Organizational behavior (OB) is the study of what people think, feel, and do in and around organizations. OB scholars systematically study individual, team, and structural characteristics that influence behavior within organizations. By saying that organizational behavior is a field of study, we mean that scholars have been accumulating a distinct knowledge about behavior within organizations – a knowledge base that is the foundation of this book.
By most estimates, OB emerged as a distinct field around the 1940s. however, its origins can be traced much further back in time. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the essence of leadership. Aristotle, another respected philosopher, addressed the topic of persuasive communication. The writings of sixteenth-century Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli laid the foundation for contemporary work on organizational power and politics. In 1776, Adam Smith advocated a new form of organizational structure based on the division of labor. One hundred years later, German sociologist Max Weber wrote about rational organizations and initiated discussion of charismatic leadership. Soon after, Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the systematic use of goal setting and rewards to motivate employees. In the 1920s, Elton Mayo and his colleagues conducted productivity studies at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant. They reported that an informal organization – employees casually interacting with others – operates alongside the formal organization. OB has been around for a long time; it just wasn’t organized into a unified discipline until after World War II.
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