Organisational Behaviour

Some thoughts on course topics – – – –

1. 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 blog, organisations have 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 the study of the individuals and groups within the organisation. A structure of authority and responsibility is a defining characteristic of organisations so the relationships between leaders and subordinates is large part of the discipline.

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.

2. Employee’s View

2.1 Marx: Alienation

Ritzer & Stepinsky (2014) Sociological Theory, NY: McGraw Hill, pp. 53-55.

“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, 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.

2.2 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. Scientific Management

3.1 Adam Smith – Division of Labour

Example of the pin factory

3.2 Interchangeable Parts

3.3 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

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.

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.”

3.4 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’.

4. What do Managers do?

Henri Fayol

Henry Mintzberg

5. Leadership

Trait theories

Style theories: Lewin/ Likert/ Bass and Avolio/ Quinn

6. Motivation

Extrinsic/  intrinsic rewards

Abraham Maslow: Hierarchy of Needs

Frederick Herzberg: two factor theory

Stacey Adams: Equity theory

Victor Vroom: Expectancy theory

7. Perception

Visual perception – what you see is not what you get

Perception of authority: Milgram / Zimbardo

Group conformity: Asche

8. Testing

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

9. Organisational Learning

Learning on the job

Learning together/ learning to work together

Behaviourism: classical and operant conditioning

Argyris and Schon: single and double loop learning

Senge: the learning organisation

10. Culture

Levels of culture

National culture

Organisational culture: Peters & Waterman/ Deal & Kennedy/ Schein/ Cameron and Quinn

11. Change

Lewin: force field analysis/ stages of change

Kotter: 8 stages of change


12. Team Working

Katzenbach and Smith


Ringelmann: Social Loafing

13. Power


Employee Empowerment

14. Bureaucracy

Weber’s ideal type

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, Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver, 2016, Berrett-Keohler, NY, pp.9-10.

Mechanistic and organic organisation

Further Reading

Robert Quinn