Organizational communication


In this article we are discusiing organizational communication. Our focus here will be on formal networks, the grapevine, computer-aided mechanisms used by organizations to facilitate communication, and the evolving topic of knowledge management.

Formal Small-Group Networks:

Formal organizational networks can be very complicated. They can, for instance, include hundreds of people and a half-dozen or more hierarchical levels. To simplify our discussion, we’ve condensed these networks into three common small groups of five people each. These three networks are the chain, wheel, and all-channel. Although these three networks have been extremely simplified, they do allow us to describe the unique qualities of each

The chain rigidly follows the formal chain of command. This network approximates the communication channels one might find in a rigid three-level organization. The wheel relies on a central figure to act as the conduit for the group’s communication. It simulates the communication network one would find on a team with a strong leader. The all-channel network permits all group members to actively communicate with each other. The all-channel network is most often characterized in practice by self-managed teams, in which all group members are free to contribute and no one person takes on a leadership role.

The table below demonstrates, the effectiveness of each network depends on the dependent variable you’re concerned about. For instance, the structure of the wheel facilitates the emergence of a leader, the all-channel network is best if you are concerned with having high member satisfaction, and the chain in best if accuracy is most important.

Table (below) leads us to the conclusion that no single network will be best for all occasions.

Small-Group Networks and Effectiveness Criteria

The grapewine

Criteria Chain Wheel All channel
Speed Moderate Fast Fast
Accuracy High High Moderate
Emergence of a leader Moderate High None
Member satisfaction Moderate Low High

The formal system is not the only communication network in a group or organization. There is also an informal one, which is called the grapevine. And although the grapevine may be informal, this doesn’t mean it’s not an important source of information. For instance, a survey found that 75% of employees hear about matters first through rumors on the grapevine.

The grapevine has three main characteristics. First, it is not controlled by management. Second, it is perceived by most employees as being more believable and reliable than formal communiqués issued by top management. And third, it is largely used to serve the self-interests of the people within it.

One of the most famous studies of the grapevine investigated the communication pattern among 67 managerial personnel in a small manufacturing firm. The basic approach used was to learn from each communication recipient how he or she first received a given piece of information and then trace it back to its source. It was found that, while the grapevine was an important source of information, only 10% of the executives acted as liaison individuals, that is, passed the information on to more than one other person. For example, when one executive decided to resign to enter the insurance business, 81% of the executives knew about it, but only 11% transmitted this information to others.

Two other conclusions from this study are also worth noting. Information on events of general interest tended to flow between the major functional groups (production, sales) rather than within them. Also, no evidence surfaced to suggest that any one group consistently acted as liaisons; rather, different types of information passed through different liaison persons.

An attempt to replicate this study among employees in a small state government office also founded that only 10% act as liaison individuals. This finding is interesting, because the replication contained a wider spectrum of employees, including operative as well as managerial personnel. But the flow of information in the government office took place within, rather than between, functional groups. It was proposed that this discrepancy might be due to comparing an executive-only sample against one that also included operative workers. Managers, for example, might feel greater pressure to stay informed and thus cultivate others outside their immediate functional group. Also, in contrast to the findings of the original study, the replication found that a consistent group of individuals acted as liaisons by transmitting information in the government office.

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