Organisational Behaviour


Organisational behaviour is concerned with the study of what people do in an organisation and how their behaviour affects the performance of the organisation. It can be viewed from three perspectives - that of the individual, the team and the organisation, all of which can be shaped by personality, communication and the nature of power within an organisation.


Cronbach (1984) defined personality as being a person’s habits and usual styles, compounded by the ability to play roles, whilst Allport (1938) discussed the dynamic organisation within the individual and those psychological systems that determine their unique adjustment to his environment. Both these definitions encapsulate the importance of personality as something shaping behaviours.

Individual personality has a lot to do with the way in which an individual behaves in the workplace and importantly may be an important factor in team work.  Understanding your own personality is important as this influences both behaviour and decisions. Whilst the personality make-up of an individual may not change, how that behaviour is expressed and interpreted can.

The nomothetic approach views personality as a quantifiable science and examines traits - the behavioural, emotional and cognitive tendencies that people display over time and across situations and which distinguish individuals from one another. (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Costa and McCrae’s Five Factor Model (1992) consider five personality traits residing within an individual which are stated to be extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience.Each of these traits possess certain facets which further shape personality and behaviour. Ultimately, this approach argues that personality traits can be placed into a measurable framework and that personality is measurable and quantifiable. In essence, personality is a fixed entity.

Ideographic approaches to personality take a more tacit, interpretative view. Personality cannot be measured in a quantitative manner and the social setting is seen as a key determinant, thus introducing the nature versus nurture debate. Personality is seen as being a much more fluid entity and the associated complexity means that it cannot be reduced to basic quantifiable traits. Freud developed his work on the idiographic approach to personality within clinical settings and as such this approach is not particularly suited to the workplace. The idiographic approach is also open to bias which ultimately reinforces perceptions of personality as being ambiguous and intangible.


Jung (1976) considers the importance of ego and the way in which mental activities are carried out. When awake our minds are alternating between taking in information and making decisions and how we carry out these activities resides across eight mental processes. Patterns were created where opposite pairs were established, essentially extraversion and introversion along with perceiving and judging. Extraverts can be typified as those who engage with people, gaining energy from social situations. Introverts may prefer to work alone and find social events difficult. Jung argued that introverts were more stable and reliable.


Building on the work of Jung, one tool for personality analysis is MBTI (Briggs-Myers & Myers, 1980). Underpinned by basic patterns of human personality, MBTI allows individuals to determine their personality type, supporting a subsequent consideration of learning styles, personal performance, team interaction and self-awareness. Self-rated statements are used to take an empirical measurement approach.


Psychometric testing describes tools used to measure differences which exist between people. Two types exist - those covering ability used to measure cognitive strengths such as numeracy and verbal reasoning and personality assessments using questionnaires to describe an individual’s psychometric capabilities. Psychometric testing is regularly used as part of recruitment activities, but it is only beneficial if used to support rather than drive decision-making. 

Psychometric tests can be used to seek out those possessing the desirable personality characteristics deemed necessary for a role. However, as personality is but one aspect shaping individual potential and performance, this should be supported by other evaluation approaches e.g. interviews and role-specific competency tests.


Communication is multi-faceted in nature and includes both formal and informal approaches using a number of channels such as verbal interaction, body language, written exchanges and the use of symbols. It can be one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-one and the channels used are important if information is to be shared effectively. The nature of power relationships can interfere with communication (people feeling unable to express opinions or dictating to subordinates) shaping how a message can be interpreted.

The introduction of technology may have significantly improved and refined methods of communication, but this does not mean that they have automatically improved understanding and effectiveness, although key barriers (such as time and distance) have been circumvented. Technology blurs organisational boundaries and through activities such as teleworking and telecommuting, it also shapes interpretations of what is an acceptable work-life balance. However, given the increasing diverse and global nature of the modern workforce (with differing languages and cultures), technology provide the essential communication mechanisms needed, but a common/shared understanding still needs to be developed.

Ultimately, when communication is effective, decision-making and organisational effectiveness improves. As effective decision making requires the ability to identify and process a range of alternatives, the ability to communicate in a manner that is clear, unambiguous and which maximises participant involvement is a critical enabler. Good decision making requires an appreciation of risk and effective communication and sharing minimises risk factors, as these can be shaped by personality issues (i.e. some individuals are more risk tolerant than others).

Heuristics considers the simple and efficient rules which people use to make decisions. Even when supported by very little information the decisions made are often correct, as this approach allows individuals to evaluate alternative courses of action without demanding large amounts of data. Such approaches promote faster decision-making, but the impact of bias also needs to be considered.  Bias is the tendency towards a pre-conceived judgment which can be based on confirmation (unconsciously or consciously seeking information that supports an established view and excluding other contrary data) and anchoring (repeating/reinforcing past bias due to constraints such as time preventing a more detailed exploration of the problem or issue being faced).


Power is situational and as such is a very abstract concept, meaning different things to different people. To understand power there is a need to identify why some individuals have power and how power within the organisation may very well be a reflection of the organisation itself. All power is used in some context and this requires a consideration of how organisational factors shape individual and group power dynamics. Power is essentially the capacity of an individual or group to modify the conduct of other individuals or groups in a manner which they desire and without having to modify their own conduct.

To understand power requires an appreciation of influence, control and manipulation. This introduces ambiguity, with the intangible factors surrounding power making it difficult for academic thinkers to reach a consensus on exactly what power really is. We instinctively recognise it within office politics (exerting influence and people acting as gatekeepers), positional power struggles (arguing with managers) and collective action (e.g. Trade Union activities), but each facet presents a different manifestation of power. Power and politics within an organisation can be shaped by numerous factors such as basic differences of opinion, career positioning, personal power aspirations, change resistance or unequal access to resources. The outcomes of such struggles can be detrimental to both individuals and the organisation, although the competitive pressures that result can drive innovation and challenge dated business practices. 

Those who hold positions of power have knowledge and this relates to a common conception that knowledge is power. People in certain positions may become information gatekeepers and may be able to use this power to establish relationships within the firm and the flow of information from one individual to another.

There are various misconceptions about power the first being that organisational power reflects organisational structure/hierarchy and that it flows   downwards. However power can be rooted in aspects such as experience and knowledge and increased attention is being directed towards encouraging employees to exert power upwards within the organisation in order to benefit from such intellectual capital. Secondly, it is important to consider hidden power and how it is manifested within a company. Power is not always visible and can be held by those outside of formal corporate structures (e.g. the influence of employees with long service).

Such considerations support the concept of technological and systematic power. Technological power reflects how technology is increasingly shaping working practices, shaping both the pace and nature of employment and the pace and nature of work and how this shapes power structures (e.g. the importance of those controlling corporate communications mechanisms such as email servers). Systematic power considers how wider social forces exert power over organisations e.g. the current economic climate and the job market. Consequently, it is important to consider how internal and external environmental factors shape organisational power.


Foucault (1980) argued that power was not a possession but was instead something which was exercised and thus fundamentally based upon relationships. The very nature of what is considered normal is underpinned by power which surrounds all aspects of life. Foucauldian examples of power are reflected in our daily existence and include things such as timetables (how they drive our actions and behaviours), the use of space (how it can enforce conformity e.g. rows of chairs in a classroom or surgery waiting room) and systems of writing (such as form filling and the power of bureaucracy that results). Power and its relationship with both explicit and implicit authority therefore shape both the workplace and wider society.

The Stanford prison experiment is a famous experiment where a mock jail was created in order to examine and understand how roles of power and authority are played out (Dischereit, 2004). Volunteer participants were randomly assigned roles with individuals either adopting the role of prisoner or of warden. Each volunteer was then paid to act out the role they had been assigned. During the course of the experiment, guards showed sadistic behaviour with the powerful role they had aligning to individual perceptions of power. As a result within this environment prisoners become depressed and stressed, but despite the artificial scenario they continued to show a true acceptance of the power exercised by those in a position of authority.

The study highlights a willingness to accept authority in a structured setting even if it results in actions and behaviours that conflict with the ethics and moral reasoning of those involved. The Stanford prison experiment demonstrates how quickly organisational power can lead to destructive behaviours and actions that can undermine both corporate effectiveness and individual performance.


This Chapter has examined a variety of organisational behaviour issues which can be applied to a range of settings. In doing so, it has highlighted the importance of the individual in the workplace and how it is important to develop and understanding of how personality shapes behaviour. The tools that can be used to examine personality and potentially predict the behaviours that result have been considered, but these must be carefully applied. Such mechanisms should not be used in isolation to predict either future role performance or organisational suitability.

The importance of linking organisational and individual behaviours to power, decision-making and aspects of communication has also been reviewed. Power resides within individuals and is played out across the firm, yet as discussed in this Chapter it can manifest itself in various ways. As such, it is important to consider how power can be managed and how poor power relationships can impact a range of factors such as employee wellbeing, satisfaction and motivation, all of which shape organisational performance and behaviours.


Briggs-Myers, I., Myers, P.B. (1980). Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Four ways five factors are basic. Personality and individual differences, 13(6), pp. 653-665.

Dischereit, G. (2004). The Stanford Prison Experiment, Norderstedt: Druck und Bindung.

Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, New York: Random House USA Inc.

Jung. C.G. (1976). Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 6: Psychological Types, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


Allport, G.W. (1938). Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, London: Constable & Company.

Cronbach, L.J. (1984). Essentials of Psychological Testing, 4th Edition, London: Joanna Cotler Books.

Fontana, D. (2000). Personality in the Workplace. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

King, D, Lawley (2016) Organisational Behaviour. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Townley, B. (1993). Foucault, power/knowledge, and its relevance for human resource management. Academy of Management review, 18(3), pp. 518-545.

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