Organisational behaviour (OB) is generally seen as a core subject as part of a HRM or business degree. But take it in a practical business context and it almost becomes your compass for problems and solutions.

In OB the organisation has 3 levels: individual, group and organisation. The basic idea is that an action or reaction in one level of the organisation will cause an action or reaction in the same and on other levels. Other influencing factors include the external environment which can cause action or reaction in any level, and affects each level like a ripple effect.

Recognising the interdependency of each level provides managers with a stronger basis for problem analysis and solution.

Think of this. A team progresses fast through a project. They finish in time, in budget and with a great outcome. A manager would think, this is a good team, so you give them a new project, same budget, same timeframe, and only slightly more challenging but not outside current capabilities. But they fail this time around.

What was the problem? A manager without the OB filter on may then diagnose that the problem was task was too hard or the team didn’t work well together. A manager with an OB filter would say, these are not source of the problem, they are the symptoms. More diagnosis is required. Look at the individual, group and organisation, think of the psychological, social and political issues that may be at play.

OB pushes managers to think in the shadow system, the unwritten, invisible mechanisms that play a major role in influencing the organisation. So OB managers recognise the need to talk to employees, monitor progress and critique procedures almost daily.

A chat with team members can reveal a loss of morale by individuals who feel their own personal effort was not recognised but shadowed by the group. This is a psychological expectation unmet by the organisations performance management reward system. In turn the group dynamics are negatively affected, reducing productivity. The interdependency is clear and now two possible sources are revealed. The manager should then ask:

  • How many employees have this expectation?
  • Should we change our policies?

So for an OB filter, think beyond what actually happened to find the real source of the problem, and consider the impact of each level.