over others.

Organisation as assemblage

The above definition, of course, leaves much out. We might also think of an organisation as an institutional assemblage which includes many kinds of components, not just people but also resources of other kinds, such as legal contracts, buildings, raw materials and so on.

Inside and outside

Organisational Behaviour (OB) is concerned with the behaviour of people towards each other within organisations. A structure of authority and responsibility is a defining characteristic of organisations so the relationships between leaders and subordinates is large part of the subject.

Relationships with external stakeholders are not part of OB. For example, the relationship between the organisation and its customers is covered by marketing. However, relationships with external stakeholders do influence OB. The need to maintain legitimacy, for example, is one of the key influences on OB.

1.3 Perceptions of authority

What gives someone the right to tell someone else what to do and expect to be obeyed? If someone is generally accepted to have that right, their authority is said to be legitimate. Why do parents expect to be obeyed by their children? Why do police offices expect citizens to comply with their requests? Why do bosses expect their employees to do what they are told to do? Legitimate authority is basic to organisations.

Are people psychologically disposed to obey? Two famous psychological experiments on authority try to find out about the nature and scope of authority:

T1.1 Individual Task 

Watch these videos and answer the following questions:

Milgram 1962 – Obedience Experiment (11:47)

Zimbardo 1971 – Stamford Prison Experiment (8:23)

  1. In bullet points, summarise these experiments
  2. What do these experiments tell us about people’s attitude to authority in general?
  3. What can we learn from these experiments that we can apply to the workplace?
  4. These experiments were conducted some time ago. Can you see any reasons why they may not be allowed today?

1.4 Self-Study Recommendations

Video: Philip Zimbardo – The Psychology of EvilThe Psychology of Evil (23:10)

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2. Modern Organisations

2.1 Weber’s ideal types

Traditional vs. Legal-Rational Authority – organisations are different when authority is legitimated differently

2.2 Modern Organisations – Bureaucracy

Example of bureaucratic thinking:

“At UPS, we take a sincere interest in the well-being of our team members and treat everyone equally. In the words of Jim Casey:

‘The policy of impartiality means that everyone is treated equally; everybody has an equal opportunity; one person is on a par with all the others; one can advance only because of more capability than others.’

A major factor in providing everyone with an equal opportunity to grow and rise in the ranks is the practice of not hiring relations or friends, avoiding the potential for favouritism.”

from Ron Wallace, (2016). Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver, New York: Berrett-Keohler, pp.9-10.

Mechanistic and organic organisation

2.3 Self-Study Recommendations

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3. The Nature of Work

3.1 Marx: Alienation

“First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, ie. it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labor therefore is not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need: it is a means to satisfy needs external to it.”
Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, NY: International Publishers, p.72.

According to Ritzer and Stepinsky (2014), alienation has four components. Firstly, workers are alienated from their own productive activity because they do not produce what they want to produce or need. Secondly, they are alienated from the goods or services that they produce because they do not own them. Thirdly, they are alienated from their fellow workers because the mode of capitalist production turns workers into isolated individuals. Fourthly, they are alienated from their own potential; because they are controlled, they become like machines.

3.2 Paul Willis’s Study: Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs

This is a participant observer study conducted in the late 1970s. The researcher observed a group of white working class boys making the transition from school to work. Willis was inspired to address the problem of explaining why some groups in society, despite the opportunities to choose otherwise, deliberately seek boring, meaningless and badly paid work.

A good summary of Willis’s book is to be found in Lee Harvey’s Critical Social Research.

Critique of the research methods and validity of the findings.

Paul Willis (1981). Learning to Labour, NY: Colombia University Press.

3.3 Habitus and Work Orientation

Bourdieu – habitus
Goldthorpe – work orientation
Goldthorpe, J.H., Lockwood, D., Bechhofer, F. and Platt, J., 1971. The affluent worker: political attitudes and behaviour. CUP Archive.

3.4 Managerial Work

Henri Fayol

– managers are pro-active planners

14 Principles of Management

Henry Mintzberg

– managers are reactive problem solvers

3.4 Automation and Employment

During the seventeenth century in the UK over 90% of the working population worked in farming. In the twenty first century it is less than 5%. If you were able to tell someone in the seventeenth century what would happen, they would assume that in the twenty first century there must be huge unemployment. Yet this is not what has happened. Why?

Technological change brings about change in the kind of work that people do. In the nineteenth century many people moved from working on the land to working in factories. In the late C20th there was a diminishing demand for low skilled workers and an increasing demand for highly educated and skilled knowledge workers. This has caused high rates of unemployment in areas where traditional industries have not been replaced eg. North of England and the Mid-Western USA (“rust belt”).

In developed countries like the USA ad Europe advances in automation technologies there is now an opposite trend towards deskilling and shrinking job market generally as many of the more skilled jobs are automated leading to a downward trend for wages. Some have predicted a crisis where there is poverty and unemployment for the majority and increasing wealth for those who have skills that have not, so far, been automated and those who own the means of production – the “super rich”.

This video shows a different point of view:
Vid3.1 Is your job safe – collaboration, automation, annihilation? | The Economist


3.5 Self-Study Recommendations

Ritzer, G. and Stepinsky, J. (2014). Sociological Theory, NY: McGraw Hill.

Acemoglu, D. and Restrepo, P., 2017. Robots and jobs: Evidence from US labor markets. MIT, Cambridge, MA.

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4. Scientific Management in C21

4.1 Adam Smith – Division of Labour

Dr. Bart van Heerikhuizen, University of Amsterdam, Example of the pin factory

4.2 Interchangeable Parts

Eli Whitney and interchangeable parts

4.3 Frederick Taylor – Scientific Management

Frederick Taylor – 5 principles of scientific management (David Body, Management: An Introduction, 2014, Harlow, UK: Pearson, p.44).

  1. Use scientific methods to find the one best way of doing a task
  2. Select the person with the best fit for the job in terms of mental and physical characteristics
  3. Train the worker to follow the defined process precisely
  4. Use financial incentives that reward the worker for doing the work in the prescribed way eg. piece work
  5. All organising and planning to be done by managers, none by workers

4.4 Henry Ford – moving assembly line

Fordism could be described as the application of electric motors to the process of production. Ford’s insight was into how to use a technology that had been available for some time.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century capitalism and scientific management techniques were often equated. This viewpoint emphasised the inhuman principle in classical management practice that sought to treat human beings like machines. However, this viewpoint also tended to ignore the rapid rise in standards of nutrition, education and healthcare, and in living standards generally, that were engendered by the rise in wealth brought about by capitalism.

4.5 An Example of Scientific Management

Levittown – The Imperfect Rise of the American Suburbs

by Crystal Galyean

“The Levitts certainly did not invent the business of building suburbs, but in many ways, they perfected it. Abraham, a horticultural enthusiast, was heavily involved in the landscaping and gardening of the community. Alfred, the quieter of the two sons, experimented with progressive ways of designing and constructing homes while his brother Bill marketed and sold them with vigor. Bill later became the public face of the company, loved (and later reviled), gracing magazine covers and dubbed the “King of Suburbia.”

The Levitts experimented with and implemented wholly new methods of building a community, taking division of labor and efficiency to the extreme, transforming “a cottage industry into a major manufacturing process.”  They divided the construction of each home into twenty-seven steps starting with the laying of a concrete base. Construction workers were trained to do one step at each house (which were spaced 60 feet apart) instead of building each house up from scratch individually.”

4.6 Self-Study Recommendations
Joshua B. Freeman, (2018). Behemoth: a history of the factory and the making of the modern world. New York: Norton.

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5. Human Relations and Motivating Employees

5.1 Elton Mayo – Human Relations

Marks a shift in thinking from the objectivism of Taylorism to a theory of social systems and the notion of ‘social man’.

5.2 Motivation

Extrinsic/  intrinsic rewards

Abraham Maslow: Hierarchy of Needs

Frederick Herzberg: two factor theory

Stacey Adams: Equity theory

Victor Vroom: Expectancy theory

5.3 Psychological Contract

Self-Study Recommendations

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6. Leadership and Organisational Citizenship

6.1 Overview of Leadership Theory

Trait and style theories

Since the 1990’s leadership studies has focused on the effect that certain leadership styles have on the workforce and on the performance of the organisation. There are a number of these leadership styles that have been proposed by researchers but we shall look at three of them: transformational, authentic and servant leadership styles.

6.2 Transformational Leadership

Bass & Avolio’s Full-range leadership theory

6.3 Positive Leadership Theory

Authentic and Servant Leadership Leadership

6.4 Organisational Citizenship Behaviour (OCB)

Leadership style influences the behaviour of employees. How does this influence occur and how would we like employees to behave?

Self-Study Recommendations

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7. Culture

7.1 Levels of culture

7.2 National culture:

  • Hofstede – Hofstede Insights web site contains useful information, including interactive country comparisons
  • Globe Project – ongoing culture and leadership survey. Web site which has downloadable data in Excel format.
  • World Values Survey – web site includes animated charts which show changes in national culture over time and downloadable data in Excel format.
  • Schwartz –

7.3 Organisational culture:

  • Peters & Waterman
  • Deal & Kennedy
  • Schein
  • Cameron and Quinn – Competing Values Framework

7.4 Self-Study Recommendations

Cameron, K.S. and Quinn, R.E., (2011). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework. John Wiley & Sons.
Schwartz, S.H., (2012). An overview of the Schwartz theory of basic values. Online readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), p.11.

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8. Individual Differences

Psychometric testing: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Aptitude testing

IQ testing

James Flynn makes some illuminating points about the history of IQ:
Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents’

Assessment centres

Self-Study Recommendations

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9. Team Working

9.1 Group conformity

Asche – Group conformity experiment

9.2 Katzenbach and Smith

Significant article in Harvard Business Review in 1994.

Talks about the power of small teams which is illustrated in this Apple recruitment video.

9.3 Belbin

Web site has details of 9 team roles which fall into three categories

9.4 Ringelmann

Social Loafing:

People working in teams reduce their efforts, ‘slack off’, in proportion to the size of the team. This only applies when the team members are not individually motivated to do the task. When some members of the team are slacking it encourages other team members to do likewise. This is an aspect of social facilitation theory.

Self-Study Recommendations

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10. Organisational Change

10.1 Kurt Lewin: “organisation as ice cube”

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s essay Group Decision and Social Change (1947) describes the three stages of planned change: Unfreeze, move, refreeze. (Some brief notes on this essay).

10.2 Kotter: 8 stages of change

10.3 Resistance

Good video on resistance – explores reasons for resistance and how to overcome them.

10.4 Self-Study Recommendations

Lewin, K. (1951). Field Theory in Social Science. New York: Harper Row.

Lewin, K., (1947). Group decision and social change. Readings in social psychology, 3(1), pp.197-211.

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Further Reading

Robert Quinn