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Functions of Organizational Communication

Info: 5450 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 20th Aug 2021

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Tagged: Teamwork


Organizational Communication can be defined as a process through which organizations are created and in turn create and shape events. The process can be understood as a combination of process, people, message, meaning and purpose.

Functions of Organizational Communication:

  • It is the means by which a manager ensures co-operation of subordinates.
  • It is the exchange of meanings among members of an organization.
  • It is the “glue” which binds the elements of an organization together.
  • It builds the very structure of an organization i.e. who communicates with whom about what.

Can misunderstanding of a few words literally mean the difference between life and death? They can in airlines business. A number of aviation disasters have been largely attributed to problems in communication. There are other fields also in which there are examples to illustrate how miscommunication can have deadly consequences. Good communication is essential to any group’s or organization’s effectiveness.

Research indicates that poor communication is probably the most frequently cited source of interpersonal conflict. Because individuals spend nearly 70 percent of their working hours communicating-writing, reading, speaking, listening-it seems reasonable to conclude that one of the most inhibiting forces to successful group performance is a lack of effective communication.

No group can exist without communication: the transference of meaning among its members. It is only through transmitting meaning from one person to another that information and ideas can be conveyed. Communication, however, is more than merely imparting meaning. It must also be understood. In a group in which one member speaks only German and the others do not know German, the individual speaking German will not be fully understood. Therefore, communication must include both the transference and the understanding of meaning.

An idea, no matter how great, is useless until it is transmitted and understood by others. Perfect communication, if there were such a thing, would exist when a thought or an idea was transmitted so that the mental picture perceived by the receiver was exactly the same as that envisioned by the sender. Although elementary in theory, perfect communication is never achieved in practice, due to unavoidable reasons.

2.1 What is Communication?

The term “communication” has been derived from the Latin word “communis” which means common. It was Aristotle who, for the first time, brought about a systematic study of the communication process. According to him, there are three essential elements in a communication system, namely, the speaker, the speech, and the audience. Communication strictly stands for sharing of ideas in common. The word “communication”, however, has many and varied meanings. Popularly speaking, it refers to the various means of transmitting information from individual to individual, individual to a group of individuals or from one place to another. It is a transmission of messages, ideas, methods, skills, and thoughts between two or more persons. It is a mutual exchange of facts, thoughts, opinions or emotions by the use of symbols, words, pictures, figures, graphs and so on.

Communication is the chain of understanding which permeates an organization from top to bottom, from bottom to top, and from side to side, and which moves the organization ahead towards its stated objectives. It is the cohesive force which holds the group together.

Vardaman and Halterman opine: “Communication is the flow of material, information, perception and understanding between various parts and members of an organization.”

In the words of Allen, “Communication is the transfer of meaning from one person to another.” Mitchell goes a step further and observes, “Communication involves more than just having the right information — the information should be believed, weighed correctly, reach the right decision-makers and result in the appropriate action.” Rogers and Rogers have reiterated this point of view. They opine “Communication is a process by which an idea is transferred from a source to the receiver with the intention of changing behaviour.. ..Communication is made with the intention of achieving results/change in knowledge, attitude and overt behaviour.”

Communication is a process in which senders and receivers of messages interact in a given social context. Interpersonal communication refers to the exchange of information and transmission of meaning between two people. Organizational communication is the subject that deals with the exchange of information and transmission of meaning throughout the organizational hierarchy.

Since the leader or the manager accomplishes organizational objectives through people, it is essential to communicate what the leader or the manager wants people to accomplish, how to accomplish, where to accomplish and more important, why to accomplish. To communicate the organizational philosophy, objectives, procedures, and practices to all employees is not easy, because communication is a very complex phenomenon.

In communication, the people must understand what they are trying to communicate; they must be willing and able to understand them; they must accept their communication or message or information or goals. Thus, all social phenomena are a function of communication.


Communication serves four major functions within a group or organization: Control, motivation, emotional expression and information.

Communication acts to control member behaviour in several ways. Organizations have authority hierarchies and formal guidelines that employees are required to follow. When employees, for instance are required to first communicate any job related grievance to their immediate boss, to follow their job description, or to comply with company policies, communication is performing a control function. But informal communication also controls behaviour. When work groups tease or harass a member who produces too much (and makes the rest of the group look bad), they are informally communicating with, and controlling, the member’s behaviour

Communication fosters motivation by clarifying to employees what is to be done, how well they are doing, and what can be done to improve performance if it’s supbar. The formation of specific goals, feedback on progress toward the goals, and reinforcement of desired behaviour all stimulate motivation and require communication.

For many employees, their work group is a primary source for social interaction. The communication that takes place within the group is a fundamental mechanism by which members show their frustrations and feelings of satisfaction. Communication, therefore, provides a release for the emotional expression of feelings and for fulfillment of social needs.

The final function that communication performs relates to its role in facilitating decision making. It provides the information that individuals and groups need to make decisions by transmitting the data to identify and evaluate alternative choices.

No one of these functions should be seen as being more important than the others. For groups to perform effectively, they need to maintain some form of control over members, stimulate members to perform, provide a means for emotional expression, and make decision choices. Almost every communication interaction that takes place in a group or organization performs one or more of these four functions.


Before communication can take place, a purpose, expressed as a message to be conveyed, is needed. It passes between a source (sender) and a receiver. The message is encoded (converted to a symbolic form) and passed by way of some medium (channel) to the receiver, who retranslates (decodes) the message initiated by the sender. The result is a transference of meaning from one person to another.

The exhibit above depicts this communication process. This model is made up of seven parts:

  1. the communication source,
  2. encoding,
  3. the message,
  4. the channel,
  5. decoding,
  6. the receiver, and
  7. feedback.

The source initiates a message by encoding a thought. The message is the actual physical product from the source encoding. When we speak, the speech is the message. When we write, the writing is the message. When we gesture, the movements of our arms and the expression on our face are the message. The channel is the medium through which the message travels. It is selected by the source, who must determine whether to use a formal or informal channel. Formal channels are established by the organization and transmit message that are related to the professional activities of the members. They traditionally follow the authority chain within the organization. Other forms of messages, such as personal or social, follow the informal channels in the organization. The receiver is the object to whom the message is directed.

But before the message can be received, the symbols in it must be translated into a form that can be understood by the receiver. This step is the decoding of the message. The final link in the communication process is a feedback loop. Feedback is the check on how successful we have been in transferring our messages as originally intended. It determines whether understanding has achieved.


Communication can flow vertically and laterally. The vertical dimension can be further divided into downward and upward directions.


Communication that flows from one level of a group or organization to a lower level is a downward communication. When we think of managers communicating with employees, the downward pattern is the one we are usually thinking of. It’s used by group leaders and managers to assign goals, provide job instructions, inform employees of policies and procedures, point out problems that need attention, and offer feedback about performance. But downward communication doesn’t have to be oral or face-to-face contact. When management sends letters to the employees’ homes to advise them of the organization’s new sick leave policy, it is using downward communication. So is an e-mail from a team leader to the members of her team, reminding them of an upcoming deadline.


Upward communication flows to a higher level in the group or organization. It’s used to provide feedback to higher-ups, inform them of progress toward goals, and relay current problems. Upward communication keeps managers aware of how employees feel about their jobs, co-workers, and the organization in general. Managers also rely on upward communication for ideas on how things can be improved.

Some organizational examples of upward communication are performance reports prepared by lower management for review by middle and top management, suggestion boxes, employee attitude surveys, grievance procedures, superior-subordinate discussions, and informal “gripe” sessions in which employees have the opportunity to identify and discuss problems with their boss or representatives of higher management. For example, FedEx prides itself on its computerized upward communication program. All its employees annually complete climate surveys and reviews of management. This program was cited as a key human resources strength by the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award examiners when FedEx won the honor.


When communication takes place among members of the same work group, among members of work groups at the same level, among managers at the same level, or among any horizontally equivalent personnel, we describe it as lateral communications.

Why would there be a need for horizontal communications if a group or organization’s vertical communications are effective? The answer is that horizontal communications are often necessary to save time and facilitate co-ordination. In some cases, these lateral relationships are formally sanctioned. More often, they are informally created to short-circuit the vertical hierarchy and expedite action. So lateral communications can, from management’s viewpoint, be good or bad. Since strict adherence to the formal vertical structure for all communications can impede the efficient and accurate transfer of information, lateral communications can be beneficial. In such cases, they occur with the knowledge and support of superiors.

But they can create dysfunctional conflicts when the formal vertical channels are breached, when members go above or around their superiors to get things done, or when bosses find out that actions have been taken or decisions made without their knowledge.

Diagonal Communication

This occurs when communication occurs between workers in a different section of the organisation and where one of the workers involved is on a higher level in the organisation. For example in a bank diagonal communication will occur when a department manager in head office converses with a cashier in a branch of the bank based on the high street.


How do group members transfer meaning between and among each other? There are three basic methods. People basically rely on oral, written and non-verbal communication.

Oral Communication

The chief means of conveying messages is oral communication. Speeches, formal one-on-one and group discussions, and the informal mill or grapevine are popular forms of oral communication.

The advantages of oral communication are speed and feedback. A verbal message can be conveyed and a response received in a minimal amount of time. If the receiver is unsure of the message, rapid feedback allows for early detection by the sender and, hence, allows for early correction.

The major disadvantage of oral communication surfaces in organizations or whenever the message has to be passed through a number of people. The more people a message must pass through, the greater the potential distortion. For example, if you ever played the game “telephone” at a party, you know the problem. Each person interprets the message in his or her own way. The message’s content, when it reaches its destination, is very often different from that of the original. In an organization, where decisions and other communiqués are verbally passed up and down the authority hierarchy, there are considerable opportunities for messages to become distorted.

Written Communication.

Written communications include memos, letters, electronic mail, fax transmissions, organizational periodicals, notices placed on bulletin boards, or any other device that is transmitted via written words or symbols.

Why would a sender choose to use written communications? They are tangible and verifiable. Typically, both the sender and the receiver have a record of the communication. The message can be stored for a indefinite period. If there are questions concerning the content of the message, it is physically available for later reference. This feature is particularly important for complex and lengthy communications. The marketing plan for a new product, for instance, is likely to contain a number of tasks spread out over several months. By putting it in writing, those who have to initiate the plan can readily refer to it over the life of the plan. A final benefit of written communication comes from the process itself. You are usually more careful with the written word than the oral word. You are forced to think more thoroughly about what you want to convey in a written message than in a spoken one. Thus, written communications are more likely to be well thought out, logical and clear.

Of course, written messages have their drawbacks. They are time consuming. You could convey far more information to a college instructor in a one-hour oral exam than in a one-hour written exam. In fact, you could probably say the same thing in 10 to 15 minutes that it would take you an hour to write. So, although writing may be more precise, it also consumes a great deal of time.

The other major disadvantage is feedback, or lack of it. Oral communication allows the receiver to respond rapidly to what he thinks he hears. Written communication, however, does not have a built-in feedback mechanism. The result is that the mailing of a memo is no assurance it has been received, there is no guarantee the recipient will interpret it as the sender intended. The latter point is also relevant in oral communiqués, except it is easy in such cases merely to ask the receiver to summarize what you have said. An accurate summary presents feedback evidence that the message has been received and understood.

Employees’ Handbook: As business grows in size, management often turns to the use of an employee handbook as a communication tool to inform employees on issues such as company history and products, human resource policies, employee compensation and benefits, training assistance, health services, safety, security, employee responsibilities, and work standards. Handbooks are also useful to supervisors and administrators for ensuring consistent implementation and enforcement of company policies.

These are intended to help in the induction of newcomers and to provide all the employees with a clear-cut understanding not only of the general policies of the management but also of the nature of the business, its sources of supplies, its customers, its products and the range of benefits and services available to its employees. Many organizations publish illustrated handbooks, depicting cartoons, charts and photographs.

House Magazines and Newspapers: Some organizations maintain one or more employee magazines or journals. These are meant to keep employees well informed of the development in the business and to acquaint them with the personalities and activities of the organisation. It can explain the policies of the management in easily understood terms. House magazines contain news, and personal and social items. There may be references to parties, marriages, births, retirements, honours and awards.

Financial Reports: Such reports describe the essential facts concerning the conduct of business, its expenses and profits, its income and distribution of financial standing. of the organisation and create understanding between the management and its employees.

Bulletin Boards: Usually, big organizations keep a bulletin board for 50 to 100 employees in attractive colours, types and formats. These boards contain a wide range of material such as someone’s choice of cartoons from newspapers and magazines, pin-up photographs, events in the lives of present or former employees and other items of common interest.

Audio-Visual Aids: Sound films, movies, slides, tapes may be played back to the workers. Such audio-visual aids have an obvious advantage of describing a company’s range of operations and products, in illustrating how financial and other decisions are made, or in explaining work rules.

Notice Boards: Notices are often pasted o the factory walls or gates or placed in glass covered notice boards, and these are hung at appropriate places in the premises of an organisation, near the canteens or factory gates. These notices usually depict abstracts as desired under the various statutes as well as notices of the various institutions in the establishment such as the sports club.

Suggestion System: The suggestion system is designed to enlist the co-operation of subordinates in effecting improvements and in eliminating waste and to provide an avenue for a working communication with the management. Rewards are offered for suggestions which results in greater productive efficiency. In some organizations, “suggestion boxes” are located at convenient places throughout the plant.

Communication with Public and Government: Organisations educate the public about their various activities through advertising, campaigns, meetings and conferences. Organisations also establish and organize special groups to communicate with the important segments of government.

Proper communication plays an important role in a large organization, and there has to be a proper balance between the oral and written forms of communication. It need hardly be said that the choice of any method depends upon the purpose to be accomplished and the likelihood of its success. Quite often, it is better to use more than one method to convey the same information so that one can reinforce the other.

Nonverbal Communication

Every time we verbally give a message to someone, we also impart a nonverbal message. In some instances, the nonverbal component may stand alone. For example, in a singles bar, a glance, a stare, a frown, and a provocative body movement all convey meaning. As such, no discussion of communication would be complete without consideration of nonverbal communication-which includes body movements, the intonations or emphasis we give to words, facial expressions, and the physical distance between the sender and receiver.

It can be argued that every body movement has a meaning and no movement is accidental. For example, through body language we say, “Help me, I’m lonely”; “Take me, I’m available”; “Leave me alone, I’m depressed.” And rarely do we send our messages consciously. We act out our state of being with nonverbal body language. We lift one eyebrow for disbelief. We rub our nose for puzzlement. We clasp our arms to isolate ourselves or to protect ourselves. We shrug our shoulders for indifference, wink one eye for intimacy, tap our fingers for impatience and slap our forehead for forgetfulness.

The two most important messages that body language conveys are:

  1. The extent to which an individual likes another and is interested in his or her views, and
  2. The relative perceived status between a sender and receiver. For instance, we are more likely to position ourselves closer to people we like and touch them more often.

Similarly, if you feel that you’re higher status than another, you’re more likely to display body movements-such as crossed legs or a slouched seating position-that reflect a casual and relaxed manner.

Body language adds to, and often complicates, verbal communication. A body position or movement does not by itself have a precise or universal meaning, but when it is linked with spoken language, it gives fuller meaning to a sender’s message.

If you read the verbatim minutes of a meeting, you wouldn’t grasp the impact of what was said in the same way you would if you had been there or saw the meeting on video. Why? There are no records of nonverbal communication. The emphasis given to words or phrases is missing.

Facial expressions also convey meaning. A snarling face says something different from a smile. Facial expressions, along with intonations, can show arrogance, aggressiveness, fear, shyness, and other characteristics that would never be communicated if you read a transcript of what had been said.

The way individuals space themselves in terms of physical distance also has meaning. What is considered proper spacing is largely dependent on cultural norms. For example, what is considered a businesslike distance in some European countries would be viewed as intimate in many parts of North America. If someone stands closer to you than is considered appropriate, it may indicate aggressiveness or sexual interest; if farther away than usual, it may mean disinterest or displeasure with what is being said.

It’s important for the receiver to be alert to these nonverbal aspects of communication. You should look for nonverbal cues as well as listen to the literal meaning of sender’s words. You should particularly be aware of contradictions between the messages. Your boss may say she is free to talk to you about a pressing budget problem, but you may see nonverbal signals suggesting that the is not the time to discuss the subject regardless of what is being said, an individual who frequently glances at her wristwatch is giving the massage that she would prefer to terminate the conversation. We misinform others when we express one message verbally, such as trust, but nonverbally communicate a contradictory message that reads, “I don’t have confidence in you.”


Internal/Organizational Communication

This is communication that takes place within (or across) an organization. In addition to the usual face to face, telephone, fax or mail; modern organizations may use technology to communicate internally. Technology may be used for e-mails or a linked internal communication system such as the intranet which is an internet system designed solely for use by those working for the organization.

External communications

Conversely external communication is communication between the organization and those outside the organization. Modern organizations may design technological systems so that they can communicate with customers and undertake e-Commerce. Alternatively they communicate with other businesses through the internet or similar systems and undertake e-Business.

Functions of Internal and External Communications;

Technology has rapidly expanded the types of internal and external communication available to organizations. The diagram illustrates the vast array of internal and external communication available. Combined together internal and external types of communications allow various sectors of the local, national and international community to interact, liaise and conduct business.

3.2 Objectives of Communication

Communication is not an end in itself. There is no use of communicating just for the sake of communicating. It is a means and a very effective means for the solution of managerial problems and for attainment of managerial objectives. Since managers work through others, all their acts, policies, rules, orders and procedures must pass through some sort of communication channel. The purposes of communication are:

  1. To develop information and understanding which are necessary for group effort?
  2. To provide an attitude which is necessary for motivation, co-operation and job satisfaction?
  3. To discourage the spread of misinformation, rumours, gossip, ‘and to release the emotional tensions of workers
  4. To prepare workers for a change by giving them the necessary information in advance.
  5. To encourage ideas, suggestions from subordinates for an improvement in the product and work conditions, for a reduction in time or cost involved and for the avoidance of the waste of raw material.
  6. To improve labour-management relations by keeping both in contact with each other.
  7. To satisfy the basic human needs like recognition, self-importance and sense of participation.
  8. To serve auxiliary functions such as entertainment and the maintenance of social relations among human beings.

The purpose of communication is to establish asocial environment that supports effective interaction and to ensure that the workforce has the skills to share information and co-ordinate their achievements efficiently

3.3 Importance of Communication

Organizations cannot exist without communication. If there is no communication, employees cannot know what their respective associates are doing, management cannot receive information on inputs, and management cannot give instructions. Co-ordination of work is impossible, and the organisation will collapse for lack of it. Co-operation also becomes impossible, because people cannot communicate their needs and feelings to others. Every act of communication influences the organisation in some way or the other.

As such effective communication tends to encourage better performance, improves job satisfaction, creates proper understanding, and develops feeling of involvement among the people.

Chester Bernard (1938) has considered communication to be the “very first function” of a manager and has viewed it as the shaping force which links people and purposes together in any co-operative system. In the practice of management, Peter Drucker (1954) has observed that the manager’s main instrument for operating his affairs is information. The management process has widely been discussed as one which embraces the functions of planning, organizing, leading and controlling, which are intimately involved with and dependant on, communication. Organisational structure is definitely tied to the communication systems. Communication is the key to effective teamwork, for both are based on the common fundamentals of information, understanding, consultation and participation. Communication is an essential skill at every level of organisational functioning and for organisations of all types, whether social, governmental, or commercial.

According to Miner and Miner’ there Ware four basic types of communication network: (a) the regulative network ensures security, conformity to plans and the achievement of productivity through the communication of policy statements, procedures, and rules; (b) the innovative network is concerned with problem-solving and change through such techniques as suggestion systems and meetings; (c) the integrative network is directly related to consideration of employee morale and organisational maintenance; and (d) the informative network relates to employee’s effectiveness and productivity through a direct dissemination of information and training programmes.

3.4 Rules for Communication

A few basic rules should be followed in planning for and carrying out communications of all kinds, written and oral, regardless of form or format.

  • Clarity: To be effective, communications must be understood, and to be understood, they must be clear.
  • Brevity: It makes both written and oral communications easier to understand. Only one idea should be used in a sentence.
  • Simplicity: Short, simple words, phrases, and sentences should be used. Every word should count. Extra words only serve to confuse.
  • Precision: Precise words should be used.
  • Integrity: Communication should always be used as a means, never as an end.

During any major change programme, internal communication in an organisation is extremely. Important. It must be borne in mind in this context that communication is more than a dialogue. It builds on trust and openness among colleagues, and results in common understanding of the organisational issues that have a long-term bearing on the future of the organisation.

3.5 Formal and Informal Communication

Basically, the two most important media of communication in an organisation are formal and informal communications. Formal communications are those that are “official”, that are a part of the recognized communication system of the organisation. A formal communication can be from a superior to a subordinate, from a subordinate to a superior, intra-administrative, or external. These communications may be oral or written. Informal communication is those that are “outside” the formal, recognized communication system. Informal communication originates spontaneously outside the formal channels and is the natural responses to the need for social interaction.

Within the organisation, whatever its style or form, cohesive informal groups develop. Extensive research has shown that these informal work groups have tremendous power in shaping attitudes, behaviour, and consequently, production. They share a set of beliefs, values, and socially acceptable behaviours. In other words, group members come to think and act in similar ways, and this encourages feelings of closeness among them.

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