Organizational Communication Theory

The organizational communication theory dates as far back as the 1900s. During different eras, different perspectives of the organisation communication theory were examined by scholars. These perspectives are important because they allow us to understand the organizational culture better.

On the other hand, such perspectives also have their own challenges. Most of the scholars have sought to speak in general terms, leading to ubiquitous and thick communication concepts. In an effort to overcome such challenges, scholars in this filed have now decided to view the process of communication as cultural “performances”.

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The organizational communication theory consists of major milestones tracing as far back as the 1900s. Between 1900 and 1930, the classical perspective of the organizational communication theory was very popular. Examples include the scientific management approach as popularized Fredrick Taylor and Max Weber’s bureaucracy approach. These approaches viewed communication as a tool of management for not only command workers, but also to control them.

Emphasis was on maintenance and production. Between 1930s and 1965, the human relationships and resources approach gained popularity. The approach demands that organizations focus more on democratic values (Ashcroft, n. d.). Also, the concept assumed that informal communication is inevitable as it influences employee satisfaction. From 1960 to 1980, scholars studied the organization as an open system. Communication in the open system was viewed as constitutive and ongoing.

From 1980 to 1985, the cultural perspective emerged. One of the general arguments of this perspective is that organizations possess shared practices and values (a culture) and this allows it to interpret the environment. Examples of this perspective are the corporate culture, cultural symbolism and performance. Proponents of this perspective viewed the organization as a continuous activity that enables organizations to create, maintain, and transform realities (Ashcroft, n. d.).

From 1985 onwards, the critical perspective of the organizational communication theory gained supremacy. This particular perspective held the general assumption that organizations are political and hence, promote dominant interests. Examples of this perspective include Stanley Deetz’s corporate colonization and the feminist perspective. This perspective views communication as a process of social change and systematic distortion.

Scholars recognized the importance of systems theory in the study of organizational communication as early as the late 60s. The systems theory recognizes the central role played by communication within the organization (Ashcroft, n. d.). What this means is that organizations are not defined by a typical cause-and-effect relationship. If at all we wish to get the true value of organizational functioning, then we need to see organizations as complex entities.

The systems theory also brings into focus the thoughts that we hold about both communication and organizations. The system theory has also enabled us to understand communication performances and organization cultures better. The focus of many scholars on organizational culture is fraught with a weakness, in that many of these scholars stress on certain structural aspects of culture, with little regard about how such aspects manifest themselves in the daily interactions with members of an organization (Denison & Mishra, 1995).

Such a position is not an attempt to disregard the importance attached to stories, symbols, ideologies, sagas, or metaphors. On the other hand, if culture is made up of, in the words of Goffman, “webs of significance that man himself has spun,” (Goffman, 1959), there is need therefore to take a lot of interest in not just the process of spinning the webs of culture, but also the actual structures of the cultural webs.

It is important to try and understand how these stories, symbols, ideologies, sagas, and metaphors came into being in the first place. An easier answer to the above question would be that cultural structures are as a result of the processes of communication. However, such an answer is fraught with problems. This is because we could end up providing a generalized process of communication and in the process depicts images of a discourse without a starting point or an end.

In addition, speaking in generalized processes of communication results in ubiquitous and thick concepts of communication to the extent it becomes hard to access it analytically. In addition, we would also end up with a communication process that has no meaning (Miller, 2008).

In an effort to overcome such a difficulty, researchers in the field of organizational culture now views communication in organizations as more of cultural “performances”, more than anything else. There are two divergent connotations tied to the notion of “performance” (Paganowsky & Trujilla, 1982), nonetheless, both of these two connotations are valid in as far as considerations of organization communication are concerned.

Erving Goffmann helped to popularize the first idea of performance, suggest play-acting and theoreticality (Goffmann, 1959). Such an idea of performance indicates that certain organizational performances tend to be overdone. In addition, the notion also suggests that all organizational ought to be treated as displays of perceptions and role-distancing of organisationally-required masks.

There is also a second idea of performance that paves way for a deeper understanding of the term- the ability to “accomplish” or “bringing to completion”. In this regard organizational performances are treated as the most creative activities because they help bring meaning of significance of certain structural form-be it metaphor, symbol, ideology, saga, or story- into being.

Most scholars have only provided general arguments about how cultural structures are sustained via processes of communication. Scholars of the organizational communication theory are concerned about the recent developments in this area (Nimmo, 1979, p. 309). The lack of acceptable scientific theory in the field of organizational communication has also been documented.

Majority of “theories in organizational communication “are in fact encryptions of certain ideologies. Perhaps the question that we need to ask ourselves is the kind of theories we need to take into account when examining organizational communication. Owing to the ubiquitous and omnipresent nature of human communication, we can then expect to encounter insurmountable difficulties in the quest to come up with a “grand theory of human communication” (Denison, & Mishra, 1995).

What we need is not a single theory to define organizational communication, but comprehensive theoretical perspectives that finds application in various communication phenomena. That organisation communication is in a state of identity crisis is also not in doubt.

Presently, ideas of organizational culture seem to dwell on structural and static features of culture. Time and again, researchers appear satisfied with documenting the available literature on cultural communication as paying close attention to such cultural aspects as stories, organizational jargon, strategic knowledge, and ideologies (Paganowsky & Trujilla, 1982).

Although this focus is quite valuable, nonetheless, it fails to take into account the cultural processes responsible for the creation, maintenance, as well as the transformation of these structures.

Qualitative methodologies contained in the research by organizational scholars reveal that these scholars appreciate the fact that each organization is unique in its own way. This is an element of organizational culture. Very few if any researchers have succeeded in providing a full-scale assessment of the concept of organizational culture. As such, much of the work done on organizational cultures has assumed a conceptual perspective (Paganowsky & Trujilla, 1982).

Many scholars have endeavoured to identify the various elements of organizational culture in an attempt to create a hypothetical base for an in-depth analysis of organizational cultures. For example, Wilkins is more concerned with organizational stories, Dandridge has dwelt on organizational symbols, Meyers has dealt with organizational ideologies, while Koch and Deetz have focused on organizational metaphors.

The organizational communication theory is an old concept, dating as far back as the 1900s. It has been characterized by varying perspectives over the years as scholars tries to understand the culture of an organization better. For example, Max Weber’s bureaucracy approach regarded communication as a tool of management to command and control workers.

On the other hand, the systems theory which became popular in the 1960s recognised the central role played by communication within the organization. The perspective also enabled researchers to see the organization not just as an open system, but also as a complicated perspective. It focuses on thoughts about communication and organizations. Very few scholars have managed to give a vivid description of how communication within an organization can be sustained by cultural structures.

In fact, many of the organisation communication theories are no theories per se, but are encryptions of certain ideologies. Nonetheless, evidence available in literature sow that scholars appreciates the uniqueness of organizations. There is also no documented full-scale assessment of the organisation cultural concept. Consequently, most of the work available is conceptual in nature.

Reference List

Ashcroft, K. (n. d. ). Key theories of organizational communication. Retrieved November 22, 2011, from

Denison, D. R., & Mishra, A. K. (1995). Toward a theory of organizational culture and effectiveness. Organizational science, 6(2): 204 – 223

Goffmann, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Anchor Doubleday.

Miller, K. (2008). Organizational communication: approaches and processes. Stamford Mass: Cengage Learning.

Nimmo, D. (1979). Communication Yearbook 3. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers

Paganowsky, M. E., & Trujilla, N. O. (1982). Organizational communication as cultural performance. Louisville, KY: Cengage Learning