Organizational Communication

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What organizations do you belong to?

When asked that question, most people respond with a list of the groups they've joined, perhaps the company they work for. Organizations are groups of people who have consciously gathered for a purpose - they are organized because they have organized themselves - or so it seems. This common view is, however, quite limiting.

What is organizational communication?

If you ask around, you'll find that very few people have even heard of organizational communication, let alone understand it as an academic domain or business discipline. In fact, it is an over-arching discipline for understanding how we deal with each other, but it has yet to seep into the the psyches of a great many significant people because it would seem we have come quite a distance in our world without such thinking. Thus, a goal of communications professionals is to raise a general awareness of what people are doing communications-wise in their working and private lives by calling attention to how closely tied the notions of communication and organization really are.

In sociology, and particularly in the communications side of sociology, we talk about communication and culture. (It's no coincidence that the school at Royal Roads University that I work for is named The School of Communication and culture.) These are inextricable concepts because communication is impossible without sharing some common culture that allows messages to be understood. And, culture is inconceivable without communication that facilitates its formation and maintenance. Well, if you think about it from this point of view, just substitute the word culture with the word organization. The consequence is that where communication occurs, organizations form.

We thus understand organizations as cultural phenomena epistemologically inseparable from communications. To understand organizational communication, you must first understand organizations themselves, in their manifestations and significant possibilities. This, of course, is something that has been studied for a long time, not as a scholarly pursuit necessarily, but at least from the point of view of making organizations operate better. What are organizations supposed to accomplish? What are their goals? Are there common goals such that we can generalize? For example, commercial businesses are supposed to earn money. When their stocks are publicly traded, it's easy to believe that nothing matters except the value of those stocks. Are there other principal goals or do they target profit above all else?

So, what now?

I'm here to inquire into organizational communications with an emphasis on internal communications of organizations. Internal implies that the inquiry respects some kind of boundary. In taking on the study of organizational communication, we contend with a species of interaction, and deliberate and emergent behaviours, that are confined by regarding organizations as (not closed but) bounded systems. The notion of bounded systems with human beings as constituents is perhaps difficult; but the truth is that, in practice, our existential selves are members of what we feel very strongly to be distinct organizations. Our personae, amid those with whom we interact for wages, pleasure or altruistic satisfaction, are distinct from the many others we present elsewhere. We thus jointly construct (deliberately, habitually or automatically) what we call (familiarly and technically) organizations by making sense of the situations that our collective and individual memberships present.

I should mention that I don`t dismiss the fact that organizational systems have permeable boundaries, but I deliberately avoid communication through that boundary. The study of communication through the boundary leads to the discussion and study of marketing and public relations, which organizational communication doesn't really include. And, although you could understand the entire public sphere as an organization, the system would be virtually boundless, and, thus, a much bigger nut than my cracker can handle.

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