Perspectives on Organizational Communication Theory
Adapted from Littlejohn, Stephen W. Theories of Human Communication.
Second Ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1983.
Sociologist Amatai Etzioni: “Our society is an organizational society. We are
born in organizations, educated in organizations, and most of us spend much of
our lives working for organizations. We spend much of our leisure time playing
and praying in organizations. Most of us will die in an
organization, and when the time comes for burial, the largest organization of
all-the state-must grant official permission” (Amatai
Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), p. 1.)
Berelson and Steiner
give 4 characteristics of an organization that distinguish it from other social
groupings. (Bernard Berelson and
Gary Steiner, Human Behavior: An
Inventory of Scientific Findings (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1964), p. 364.)
typical organization has a set of goals, policies, procedures, and regulations
that give it form.
hierarchy typically expressed in terms of
more impersonal many people, “enough so that close personal
relations among all are impossible.”
long lasting Organizations usually last
longer than a human lifetime.
Strother’s definition of organization (George B. Strother,
“Problems in the Development of a Social Science of Organization,” in The Social Science of Organizations: Four
Perspectives, ed. H. J. Leavitt (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 23.)
“According to Strother,
organizations consist of two or more people involved in a cooperative
relationship, which implies that they have collective goals. The members of the
organization differ in terms of function, and they maintain a stable
hierarchical structure. Strother also recognizes that
the organization exists within an environment or milieu” (Comments by
Organizations are often studied from the
perspective of communication. Littlejohn: “A survey on organizational
communication indicates that a large portion of speech communication graduate
programs offers courses in organizational communication stressing theory,
research, and application” (Gerald Goldhaber, Organizational Communication (Dubuque,
Iowa: William C. Brown, 1974), p.
(Goldhaber, Organizational Communication, p. 24. See also James March and
Herbert Simon, Organizations (New
York: John Wiley & Sons, 1958), p. 6.).
Theory rests on assumptions that organizational members are instruments of
management or, more broadly, of the bureaucracy.
theories attempt to answer questions such as the following (Goldhaber,
Organizational Communication, p. 7.):
is the work divided?
is the labor force divided?
many levels of authority and control exist?
many people exist at each level?
are the specific job functions of each person?
of the weaknesses of classical theory is that it deals little with
rests on propositions asserting that people’s attitudes, values, and personal
needs are all important.
human relations questions include:
roles do people assume in the organization?
status relationships exist as a result of various roles?
is the morale and attitude of the people?
social and psychological needs exist for the people?
informal groups exist within the organization?
Assumes that organizations are based on decision making and problem
to answer the following kinds of questions:
are the key parts of the organization?
do they relate interdependently to each other?
processes in the organization facilitate these interdependent relationships?
are the main goals of the organization?
is the relationship between the organization and its environment?
systems approach is the most popular perspective for viewing organizations.
Weber (1864 -1930) was “one of the most prominent sociology and economics
theorists of all time. In his lifetime, from, he produced a quantity of work on
the nature of human institutions” (Littlejohn)
is his theory of bureaucracy, part of a larger work found in The Theory of Social and Economic
Organization, edited by Talcott Parsons.
Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic
Organizations, trans. A. M. Henderson and Talcott
Parsons (New York: Oxford University Press; 1947). A lengthy interpretation and
discussion of Weber’s theory can be found in Parson’s introduction to the above
book. Other secondary sources include: Strother,
“Problems”; Dwight Waldo, “Organizational Theory: An Elephantine Problem,” General
Systems 7 (1962): 247-60; March and Simon, Organizations; Etzioni, Modern Organizations; Reinhard
Bendix, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait
(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962); Julien Freund, The
Sociology of Max Weber (New York: Pantheon Books, 1968). For a more
complete bibliography of primary and secondary sources on Weber, see S. N. Eisenstadt, Max Weber on Charisma and Institution
Building (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
ideas “form the heart of what is commonly known as structuralism” (Littlejohn).
defines organization as follows: “An ‘organization’ is a system of continuous,
purposive activity of a specified kind. A ‘corporate
organization’ is an associative social relationship characterized by an
administrative staff devoted to such continuous purposive activity” (Weber, Social and Economic Organizations, p.
Power “is the ability of a person in any
social relationship to influence others and to overcome resistance. Power in
this sense is fundamental to most social relationships” (Littlejohn).
power is legitimate, compliance is effective and complete.
b. Etzioni summarizes this concept: “Weber’s study of legitimation introduces a whole new dimension to the study
of organizational discipline. He used power to refer to the ability to
induce acceptance or orders; legitimation to
refer to the acceptance of the exercise of power because it is in line with
values held by the subjects; and authority to refer to the combination
of the two; i.e., to power that is viewed as legitimate” (Etzioni,
Modern Organizations, p. 51.)
power is a central communication concern. Whether communications will be
accepted in an organization hinges on the degree to which the superior has
legitimate authority” (Littlejohn).
outlines three types of authority (Weber, Social
and Economic Organizations, pp. 330-32.).
authority “occurs when orders of the superior are perceived as justified by
tradition. One’s power is seen as legitimate because ‘it has always been
authority is most relevant in bureaucracies. The authorities in a
bureaucracy derive their power from the bureaucracy’s rules, which govern and
are accepted by all organization members.
sees bureaucracy as the most efficient pattern for mass administration:
“Experience tends to show that the purely bureaucratic type of administrative
organization—that is, the monocratic variety of
bureaucracy—is, from a purely technical point of view, capable of attaining the
highest degree of efficiency and is in this sense formally the most rational
known means of carrying out imperative control over human beings. It is
superior to any other form in precision, in stability, in the stringency of its
discipline, and in its reliability.”
of Bureaucracy (Weber, Social and
Economic Organizations, pp. 330-34. See also Etzioni,
Modern Organizations, pp. 53-54.).
is based on rules. Such rules allow the solution of problems, standardization,
and equality in the organization.
are based on the concept of sphere of competence. Thus there is a systematic
division of labor, each role having clearly defined rights and powers.
essence of bureaucracy is hierarchy.
are appointed on the basis of their knowledge and training. They are not
generally elected, nor do they inherit their positions.
members of the bureaucracy must not share in the ownership of the organization.
must be free to allocate resources within their realms of influence without
fear of outside infringement.
bureaucracy requires carefully maintained records-a communication issue.
acts, decisions, and rules are formulated and recorded in writing, even in
cases where oral discussion is the rule or is even mandatory. This applies to
preliminary discussions and proposals, to final decisions, and to all sorts of
orders and rules. The combination of written documents and a continuous
organization of official functions constitutes the
‘office’ which is the central focus of all types of modern corporate action”
(Weber, Social and Economic Organizations, p. 332.).
bureaucracy is usually headed by a non-bureaucrat.
heads are often elected or inherit their positions.
include presidents, cabinets, boards of trustees, and kings.
are dispensable; they may be replaced by similarly trained individuals, but the
succession of the non-bureaucratic head may well be a crisis, precipitating
innovation and change.
authority under which power is justified through the charismatic nature of
the superior individual’s personality.
bureaucratic authority charisma defies order and routine.
charismatic leader is revolutionary and establishes authority in opposition to
the traditions of the day.
leadership as a prophet or demagogue comes about through the demonstration of
magical powers and heroism.
does not have much faith in this kind of mass persuasion.
provides a “classical” or standard picture with which the
other theories can be contrasted.
presents the common traditional view of organizations,
relating the essence of the classical notion of organizations. Notice that
communication and human behavior are downplayed in the
theory; the thrust is structure and task factors.
not account for communication and human behavior-it’s
greatest weakness. “The theory gives implicit ideas of what communication is
like in organizations, but communication is not treated as an explanatory
variable, nor is it seen as the essence of organizational life. This failure is
Is prescriptive or normative—like most other classical treatments.
“It does not explain how or why organizations operate the way they do. Hence we
do not get an adequate idea of how organizations operate. While the claims of
classical theories have some validity, the philosophical appropriateness of the
assumptions of these theories is not adequate, nor is their heuristic value
Human Relations School
Developed partially as a reaction to the sterile classical theories
and partially as a reaction to the depression of the 1930s.
the mid-1940s it had become very popular.
with the Hawthorne Studies
Hawthorne studies received
considerable attention in the 1920s and 1930s (For an excellent brief
description of the Hawthorne studies, see Charles Perrow,
Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1972), p. 97.).
b. Directed by F. J. Roethlisberger, a
Harvard industrial psychologist, and R. Dickson, a Western Electric manager.
Elton Mayo of the Harvard
School later acted as a consultant.
team directed some three hundred interviewers who talked with Western Electric
employees about their problems and perceptions. These original interviews led
to additional research on group functioning. Management and the Worker—a
summary of the Hawthorne works (F. Roethlisberger and W. Dickson, Management and the Worker,
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939).
Mayo is considered the founder of the movement because of his impact on the
beginnings of human relations.
Lewin is also an important early contributor.
Two Branches of the Human
Relations Movement (Perrow, Complex Organizations, p. 97.).
of leadership school: “leadership facilitates morale, which in turn leads to
b. Emphasized leadership training and T-groups (training groups).
productivity and worker welfare are stressed.
b. Etzioni points out that “above all, the
. . . emphasized the role of communication, participation, and leadership” (Etzioni, Modern Organizations, p. 32.).
is determined by social norms, not physiological factors.
rewards are all important in motivating workers.
usually react as group members rather than individuals.
is extremely important and involves both formal and informal aspects.
is the most important facilitator of shared decision making (Etzioni, Modern
Organizations, p. 38.).
Interpersonal Competence as a Reaction to the Classical School
Stresses the individual-organization relationship and interpersonal
relationships within an organization as a source of energy within the
core of Argyris’s framework is found in Chris Argyris, Personality and Organization: The Conflict between System and the Individual (New
York: Harper & Brothers, 1957). It is updated in part I of Integrating
the Individual and the Organization (New York: John Wiley & Sons,
1964). Shorter versions are available in part I of Interpersonal Competence
and Organizational Effectiveness (Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, 1962)
and “Understanding Human Behavior in Organizations,” in Modern Organization
Theory, ed. Mason Haire (New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 1959).
Argyris’s Postulates (from Littlejohn)
is a lawful unity in every individual, which defines the self.
self or personality develops interpersonally from interaction with others. The
person sees the world through this self-filter, accepting
stimuli that are congruent with the self and distorting, denying, or
rejecting stimuli that cannot be integrated readily into the self.
threatening stimuli arouse defensiveness, which blocks the person’s ability to
become aware of new possibilities.
have a basic need to increase self-acceptance and acceptance of others, a need
that is hard to fulfill in the presence of threat and defensiveness.
Argyris: “We come to the conclusion that it is impossible
for a human being to enhance his awareness and acceptance of (aspects of) his
self without simultaneously creating the conditions for others to do the same. Put in another way, an individual’s growth and learning (on the
interpersonal level) is inexorably tied up with his fellow man” (Argyris, Interpersonal
Competence, pp. 20-21.).
authentic relationship is one in which both parties can increase their sense of
self-worth and self-awareness. Such a relationship is marked by a high degree
of descriptive (non-evaluative) feedback, trust, and experimentation. It is low
in defensiveness and threat.
Argyris applies these postulates to organizational life.
needs of the organization conflict with the needs of the individual.
Argyris see a “basic dilemma between the needs of
individuals aspiring for psychological success and self-esteem and the demand
of the pyramidal structure” (Argyris, Integrating, p. 58.).
b. Thus, the structures so important to classical organizational
theory “require the person to separate from important dimensions of the self”
separation happens in six ways.
person is required to behave “rationally,” thus divorcing the self from
principle of specialization prohibits the worker from pursuing the need to
utilize the range of abilities.
mechanisms used by individuals to compensate (or escape), including
daydreaming, absenteeism, turnover, trade unions, and noninvolvement, further
drive the person from the need to be a producing, growing person.
principle of power places the individual in subordinate, passive, and dependent
states. This condition worsens the lower the level in the chain of command.
same principle removes the worker from self-responsibility.
principle of control (separation) places the evaluation of one’s work in the
hands of another.
pattern is cyclical: as the individual self is suppressed, people are forced to
take on organizational values, which deepens the problem. Argyris’s:
“technical competence is high, but interpersonal competence is reduced.”
Competence, p. 43.).
Argyris envisions an organization in which human values are
as important as production values. The pyramid structure may still apply, but
he would encourage other concurrent forms in which individuals participate in
organizational decision making and evaluation (For a detailed exposition of Argyris’s ideas on changing organizations, see parts II and
III of Integrating).
Blake and Jane Mouton (Robert Blake and Jane S. Mouton, The Managerial Grid (Houston:
Gulf Publishing, 1964). This book describes the nature of a number of
managerial styles in some detail.
dimensions of organizations: purpose (production), people, and hierarchy.
Managerial Grid maps possible relationships between these dimensions relative
to managerial styles. (Blake and Mouton, p. 10).
style is related to communication. Communication is increasingly open, two way,
and adaptive, as the style moves along the diagonal from 1,1
point 9,1 communication is highly formal, task
oriented, and one way. At 1,9 it is very informal,
social, and approval oriented.
9,9 “the goal is open, authentic, and candid
communication; that is full disclosure” (Blake and Mouton, pp. 160-61.).
F. Likert’s Four Systems: Another Human Relations Theory
detailed and most explanatory theory of human relations
b. Rensis Likert (Perrow, Complex Organizations).
rather elaborate theory can be found in Rensis Likert, New Patterns of Management (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1961); Likert, The Human Organization
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967)
broad groups of organizational variables
variables are those that can be changed or altered. In this sense they may
be considered as the independent variables in the model.
variables are those that lead to the results of the causal manipulations.
They reflect the general internal state and health of the organization.
variables are dependent variables or outputs and reflect organizational
variables define a continuum of four systems
1: exploitative-authoritative system. Under this system the executive
manages with an iron hand. Decisions are made by the executive, with no use of
2: benevolent authoritative leadership, is
similar to system 1, except that the manager is sensitive to the needs of the
3: consultative system in which authority figures still maintain
control, but they seek consultation from below.
4: participative management, allows the worker to participate fully in
decision making. According to Likert, system 4 leads
to high performance and an increased sense of responsibility and motivation. (Likert, Human Organization, pp.
Likert does include communication as an intervening
variable, related to the interaction-influence system and a subpart of the
category of attitudinal, motivational, and perceptual variables. (Likert, Human Organization, pp. 16-19.).
Organizational and performance characteristics of different management
systems based on a comparative analysis
System of Organization
a. Amount of interaction and
communication aimed at achieving organization’s objectives
both individuals and groups
b. Direction of information flow
and with peers
c. Downward communication
1. Where initiated
At top of
organization or to implement top directive
at top or patterned on communication from top
on communication from top but with some initiative at lower levels
at all levels
2. Extent to which communications are
accepted by subordinates
with great suspicion
May or may
not be viewed with suspicion
accepted but at times viewed with suspicion. May or may not be openly
accepted, but if not, openly and candidly questioned
d. Upward communication
1. Adequacy of upward communication
via line organization
2. Subordinates’ feeling of responsibility for initiating accurate
little, usually communicates “filtered” information
but only when requested. May “yes” the boss
moderate degree of responsibility to initiate accurate upward communication
responsibility felt and much initiative. Group communicates all relevant
3. Forces leading to accurate or distorted
forces to distort information and deceive superiors
forces to distort; also forces for honest communication
forces to distort along with many forces to communicate accurately
no forces to distort and powerful forces to communicate accurately
4. Accuracy of upward communication
that boss wants to hear flows; other information is restricted and filtered
that boss wants to hear flows, other information may be limited or
5. Need for supplementary upward communication
supplement upward communication by spy system, suggestion system, or some
communication often supplemented by suggestion system and similar devices
need for supplementary system; suggestion system may be used
for any supplementary system
e. Sideward communication, its
adequacy and accuracy
poor because of competition between peers and corresponding hostility
poor because of competition between peers
f. Psychological closeness of
superiors to subordinates (that is, how well does superior know and
understand problems faced by subordinates?)
moderately close if proper roles are kept
1. Accuracy of perceptions by superiors
error on some points
movement helped practitioners and scholars understand that human beings have
needs and values related to organizational functioning and that communication
and group process are important aspects of organizational life.
has provided thought on the nature of organizational communication, group
dynamics, and leadership, and it has produced a useful set of guidelines for
improving interpersonal communication in organizations.
the movement was basically extreme and embodied a number of serious problems.
For a comprehensive critique, see Perrow, Complex Organizations.
Little empirical evidence of a positive correlation between high
morale and productivity.
many cases the correlations have not been found in research, and where they do
appear, serious methodological objections have been raised.
to account for the affect of nonhuman variables such as structure and
the limitiations of humanistic psychology; e.g.
assumes conflict is minimal and that anything that might frustrate workers will
stifle creativity and understanding. However, natural conflict can be positive.
practical value for teaching and developing strategies, but has little
theoretical or explanatory value. “Ironically, the ideology
of the right, classical structural theory, and the ideology of the left, human
relations, share this fault: Each calls for particular kinds of
practices to improve organizational functioning without providing a basis for
understanding how organizations operate.”
For a more detailed summary of these theories, see the
first edition of Stephen W. Littlejohn, Theories
of Human Communication (Columbus: Charles E. Merrill, 1978), pp. 303-20.
Barnard, The Functions of the Executive
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938)
of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company and, therefore, a practicing
executive, he produced “one of the most influential treatises on management and
provided two theories, one on organization and one on communication.
thesis is that organizations can only exist through human cooperation and that
cooperation is the medium through which individual capabilities can be combined
to achieve superordinate tasks.
Perrow on Barnard: “This enormously influential and remarkable
book contains within it the seeds of three distinct trends in organizational
theory that were to dominate the field for the next three decades. One was the
institutional school [systems approach]; . . . another was the decision-making
school as represented by Herbert Simon; . . . the third was the human relations
school. . . . The leading theorists of these schools freely acknowledged their
debt to Barnard” (Perrow, Complex Organizations,
Strother calls him the last of the “practical theorists;”
“He draws on the work of the classical theorists, psychologists, sociologists,
and institutional economists, as well as his own wealth of experience, to
develop a closely reasoned, almost Euclidean treatment of industrial
organization” (Strother, “Problems,” p. 16.).
James March and Herbert Simon
in Organizations (March and Simon,
Organizations. A helpful secondary source is the interpretive work of Perrow, Complex
technical treatise exemplifies theory in its purest form.
hundreds of propositions related to decision making and organizational
Conducted for the purpose of providing a more complete
conceptualization than that found in the “machine” models of the past.
d. Perrow writes: “Herbert Simon and James March have provided
. . . the muscle and flesh for the Weberian skeleton,
giving it more substance, complexity, and believability without reducing
organizational theory to propositions about individual behavior [as the human
relations movement has done]” (Perrow, Complex
Organizations, p. 146.).
Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn
(Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn, The Social
Psychology of Organizations (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966)).
a clear and strong argument in favor of the open system model.
a physical system the organization is social, created by people and bonded by
as social systems are unique in their need for maintenance inputs or control
mechanisms to keep human variability in check.
Barnard, Katz and Kahn teach that the system involves overriding goals that
necessitate the subordination of individual needs.
is the nature of rule enforcement, accomplished through role behavior, norms,
and values. These interrelated components provide a necessary integration
within the system.
Weick: The Process of
Organizing Carl Weick (Carl Weick,
The Social Psychology of Organizing (Reading,
Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1969)
in the communication field because:
uses communication as a basis for human organizing
provides a rationale for understanding how people organize.
3.) It is
one of the few truly organizational communication theories.
b. The basic elements of Weick’s model.
They are environment, equivocality, enactment,
selection, retention, choices, assembly rules, behavior cycles, and equivocality removed. Weick
envisions these elements working together in a system, each element related to
Weick and the Nature of Organizations
Sees organizations not as structures or entities but as activities.
“It is more proper to speak of organizing than of organizations, because
organizations are something that people accomplish, via a process that must be
constantly reenacted. Thus when people do what they do in an organization,
their activities create organization, so that organizing is continual”
b. Weick “The word, organization, is a noun and it is also a
myth. If one looks for an organization one will not find it. What will be found
is that there are events, linked together, that transpire within concrete walls
and these sequences, their pathways, their timing, are the forms we erroneously
make into substances when we talk about an organization” (Carl Weick, “Middle Range Theories of Social Systems,” Behavioral
Science 19 (1974): 358).
essence of any organization is that people are acting in such a way that their
behaviors are interlocked; one person’s behavior is contingent on another’s.
fundamental quality of interlocking is that communication takes place among the
people in the organization.
all organizing activities consist of “double interacts.”
act is a statement of communicative behavior of one individual.
2.) An interact involves an act followed by a response.
double interact consists of an act followed by a response and then an
adjustment or follow-up act by the first person.
an executive and a secretary as an example. The executive asks the secretary to
undertake an activity (act); the secretary then asks for clarification
(interact); and the executive explains (double interact). Or the executive asks
the secretary a favor (act), and the secretary follows through (interact),
after which the executive responds with a thank you (double interact)”
activities fulfill the function of reducing the equivocality
of information received from the environment. In a sense, human beings organize
to make sense out of their environment.
ambiguity or uncertainty.
information from the environment, according to Weick,
is equivocal; organizing activities are instituted by the members of the
organization to make the information unequivocal.
course equivocality is a matter of degree, and the
organizing is done to reduce equivocality in the
direction of unequivocality.
return to the example of the executive again. Suppose the executive receives a
directive from the firm’s president to solve a problem of plant safety. What is
the nature of this problem, and how should the executive go about solving it?
The answers to these questions are not clear, inasmuch as the problem can be
defined and solved in a number of ways. In other words the executive is faced
with equivocal information” (Littlejohn).
the similarity to entropy from information theory: “information is a measure of
uncertainty in a stimulus situation and messages or communication
reduce the uncertainty.”
is accomplished through processes that are developed to deal with equivocal
Environment is dependent upon
of seeing the environment as a distinct entity opposed to the organization as
the classical theorists do, Weick sees the
environment as a product of the person, not something outside the person. What
makes the environment salient for the individual is the person’s attention to
particular aspects of the stimuli.
environments are not preexistent; they are enacted by the humans in the
organization. People are continually reenacting their environments, depending
on their attitudes, values, and experiences of the moment.
example, the executive of our example is faced with a situation in which
interpretation is necessary. Immediately, he or she will attend to certain
aspects of the ‘safety problem.’ In enlisting the aid of others, for example
the secretary, the executive is beginning processes that will enable the group
to treat the safety problem as its environment of the moment. To deal with this
equivocal environment, group members make proposals (acts) to which others
respond (interacts) so that the proposers can refine
their initial proposals (double interacts). For example, the executive may ask
the secretary to check the files for accident records. This constitutes a
proposal, an attempt to reduce the equivocality. The
secretary may comply, pulling the appropriate file, so that the executive can
be assured that the company knows the extent of the safety problem. Here the sequence of the double interact would be as follows: request
file (act), provide file (interact), take file and review it (double interact).
Notice how the participants’ behaviors are interlocked. The secretary’s
activity of the moment depends on the executive’s request, and the executive’s
subsequent behavior depends on the secretary’s compliance” (Littlejohn). (double interact). Notice how the participants’ behaviors are
interlocked. The secretary’s activity of the moment depends on the executive’s
request, and the executive’s subsequent behavior depends on the secretary’s
relies on a series of three major processes: enactment, selection, and
retention, followed by a choice
1.) The definition of the situation or the registering of equivocal
information from outside.
mere acceptance of certain aspects of the environment removes some equivocality.
1.) A process that enables the group to admit certain aspects of
information and reject others.
process therefore removes even more equivocality from
the initial information.
removes equivocality by deciding what aspects of the
initial information will be saved for future use.
information is integrated into the existing body of information on which the
retention, organization members face two kinds of decisions.
to reenact the environment in some way: Should we (or I) attend to some aspect
of the environment that was rejected before?
to modify one’s behavior or actions: Should I take a different action than I
processes occur simultaneously throughout the organization. While some members
may specialize in a particular process, “nearly everybody undertakes all of
them in one form or another most of the time. Such is the essence of
elements occur within each of these processes to reduce equivocality.
rules guide the choice of routines that will be used to accomplish the
process being conducted (enactment, selection, or retention).
are sets of criteria on which organizers decide what to do to reduce equivocality.
question answered by assembly rules is this: Out of all the possible behavior
cycles in this organization, which shall we use now?
example, in the selection process the executive might invoke the assembly rule
that “two heads are better than one” and on this basis call a meeting of plant
cycles are sets of interlocked behaviors that enable the group to come to
an understanding about which meanings should be included and which rejected.
the safety meeting called by the executive would enable interested individuals
to discuss the safety problem and decide how to proceed in defining and solving
Richard V. Farace, Peter R. Monge, and Hamish Russell, Communicating and Organizing
(Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1977)).
relatively recent theory
b. An eclectic system approach, drawing from the best insights of
One of the few strictly organizational communication
Nature of an Organization, Information and Communication
organization is a system of at least two people (usually many more), with
interdependence, input, throughput, and output. This group communicates and
cooperates to produce some end product by using energy, information, and
materials from the environment” (Littlejohn).
of the most important resources in organizations is information. “the reduction of uncertainty.”
is in part the reduction of uncertainty via information.
however, also involves the use of common symbolic forms that refer to
mutually understood referents.
Two types of communication, which correspond to two types of
information: what is known
1.) consists of all the pieces of knowledge present in the
the totality of communicated information in an organization is absolute
information: who knows it is that which has been diffused through the
fact that information exists in an organization does not guarantee that it will
be communicated adequately in the system.
in distribution policies are due to failures by managers to identify which
groups of personnel need to know certain things, or to establish where these
groups are supposed to be able to obtain the information they need” (Farace et al, p. 28).
framework for organizational communication rests on three analytic dimensions.
level made up of four sublevels that function in a hierarchy.
level deals with the content of messages. These authors stress three above
the rest: production, innovation, and maintenance.
1.) Production refers to the direction,
coordination, and control of activities.
2.) Innovation generates change and new
ideas in the system.
3.) Maintenance preserves individual values
and interpersonal relations necessary to keep the system together.
Structural level which deals with the emergent patterns or
regularities in the transmission of messages.
Concepts for Communication Levels
Level: Communication Load
1.) the rate and complexity of information inputs to a person.
is the quantity of inputs such as messages or requests
is the number of factors that must be dealt with in processing the information.
problem areas relate to load.
a.) Underload occurs
when the flow of messages to a person falls below the person’s ability to
b.) Overload occurs when the load exceeds
the person’s capacity.
applies to dyads, groups, and organizations
Level: Communication rules
function to “pattern expectations.”
can be explicit or implicit policies.
common rule topics include the following:
a.) who initiates interactions;
b.) how delays are treated;
c.) what topics are discussed and who selects them;
d.) how topic changes are handled;
e.) how outside interruptions are handled;
f.) how interactions are terminated;
g.) and how frequently communication occurs.
Level: Multiple Structures
types of group structure:
a.) Communication structure or micro-network: the pattern of
interaction in the group.
communicates with whom within the group?
b.) Power structure.
has what kind of power over whom?
c.) Leadership structure: role distribution
in the group,
has influence over whom?
Level: A macro-network
1.) “A repetitive pattern of information transmission among the groups
in an organization” (Littlejohn).
2.) Usually multiple networks operating at once.
be formal (the org chart) or informal (social groups).
fundamental parts: the members and
a.) Links are characterized by five
the degree to which the members connected by a link interact on an equal basis.
In a symmetrical relationship the members give and take information
relatively equally. An asymmetric link is one way, with a distinct
information sender and receiver.
a simple function of interaction frequency. Members who communicate more
often have a stronger link, while those who communicate less
often have a weaker link.
the extent to which members agree about their links. If one person believes
that he or she often communicates with another, but the other denies it, the
link is unreciprocated.
iv.) Content of
the interaction: Is the communication primarily about work, social matters, or
some other content area? By probing the content of links in a network, we can
discern the network’s overall function.
How is communication achieved, by what channel? Modes may be face-to-face
conversations, group meetings, or communication via letter or telephone.
within an organization take on different roles
have no links with other network members.
relatively stable structures which are characterized by four criteria:
More than half of the group’s communication is
within the group;
Each person must be linked with all others in
The group will not break apart with the exit of
one person or the destruction of one link
The group must have at least three members.
c.) Bridges: group members who also are
linked to other groups.
d.) Liaisons: not members of any group, yet
they link two or more groups.
“Exciting and quite different from classical and human relations
are valuable for us because they stress communication in organizations,
emphasizing the ways transfer of information binds elements into holistic
organization. With system theory the emphasis changes from components and
structure to relations and interactions.
(See Bengt Abrahamsson,
Bureaucracy or Participation: The Logic of Organization (Beverly Hills,
Calif.: Sage, 1977)).
theory is so abstract, different applications are inconsistent.
1.) Weick’s theory presents a view of the most general
organizing processes, with little attention to the actual activities that can
theory of Farace and his colleagues, however, looks
at how people are grouped into organizational structures by virtue of their
these theories are not inconsistent with one another, they are hardly
comparable. Even though both theories are system approaches, and even though
both relate to organizational communication, they cannot be compared in terms
of power or utility. They also illustrate that system concepts are slippery and
difficult to pin down when they are applied to particular observed events.
concept is more a way of thinking than a theory per se.
theories tend toward oversimplification.
theories tend to exaggerate the system claims in regard to an organization,
ignoring aspects of the organization that are not system-like.
variables are downplayed because they do not fit well into the system paradigm.
3.) Weick calls for a tempered approach that would address
questions such as the following: “When will a set of related entities—the
standard definition of a system—act like a system and when will they not; what
conditions tighten and loosen interdependencies; what conditions freeze or
extend the range of values a variable will take; what conditions diffuse or
intensify boundaries?” (Weick, “Middle Range,” p.
approaches rarely are specific enough to explain or to predict individual
variation. Consequently they are not often falsifiable.
philosophers of science agree that the validity of a theory that is not
falsifiable never really can be known and that such
theories therefore should be rejected as inadequate.
system theories are ahistorical, ignoring the
developmental course of organizations.
system theories downplay the role of power in the organization, suggesting that
system outcomes are a natural result of the mechanism of interactional
structure and not of the influence of individuals and groups.