Organizational Communication

Learning Objectives   


8.1      Describe the foundations of organizational communication.

8.2      Explain the ways messages can move within an organization.

8.3      Examine the roles, rules, ranks, and responses in the organizational system.

8.4      Give examples of the operation and value of bureaucracy in organizations.

8.5      Differentiate various positive and negative organizational communication   traits.

8.6      Describe how people are socialized into an organization’s culture within its climate.

8.7       Identify the elements that contribute to strong organizational culture and

understand   their interrelationship.





Organizations exist as their own structures, separate systems composed of specific rules, hierarchies, languages, and tasks. They employ specific groups of people with particular skills, all contributing to a clear outcome or objective. Like other groups, organizations are influenced by outside factors, such as politics, the environment, society, and the economy, to mention only a few. This chapter examines how communication, both formal and informal, allows organizations to meet their intended goals, especially through well-structured bureaucracy, effective leadership, and productive organizational culture.



  • Activity: Fairness vs Treating Everyone the Same

Before you read the provided paragraph, jot down your answer to the question, “Does fairness mean treating everyone the same.” Then read the following paragraph from the University of California San Francisco’s human resources guidelines. After doing so, revisit your original answer. Has it changed, and if so, why? If it has not, why not.

How well does treating everyone the same work for a diverse staff? For example, when employees have limited English language skills or reading proficiency, even though that limit might not affect their ability to do their jobs, transmitting important information through complicated memos might not be an effective way of communicating with them. While distributing such memos to all staff is "treating everyone the same," this approach may not communicate essential information to everyone. A staff member who missed out on essential information might feel that the communication process was "unfair." A process that takes account of the diverse levels of English language and reading proficiency among the staff might include taking extra time to be sure that information in an important memorandum is understood. Such efforts on the part of supervisors and managers should be supported and rewarded as good management practices for working with a diverse staff.

  • Activity: Your School’s Mission Statement and Its Culture

Every college and university has a mission statement. You can find yours on the school’s on its website or in the catalogue. That mission statement is supposed to be an expression of your school’s values, or as your text might say, its pattern of shared basic assumptions or inferences. The question, then, is “How well does the mission statement reflect the school’s culture?” Identify an important person in the school’s hierarchy, for example, a vice-president, dean, or department chair. You might even consider an important student leader, such as the president of the student senate. Interview that person, asking her or him to pass judgment on how well the written articulation of the organization’s values match the actual practice of its culture.

  • Activity: The Belly of the Beast—Visit the Department of Motor Vehicles

Visit a local branch of your state’s department of motor vehicles. Find a comfortable, not-to-obvious spot and sit for 1 hour and journal your impressions of bureaucracy at work, the good and the bad. Note factors that were highlighted in the chapter, such as how well this branch effected the larger organization’s policies and protocols, how clear was communication between providers and clients, and was there identifiable water cooler chat between employees.



1. What are the 4 negative work communication traits and how does each damage workplace relationships?


Sample answer: The four main negative communication traits in the work environment are intimidation, aggressiveness, secrecy, and superiority. Intimidation belittles and scares others and aggression overcomes any form of professional filter, often leading to hurt feelings of others. Secrecy creates doubt among coworkers and it is especially harmful when a boss tends to keep him or herself closed off and hidden. Finally, superiority promotes a bitter work environment because when workers feel they are better than others they often behave toward their coworkers as if they have the right to belittle their positions. All four traits foster a negative work environment and damage organizational culture.


2. What are the 6 communication elements that contribute to the maintenance of strong organizational cultures? What does each do to enrich that culture?


Sample answer: A strong organizational culture is defined primarily by six elements. The first is history, or an organization’s narrative past, which establishes a foundation for the workplace culture. Next, an organization’s values and beliefs illustrate what it stands for as a company. Rituals and ceremonies are the practices in the organization that bond workers and bring everyone together, no matter their position or rank. Stories help personify the values of the organization and heroic figures serve as role models and leaders for their colleagues. Finally, the cultural network, the informal communication connections that flow up, down, and across the organization, keep people in the know and connected.


Go to the Source

Albrecht, T. L., and B. W. Bach. (1997). Communication in Complex Organizations: A Relational Approach. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Davis, K. (1953). “Management Communication and the Grapevine.” Harvard Business Review, September–October: 43–49.

Deal, T. E., and A. A. Kennedy. (1982). Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Jablin, F. M. (2001). “Organizational Entry, Assimilation, and Disengagement/Exit.” In F. M. Jablin and L. L. Putnam, eds., The New Handbook of Organizational Communication: Advances in Theory, Research, and Methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Schneider, B., M. G. Ehrhart, and W. H. Macey. (2013). “Organizational Climate and Culture.” Annual Review of Psychology, 64: 361–88.

Scott, W. R. (1981). Organizations: Rational, Natural, and Open Systems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Weber, M. (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.


The AMA is a leading professional development association that works to advance individuals’ management skills in the service of business success.

The Academy of Management is a professional association for management and organization scholars. Its members are scholars in university business schools, academics in related social science and other fields, and practitioners who value scholarship and teaching about management and organizations.

  • The Organizational Communication Division


A division of the of the International Communication Association, this group works to expand understanding of the processes, prospects, and challenges of communicating and organizing in a global society. It examines how communication shapes and is shaped by organizing across different contexts, including health care, community cooperatives, government and non-government agencies, global corporations, profit and not-for-profit organizations, and virtual and geographically co-located work.

Back to top