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Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach

Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach

by David A. Kolb, Joyce S. Osland, Daniel Kolb

Now, more than 30 years in the making, this text has been thoroughly updated and revised to offer the latest theories, observations, and essential experiences in organizational behavior as studied from an experiential approach.

This text is focused on exercises, self-analysis techniques, and role-plays to make the insights of behavioral science meaningful


Now, more than 30 years in the making, this text has been thoroughly updated and revised to offer the latest theories, observations, and essential experiences in organizational behavior as studied from an experiential approach.

This text is focused on exercises, self-analysis techniques, and role-plays to make the insights of behavioral science meaningful and relevant to practicing managers and students. The text is organized into four parts, progressing from a focus on the individual to the group, the organization, and the organization-environment interface. No longer the passive recipient of information, this text turns students into the active creator of their own learning.

Editorial Reviews

Updated to describe trends in a field that has evolved considerably since the initial MIT-developed edition some 30 years ago, this workbook helps students and managers explore the personal relevance, as well as conceptual bases, of phenomena comprising organizational behavior. Through exercises, self-analysis techniques, role-play simulations, and observation schemes, the 20 chapters are designed to integrate individual and team learning-to- learn experiences with theories and models of people at work, leadership and management, and creating effective work groups and organizations. Includes personal application assignments and appended cases. A companion book of readings is available. Osland is at the U. of Portland. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
Publication date:
Prentice-Hall Behavioral Science in Business Series
Edition description:
5th ed

Read an Excerpt



This seventh edition of Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach is the latest improvement on an experiment that began over 30 years ago. The first edition of this book was developed at MIT in the late 1960s and was the first application of the principles of experience-based learning to teaching in the field of organizational psychology. Since then the field has changed, the practice of experience-based learning has grown in acceptance and sophistication, and we, the authors, have changed.

The field of organizational behavior has grown rapidly in this time period and is today a complex tapestry of historical trends, contemporary trends, and new emerging trends. In the Introduction that follows we will describe these trends in more detail.

In comparison with previous editions, more emphasis has been placed upon cross-cultural issues throughout the book and integrative cases have been added at the end. We made substantial revisions in every chapter, adding recent research findings, new information on companies, and, in some chapters, new exercises. As always, our objective was not to overwhelm students with a comprehensive array of theories and findings, but to provide them with the essential materials and experiences they need to become effective managers and good employees.

Since the publication of our first edition, a number of other experience-based texts have been published in organizational behavior and other management specialties, and experiential-learning approaches have become widely accepted in higher education, particularly in programs for adult learners. The value of educational approachesthat link the concepts and techniques of academia with learners' personal experiences in the real world is no longer questioned. In this latest edition we have attempted to reflect the state of the art in the practice of experiential learning and to bring these approaches to bear on the latest thinking and research in the field of organizational behavior.

This book is intended for students and managers who wish to explore the personal relevance and conceptual bases of the phenomena of organizational behavior. There are two goals in the experiential learning process. One is to learn the specifics of a particular subject matter. The other is to learn about one's own strengths and weaknesses as a learner (i.e., learning how to learn from experience). Thus, the book is focused upon exercises, self-analysis techniques, and role plays to make the insights of behavioral science meaningful and relevant to practicing managers and students. Each chapter is designed as an educational intervention that facilitates each stage of the experience-based learning process. Exercises and simulations are designed to produce experiences that create the phenomena of organizational behavior. Observation schemes and methods are introduced to facilitate understanding of these experiences. Theories and models are added to aid in forming generalizations. And finally, the intervention is structured in a way that encourages learners to experiment with and test what they have learned either in class or other areas of their lives. Our purpose is to teach students how to learn so that they will become continuous learners, capable of responding to demands for change and new skills throughout their career. Learning is no longer a special activity reserved for the classroom, but an integral and explicit part of work itself.

In addition to teaching students to be life-long learners, the exercises and the order of the chapters are designed to facilitate self-knowledge and team work. Students should leave this course with a much clearer understanding of themselves and the effect their behavior has on others. Students work in the same learning groups throughout the course. In these groups, members share their experiences and provide support, advice, feedback, and friendship to each other. A by-product of this group approach is the creation of a class environment that facilitates learning.

A companion readings book, The Organizational Behavior Reader, Seventh Edition, is also published by Prentice Hall. Many footnotes in this seventh volume, what we call the workbook, make reference to articles that have been reprinted there. These are simply cited as "Reader" in the footnote entries.

A preface is a place to publicly thank the many people who have helped us. Our feelings of pride in our product are tempered by the great indebtedness we feel to many others whose ideas and insights preceded ours. It is a tribute to the spirit of collaboration that pervades our field that the origin of many of the exercises recorded here is unknown. We have tried throughout the manuscript to trace the origins of those exercises we know about and in the process we may, in many areas, fall short of the original insight. For that we can only apologize. The major unnamed contributors are our students. In a very real sense, this book could never have been completed without their active participation in our explorations.

We wish to thank James McIntyre, our coauthor in the first four editions of this book, for his generous and creative contributions. While much has changed and will continue to change through successive editions of this book, Jim's presence will always be there.

The many instructors who, as users of previous editions of our text, have shared their experiences, resources, insights, and criticisms; have been invaluable guides in the revision process. Suzanne Adams, Janet Bennett, Mathew Crichton, Bill Essig, Howard Feldman, Barbara Gayle, Tom Howe, Abigale Lane, Stephen Miller, Asbjorn Osland, Stella Ting-Toomey, and Judith White were very helpful in a variety of ways. The reviewers did an excellent, thorough job: John Dopp, Gene Hendrix, Avis Johnson, Stephen Miller, and Dennis O'Connor. Bruce Drake deserves a special mention for selflessly contributing his formidable editorial skills to this project.

Our greatest debt of gratitude goes to Susan Mann research assistant and editorial critic extraordinaire. The reference librarians at the University of Portland – Tony Greiner, Susan Hinken, Pam Horan, Torie Scott, Heidi Senior, as well as the director, Rich Hines, – all went well beyond the call of duty in tracking down articles and correct citations. Ron Hill, dean at the University of Portland's business school, and the Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Foundation provided support for this project. We're grateful to Gwynn Klobes and Michael Kuchler, and all the student workers at the University of Portland business school who lent a helping hand to this project. We owe a special debt to Melissa O'Neill for her cheerful efficiency in tackling an endless stream of details and research leads.

It was a pleasure, as always, to work with the Prentice Hall crew: David Shafer, Jennifer Glennon, Michele Foresta, Judy Leale, Kim Marsden, and the unflappable Cindy Spreder.

Joyce S. Osland
David A. Kolb
Irwin M. Rubin

Introduction to the Workbook

I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand


As teachers responsible for helping people learn about the field of organizational behavior, we have grappled with a number of basic educational dilemmas. Some of these dilemmas revolve around the issue of how to teach about this most important and intensely personal subject. The key concepts in organizational behavior (indeed, in social science in general) are rather abstract. It is difficult through the traditional lecture method to bring these ideas meaningfully to life. Other problems concern issues of what to teach, since the field of organizational behavior is large and continues to grow. Relevant concepts and theories come from a variety of disciplines, and no single course could begin to scratch the surface. Another dilemma is one of control. Who should be in control of the learning process? Who should decide what material is important to learn? Who should decide the pace at which learning should occur? Indeed, who should decide what constitutes learning? Our resolution of these and related dilemmas is contained within this book. The learning materials in this book are an application of the theory of experiential learning to the teaching and learning of organizational behavior. In this method, primary emphasis is placed upon learning from your own experience. Each of the chapters in the workbook begins with an introduction that raises key questions and provides a framework for your experiences in the unit. The core of each unit is an action-oriented behavioral simulation. The purpose of these exercises is to allow you to generate your own data about each of the key concepts to be studied. A format is provided to facilitate your ability to observe and share the personal reactions you have experienced, while the summaries at the end of each unit help to integrate the unit experiences and stimulate further questions and issues to be explored. If there is an overriding objective of the book, it is that you learn how to learn from all of your experiences and practice the skills required of effective employees.


It has been over 30 years since we first began developing and testing the feasibility of experiential learning methods for teaching organizational behavior. Our initial attempts to substitute exercises, games, and role plays for more traditional educational approaches were met in many quarters by polite skepticism and resistance. Today experiential learning approaches are an integral part of management school curricula and management training programs everywhere. During these years, the subject matter of organizational behavior has undergone much change as well. Some of this change has been subtle and quiet, involving the consolidation and implementation of trends that began years ago. Other changes have been more dramatic. New vital perspectives have come alive, reorganizing and redirecting research, theory, and teaching in the field. Still other trends loom on the horizon, as yet underdeveloped, pointing the way toward the future shape of the field.

As we began to work on this seventh edition, we felt that it was time to take stock of these changes so that we might faithfully, in new selection of topics and experiential exercises, portray the field of organizational behavior as it is today—a complex of vital themes enduring from the past, alive in the present, and emerging in the future. Such a stocktaking is difficult to achieve objectively. Organizational behavior is a vast field with indefinite boundaries overlapping sister disciplines of social psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and management fields such as operations research, business policy, and industrial relations. One could convincingly argue that any patterns one sees in such diversity and complexity lie more in the eye of the beholder than in objective reality. At the very least, where one stands in defining organizational behavior is greatly influenced by where one sits, by one's particular experience and orientation to the field. Recognizing that any organization of the field is constructed from a combination of objective reality and subjective preference, we nonetheless felt that there is value in making explicit our view of the field, since it was on the basis of that view that choices of topics and exercises were made. By understanding our view, you, as learners, may be better able to articulate your own agreements and disagreements, thereby helping to sort the actual state of the field from our individual viewpoints.

We have seen many changes we in the field in the last 60 years in six general areas: the way organizational behavioral is defined, the way management education is conducted, the field's perspective on the nature of persons, its view as to how human resources are to be managed, its perspective on organizations, and the nature of the change improvement process. In each of these areas there are three kinds of trends: historical foundations of trends, previous historical development that is now widely influential in shaping the field; contemporary trends, current research and development that is capturing the excitement and imagination of scholars and practitioners; and emerging trends, new issues and concerns that seem destined to shape the future of organizational behavior in research and practice.

Paul Lawrence traces the origin of the field of organizational behavior back to the early 1940s. He cites as the first key contribution to the field the group climate experiments of Kurt Lewin and his associates in 1943. Early scholars in the field came from industrial and social psychology and later from sociology. Organizational behavior departments were housed administratively in business schools, but in general they maintained their separate identity from the profession of management. Today we see major changes in orientation as organizational behavior departments have become more integrated units within professional business schools. Most new faculty today have Ph.D.s in organizational behavior as opposed to basic disciplines, and interdisciplinary research around the managerial task has burgeoned. Concepts are now more often defined in managerial terms (e.g., work team development) as opposed to behavioral science terms (group dynamics).

Active developments in organizational behavior today involve the expansion of the field from an industrial—business focus to a wider application of behavioral science knowledge in other professional fields-health care management, law, public administration, education, and international development. Perhaps because of this expansion into more complex social and political institutions, an emerging trend is toward a focus on sociological and political concepts that increase our understanding of management in complex organizational environments. In recent years the issue of environmental determinism has been raised, an even more "macro" approach to organizations. The population ecologists study the rise and fall of organizations within an entire industry and maintain that it is the environment, rather than actions by humans, that influences organizations. There is an active intellectual debate in the field between those who see strategic leadership and choice as the determinant of organizational success and those who subscribe to the environmental determinist position.

Early work in organizational behavior took a somewhat limited view of organizations, being primarily concerned with job satisfaction and human fulfillment in work. The focus later expanded to include organizational productivity. For many years organizational research was aimed at internal functioning. This focus was broadened by the advent of open systems theory. Since organizations, to survive, must adapt to their environment, organizational functioning cannot be understood without examining organization-environment relationships. This led to the contingency theory of organizations, which states that there is no one best way to organize and manage; it depends on the environmental demands and corresponding tasks for the organization.

The open systems view of organizations leads to an important emerging trend in the study of organizations. In most research to date, the organization is the focal point of study, conceived as the dominant stable structure around which the environment revolves. Yet in many cases the organization is but a part of a more pervasive and dominant industry, institutional, or professional career structure. Utilities, for example, cannot be understood without understanding the impact of their relationship with governmental regulatory institutions. Medical organizations such as hospitals were dominated solely by the medical profession as a whole and particularly by the socialization and training of M.D.s until the emphasis upon cost controls increased the power of financial interests. Improvements in the effectiveness of these organizations can be achieved only by consideration of the system of relationships among the organization and the institutions and professions that shape it.

Interorganizational networks are replacing the traditional view of the organization as the primary entity. Quasi-firms, such as construction jobs, which consist of subcontracted work teams, are becoming more common. Now we talk about boundaryless organizations that work at eliminating or diminishing boundaries between both internal and external groups and constituencies. The influence of the global economy is felt everywhere. Current research portrays organizations as symbolic systems in which members interpret their shared social reality. In this approach, reality is what is agreed upon, rather than an objective fact. The importance of organizational culture and shared values has also become an important consideration in understanding organizational behavior, since much of the recent economic growth has occurred in smaller firms, there has been renewed attention to entrepreneurship.

In their perspective on persons and human personality, organizational behavior scholars have added an emphasis on power and influence processes to an earlier concern with the more "tender" aspects of socioemotional behavior (e.g., communication, intimacy, and human growth). These concerns with the social-motivational aspects of human behavior are currently being expanded by many researchers to include cognitive processes-learning, problem solving, decision making, and planning-thus contributing to a more holistic view of human behavior. A more comprehensive perspective on human functioning has emerged from the work of adult development psychologists in personality development, ego development, moral development, and cognitive development. Researchers in these fields are providing frameworks for human functioning in organizations that emphasize developmental-appreciative processes as opposed to the deficiency-adjustment perspective that dominated much work on human behavior in organizations in the past. Recent research focuses upon self-efficacy and self-management.

The changes in perspectives on the person, which we have just discussed, have been mirrored in changes in philosophy about how human beings are to be managed. From our current historical vantage point, early approaches to management in organizational psychology seem defensive and vaguely paternalistic. People were involved in work decisions and attention was paid to "human relations" to keep workers happy and to avoid resistance to change initiated by management. Recently participative management has come to be viewed more as a positive tool for improving organizational functioning. People are involved in decision making not only to make them feel more satisfied, but also because the improved information and problem-solving capability resulting from a participative process is more productive and effective.

Current research takes a more systematic approach to human resource management, shifting the perspective from management of people and the social-motivational techniques of management style, organizational climate, management by objectives (MBO), and so on, to a management of work perspective. This perspective considers the whole person as he or she adapts to the work environment. Work is seen as a sociotechnical system, considering the content of jobs as well as the management process. Managing work involves designing technological systems, organizational arrangements, and jobs themselves to obtain effective organizational adaptation to the environment and maximum utilization of human resources and talents.

An important emerging trend in human resource management involves the addition of a career development perspective to the organization development perspective we have outlined. A host of trends are occurring in the labor market, including an older population, a more balanced male-female work force, a more culturally and ethnically diverse workforce, and increasing career mobility and change among workers through their work lives.

There is an emergent trend that encourages greater responsibility on the part of workers to develop their own careers. As a result of downsizing to leaner structures and the clog of baby boomers, many companies are making it clear to employees that they can no longer guarantee a lifelong career within the company. While companies may still manage the careers of those in the "fast track," career responsibility belongs primarily to workers themselves. At present, the topic of managing diversity, both the domestic and international variety is viewed as a strategic competitive advantage. Developing global leadership is an emerging trend. The increased demands placed upon workers has generated interest in the work/non-work boundary and the personal and the social costs of the way work is organized.

Concern with change and organization improvement has been central to organizational behavior from its inception. Kurt Lewin's research methodology has been a dominant approach to integrating knowledge generation and practical application following his dictum: "If you want to understand something, try to change it:" In the last decade the specialized field of organization development (OD) has emerged from the Lewinian tradition as a powerful practical approach for using behavioral science knowledge to improve organizational effectiveness and human fulfillment in work. A major contribution of OD has been an understanding of the process of introducing change. Process consultation, an approach that helps the organization to solve its own problems by improving the problem-solving, communication, and relationship processes in the organization, has emerged as an alternative to expert consultation, the approach where outside consultants generate problem solutions and present them for consideration by the organization. Currently the technologies for introducing and managing change are expanding and becoming more sophisticated and problem-specific as OD programs are being initiated in organizations of all types. As change becomes a way of life in most organizations, there is a shift of focus from change as something created and managed by external consultants to a concern with the manager as change agent, who manages managing the change process as part of his or her job function. As a result there is less concern today with training OD professionals and greater concern with improving managers OD skills.

Responsibility for change has also been pushed down the hierarchy in some organizations. Learning organizations, in particular, take time to develop and evaluate improvements, as do self-directed work teams. In recent years, some managers have shared information and the power to make decisions and changes with "empowered" employees. Pressure from a global economy, rapid technological advances, and deregulation often trigger organization change.

From the beginning, the field of organizational behavior has been concerned with educational innovations, particularly those aimed at communicating abstract academic knowledge in a way that is helpful and meaningful to pragmatically-oriented professional managers and management students. The two dominant innovative traditions in this respect have been the development of the case method, particularly at the Harvard Business School, and the experiential learning approaches that have grown from Kurt Lewin's early work on group dynamics and the sensitivity training movement that followed. Both these traditions have developed educational technologies that are sophisticated in their application of theory to practice. Today, most management schools offer a mix of educational approaches—the traditional lecture, the case discussion, and experiential exercises, sometimes combining them in new and innovative ways, such as in computer-based business simulations and real business projects and distance learning. With these new educational technologies, management educators have begun to raise their aspirations from increasing student awareness and understanding to improving skills in interpersonal relations, decision making, managing change, and other key managerial functions. Yet the future poses an even greater challenge. The rapid growth of knowledge and increasing rate of social and technological change make specific skill training somewhat vulnerable to obsolescence. The answer seems to lie not just in learning new skills, but in learning how to learn and adapt throughout one's career. An emerging concern in management education and research is, therefore, how individuals and organizations learn.

In many ways, organizational behavior is a mature field with concepts that have been fairly thoroughly researched and widely disseminated. The Total Quality movement accelerated the acceptance of many aspects of group skills and participative management. At present there is a trend towards self-management and empowerment. With the diminished number of middle managers in many companies, self-directed work teams are now expected to develop analytical, team-building, problem-solving, and leadership skills. Responsibility and control are being pushed to lower levels in organizations, requiring more training for a different group of employees.


In choosing topics and exercises for this book, we have attempted to represent all three trends in organizational behavior: those that are mature and established, those that are the focus of current research excitement, and new ideas that suggest the future shape of the field. The book is organized into four parts progressing from a focus on the individual to the group, organization, and the organization-environment interface.

Part I examines the individual in the organization and presents some of the different mental maps that individuals possess. Chapters 1 and 6 consider the individual's relationship with the organization over time through the concepts of the psychological contract and career development. Chapter 2 reviews the principal theories of management and managerial functions. Chapters 3 and 4 focus, respectively, on the learning process and motivational determinants of human behavior in organizations. Chapter 5 centers on individual values and their effect on ethical decision-making.

Whereas the primary focus of Part I is self-awareness and the appreciation of individual differences, in Part II there is more emphasis on the skill-building needed to develop effective work relationships and teams. It begins with a grounding in interpersonal communication (Chapter 7) and progresses to perception and attribution in Chapter 8. Chapter 9 focuses on group dynamics and self-managed work teams, while Chapter 10 deals with problem management and creativity. Multigroup relations, conflict, and negotiation are addressed in Chapter 11. Managing diversity, both in the United States and abroad, is the topic of Chapter 12.

Part III focuses on the skills needed for leadership (Chapter 13) and the critical leadership functions in the managerial role—creating, maintaining, and changing organizational culture (Chapter 14), decision making (Chapter 15), power and influence (Chapter 16), coaching and empowerment (Chapter 17), and performance appraisal (Chapter 18).

Part IV is concerned with managing effective organizations. Chapter 19 looks at the key issues of organization structure and design. Chapter 20 describes the process of planned change and organization development.


You will find as you work with this book that a new role is being asked of you as a learner. Whereas in many of your prior learning experiences you were in the role of a passive recipient, here you are given the opportunity to become an active creator of your own learning. This is an opportunity for you to develop new and different relationships with faculty members responsible for this course. As you may already have sensed, the experiential learning approach provides numerous opportunities for shared leadership in the learning process.

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