Definition and Features of Organizational Communication

Organizational communication is defined as “the process of creating and exchanging messages within a network of interdependent relationships to cope with environmental uncertainty” (Goldhaber, 1990). Organizational communication is characterized by having structure, communication networks, and links to external environments (Wood, 2011).

Here are the features of organizational communication:

1. Structure

The structure of an organization includes a set of rules, procedures, and practices to follow to make work efficient. The roles and relationships of employees and employers are also determined by the structure. For instance, certain members of the organization are assigned to communicate with or handle conflicts between other members.

Structural aspects include roles, rules, policies, and communication networks. Roles are positions assigned to each member, which have attached responsibilities and expected behaviors. Roles not only determine the tasks each one must perform but also who they need to communicate with to perform these tasks. Each role in an organization is connected to other roles.

Rules govern how each member of the organization should act or behave. For instance, playing online games during working hours is not permitted. Working overtime is considered the norm in some companies in Japan but not in Germany. Policies are practices that reflect the culture of the organization and the society where it belongs. For instance, sexual harassment policies help raise the awareness of the members of the organization. Other policies are concerned with benefits, leaves, and promotion. 

Communication networks define relationships between the members. Upward communication is illustrated by employees reporting to their employers. An example of downward communication is the act of giving orders to subordinates. Horizontal communication happens between colleagues in the same team or department.

2. Communication Networks

Organizations have communication networks. A communication network is composed of the members of an organization linked together by a common purpose. These may be a social network, a task network, or a virtual network. Social networks involve colleagues who build and maintain personal relationships with each other; while task networks are groups of employees assigned to work together to accomplish a particular work task. Examples of virtual networks are telecommuters (workers who need not be physically present in the physical office site) working to brainstorm ideas through virtual conferencing.

3. Links to External Environments

An organization is a system that is related to other systems in the external environment. For instance, an organization who wants to market their products on television must have contacts with other organizations specializing in advertising. Publications must have contact with schools and bookstores. Organizations are also affected by economic, social, and political factors.

4. Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is manifested by the members’ similar ways of thinking, acting, and communicating. The culture of an organization remains even though some employees may move in and out of the organization. The way its members communicate contributes to, maintains, or changes the identity or culture of the organization. Julia T. Wood (2007) identifies four kinds of communication present in an organization. These are the use of vocabulary, stories, rites and rituals, and structures.

5. Vocabulary

The language or vocabulary of a particular organization reflects its beliefs, values, objectives, and culture. The use of vocabularies that determine hierarchies among its members (e.g., honorifics show respect and power) shows that the organization values rank and status. In the Philippines, it is common to address a professor with a title (e.g., Doctor, Professor, Sir, Ma’am, etc.) although this isn’t the case in most western universities, where professors expect students to call them by their first names.

6. Stories

Frequently retold stories such as the organization’s failures and successes are used to reveal the history of an organization, introduce new members into the organization’s culture, and promote the bond between the old members. Personal stories are a kind of self-disclosure and illustrates how the members perceive themselves and how they want to be perceived by new members. Collegial stories are those that talk about other members of the group, often used to advise new members of what to expect and how to interact with their coworkers.

7. Rites and Rituals

Rites and rituals may be verbal or nonverbal. Rites are activities or events in which members of an organization gather and interact. There are six kinds of organizational rites (Trice & Beyer, 1984), namely, rites of passage (e.g., a new desk may symbolize promotion), rites of integration (e.g., excursions, picnics, etc.), blaming rites (e.g., reprimands, firing, etc.), enhancement rites (e.g., certificates of appreciation, awards, etc.), renewal rites (e.g., trainings, retreats, etc.), and conflict resolution rites (e.g., voting, denying problems, mediation, etc.). Rituals are organizational routines or repeated forms of communication, such as personal rituals (e.g., reading emails every other day, etc.) social rituals (e.g., coffee breaks, etc.) and task rituals (e.g., standard procedures, meetings, performance reviews, etc).