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Organizational Behavior:It All Starts at Home

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Mon Aug 05 2013

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Organizational Behavior (OB) is about people in organizations and it covers a wide spectrum of human conduct. Because everyone is part of an organization while in the workplace (and everyplace else), it is incumbent on us to explore the roots of our understanding and know-how of behavior in organizations. I have been involved with organizational behavior my entire professional career—variously called, organizational development (OD), organizational effectiveness (OE), organizational psychology, organizational change, leadership development, and group and team dynamics.

My wife, Ellen has been a psychotherapist, studying and practicing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis all of her professional career. As parents, it became evident to us that most of the concepts and theories that psychologists, psychoanalysts, and leadership professionals study are extensions of, or closely related to, family dynamics. When we enter families, at birth, we quickly grow in the knowledge of how relationships work, how families work, and how things get done—and then we run into the difficulties that families encounter. We are learning organizational behavior!

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As parents, my wife and I frequently talked about behavior (family and organizational). We discovered that families are a mish-mash of all the things that we had studied and which are now practiced in the areas of personal psychology, organizational behavior and psychotherapy.

Family and organizational behavior

The topics taught in a typical course in organizational behavior have their roots in the dynamics of family life. Consider, for example: personality, values, emotions and moods, motivation and communication. All these, and then some, are forces at work in a family.

One textbook that I have used in teaching the core topics of organizational behavior is Essentials of Organizational Behavior, 11th ed. by Robbins and Judge. In their introductory chapter they define OB as follows: “Organizational Behavior is a field of study that investigates the impact that individuals, groups, and structure have on behavior within organizations for the purpose of applying such knowledge toward improving the organization’s effectiveness.” 

By changing a few words in this definition of organizational behavior we have a good definition for family behavior: “Family behavior is a field of study that investigates the impact that parents and families and structure have on behavior within families for the purpose of applying such knowledge toward improving the family’s effectiveness.” 

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We embarked on a literary journey to capture family dynamics (organizational dynamics) with the intent of disclosing what we did and how. We did not want to write a how-to parenting book. Rather we wanted to write a this-is-how-we-did-it book that would illustrate the organizational experiences of a mother, father, and four children—four sons to be exact. It is a descriptive account of how we did it with the intent that our experience might be of value to parents and managers in the midst of experiencing family/organizational behavioral issues of their own. We settled on a descriptive title, Family Entanglement: Unraveling the Knots and Finding Joy in the Parent Child Journey, which captured the jumble, clutter and complexity of family (organizational) life. All the way along, it was abundantly apparent that family behaviors were the seeds of organizational behaviors.

Family and OB concepts

With regard to diversity (a fundamental OB concept) each boy came into the world with important similarities and variations. Each one came with a personality of his own (another fundamental OB concept)—rich, diverse, interesting, frustrating, humorous, demanding, difficult, and delightful (much like students and employees). Our job as parents (instructors) is to accept the diversity and the personality characteristics of four quite different sons (students and employees) and help them to learn about the world, teach them good values, and provide a paternal (supervisory) cradle in which they can develop.

Try something

Consider your own family—the one you are raising or the one you grew up in—and look at the family dynamics with OB eyes. Then look at your teaching, supervision or management style with parental eyes. One informs the other. You should not be surprised.

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Robert S. Toronto, Ph.D.

University of Michigan—Dearborn

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