Communications and Organizational Behavior
Patterns of Communication B. Communication Roles C. Dysfunctions in Communication
ORGANIZATIONAL DYNAMICS: THE INTERPLAY OF GROUPS AND STRUCTURE
V. Roles, Role Networks, and Groups A. Formal and Informal Roles
We need to develop some basic terminology as we begin our examination of organizational
dynamics. The first term we need to define is role. A role may be defined as a set of reciprocal expectations. A key element in this definition is that expectations are reciprocal–that is, we define our role in terms of others, not just ourselves. Let’s use the role of “teacher” for example. It is virtually impossible to define the role of a teacher without addressing the role of a student. Students have certain expectations of a teacher, even if they don’t know anything about her/him. By the same token, teachers have certain expectations of students, even if they’ve not met them yet. These expectations are determined through formal means–job descriptions, etc., and are therefore called formal roles. Behavior is prescribed by the organization. These roles, defined by the organization, seldom if ever really describe the reciprocal set of expectations that develop once interaction occurs. Informal roles, therefore, are a set of reciprocal expectations determined through interaction of the players involved.
B. Informal Roles Each of us plays numerous roles. I am a administrator, advisor, professor (in inverted order of priority, by the way) etc. You are a student, perhaps a spouse, sibling, employee, member of a church group, and so on. The totality of the roles we play comprises our role network. I listed three roles I play within my organization, VSU. But these roles cannot be totally separated from all the other roles I play. At times, they may conflict. At those times, I must choose which role has immediacy over the other(s). One key factor determining this is my utility ordering (back to Downs again). Look at the roles Lije plays—are they always in tune? From an organizational perspective, our role network must be harmonious enough for us to be effective within the organization, or significant problems emerge. Role conflict is a major source of stress for individuals as well as for organizations. Organizations run using both formal and informal role networks, but the more these networks get unsynchronized, the more likely the organization enters a state of disequilibrium and problems occur. The system is in trouble.
C. Groupies Roles are played out in groups. By their very definition, both formal and informal roles require interaction with others. Even the role of “hermit” involves the conscious decision to avoid interaction with others. Cartwright and Zander’s piece does an excellent job on the origins of “group dynamics” as an approach to studying organizations, and I won’t repeat what they tell you. I do, however, want you to be aware of the work of Thomatsu Shibutani, who played a key role in developing the concept of static and dynamic groups. A static group is defined by a shared
characteristic. Redheads would be a static group, as are you as members of this class (you’re shared characteristic being class membership). Static groups are often referred to as formal groups, but I prefer Shibutani’s classification. Thus you can identify the members of an organization by looking at the organizational roster. Yet just as formal roles are inadequate to fully explain organizational behavior, formal/static groups cannot tell you all you need to know about the organization. Individuals not appearing on the roster may play extremely crucial roles in the organization. We are all familiar with situations where our boss’ spouse may have been more instrumental in a decision than our boss, for example. He/she isn’t listed on the roster, but is nonetheless a key player. The only way to determine who really is part of the group is through observing members’ behaviors. Thus dynamic groups are much harder to study than static groups. It should be obvious that formal roles and static groups are linked, as are informal roles and dynamic groups. And these groups behave in organizational settings. One approach to understanding this complex mess of interactions is through systems theory, which we’ll look at now.
II. Systems Again We all talk–sometimes rant and rave–about “the system.” In the social sciences, we use the term in a fairly specific sense, as we saw in the first unit. We need to apply this to organizations.
A. Organizations as Systems
An organization—any organization—may itself be examined in systems terms. Kast and Rosenzweig developed one of the better-known systems models of an organization, as shown on the next page. No organization exists in a vacuum. All organizations are affected by their environment; Kast & Rosenzweig’s environmental suprasystem. We’ll use our common organization, Valdosta State University, as an example. VSU is, in many ways, hostage to its environmental suprasystem. We rely on our environment for the inputs (demands and supports) we need, including students. Our budget is based upon student enrollment, the largesse of the state legislature, and external funds we obtain through grants, etc. These elements in our environment are inter-related. Both legislative largesse and grant income are likely to drop during bad economic times. At the same time, we may actually see an increase in enrollment and thus in tuition revenue, as more students enter college to enhance their job prospects. Tuition, however, pays for only about a forth of the cost of educating a student, so the increased revenue doesn’t begin to offset the increased cost–all occurring, remember, when the state legislature, foundations, etc. are likely to be cutting back their support. Thus VSU must cut funds at the same time it has increased student demand. The management subsystem has a difficult time explaining that to faculty (although the economists should–but don’t always, understand it). Figure 5.2: Organizations as Systems
We also are affected by the culture we operate in. At the macro level, responsive commonwealth cultures are much more likely to support education at all levels than any of the other cultures. This is because they believe education is necessary for maintaining a knowledgeable society that can determine society’s best interests through aggregation. Marketplace societies let the market forces govern education, just as they govern other facets of life. As a concrete example, my presence at VSU reflects this basic fact. A colleague almost took a job at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in the early 1980s, but decided to remain at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Iowa has a responsive commonwealth culture; Texas a marketplace culture. In the mid-80s, we had a recession that actually hit Iowa’s economy harder than that of Texas. Yet Iowa increased their funding for state universities–not by much, but an increase, nonetheless. UTEP’s budget was cut nearly 20% in two years, while their enrollment actually increased. That department lost 4 of 16 tenure-track positions. Many of the faculty in a position to do so simply bailed out–the entire faculty of the Marketing Department submitted their resignations within a 30-day period. One of my colleague’s associates, a department head, lamented to him that “all of the younger guys are leaving, and all that was going to be left is deadwood!” Georgia, although not seen as having the strongest educational system, was seen as moving to improve, and the state’s economy was diverse enough to avoid the kinds of problems Texas had. My colleague accepted a promotion and came to VSU. If he had taken the job at UNI, he would probably still be there. VSU has its own goals and values subsystem that to some extent reflect and to some extent differ from our immediate community. For one thing, as educators, we place a higher value on education and educational funding than the typical citizen of Georgia. This is true in any organization. The Army knows that it can do more with its funding than the Navy, so we shouldn’t waste all that money on nuclear submarines. Social workers know that they should get a bigger share of the budget, even if it comes at the expense of the police, etc. (Remember our discussion in the last unit.) This creates part of the filter that we screen information through (more of that when
we discuss phenomenology). We have our technical subsystem, which encompasses everything from our grounds crew (we have the prettiest campus I’ve ever worked on) to our kitchen personnel to our instructional technology people–what organizational theory refers to as “staff.” We made Yahoo!’s list as one of the nations “Most Wired Colleges.” We and Texas A&M broke into their “top 100” out of the 1300 colleges surveyed in 2001. Our structural subsystem is found in our organizational chart. You may want to go to our webpage and look at it. We have a typical university organization, with several colleges, including the College of Arts and Sciences, where the Department of Political Science is housed. Thus my “academic chain of command” runs from the President through the Vice President for Academic Affairs (Provost in many universities) to the Dean of Arts and Sciences to my department head. Overlapping everything is the managerial subsystem. This includes all of the supervisory personnel, from the foreman of a grounds crew to the president. This subsystem also contains our official boundary spanners (discussed below). This subsystem must somehow make sure that the other subsystems work in harmony to meet the overall needs of the organization. We may be in the top 8% of America’s “wired” colleges, but it doesn’t help unless that meshes with and advances the educational process. (The survey used six measures that take that into account, by the way.) Communication played a key role in this process, and organizational communication is the topic we will turn to now.
III. Communication and Organizational Behavior One of the first to look at communications from the perspective of how if affected organizational behavior was Robert Michels. He studied the German Socialist Party, which professed to be a democratic organization, stressing equality, but which he found to be a hierarchical, authoritarian organization. In other words, the organization seemed not to reflect the expressed ideals of its leaders and members. He decided that the reason was to be found in communication patterns. Michels argued that information gave people power, and that information was largely an upward communication process; with downward communication controlled by those at the top. Only those at the top received the information needed to coordinate the behavior of others, and they could accomplish that coordination only through selective passing of information back down. Thus an oligarchy was created, based upon availability of information that controlled the organization. Michels presented a picture of organizational control based on control of information flow that came to dominate views of organizational communication. Information filtered up to the top hierarchy, who then provided selective information to lower levels–top-down communication. As a result of the humanist school and the contingency approaches, this view was challenged, and we now realize that communication is very complex. Simon, Smithburg, & Thompson indicate that there are three steps in the communications process: 1. Someone must initiate the communication,
The communication must be transmitted from its source to its destination, and 3. The communication must make its impact upon the recipient. This can be illustrated using Berlo’s Interactive Communications Model
A. Patterns of Communication To talk about formal and informal communication, we must review the concepts of formal and informal roles. Remember, roles are simply reciprocal patterns of expectations. Formal roles are reciprocal patterns of expectations that conform to the formal organizational structure of the organization. Informal roles are reciprocal patterns of expectations that develop as a result of interpersonal relationships. Each of us occupies a number of roles at the same time, and the totality of all of our roles is our role network. Organizational roles also form a role network, which is what your text discusses. I do want to point out, however, that the organizational role network(s) we are part of are only part of our own individual role networks. It does start to get complicated. Again, formal and informal communication tends to correspond to formal and informal role networks. Formal communication follows the organizational chart, and uses memos, meetings, handbooks, etc.; informal communication circumvents the organizational chart, and may be verbal, written, body language, etc. The formal communication system is limited in what it can accomplish; some informal communication system is needed. Informal communication derives its principal channels from the social groups that define the social structure of the organization (remember the Hawthorne studies?); again, based upon interpersonal relationships. Thus work- group interaction tends to stress informal communication. This ties to our understanding of small group theory, which sees groups as either static or dynamic (I trust you remember Shibutani). Organizational size plays a key role in determining the relative status and use of formal versus informal communication. In the military, for example, a squad in the field relies on informal communications, with an overlay of static group, formal communication roles. That squad in the field is directed to the point it is in by a formal communications structure that can be quite complex. Each organization will have communication in several directions, both internal to the organization and external. Downward communication serves a number of key functions for any organization. Katz & Kahn indicate that it has five major goals: 1. to give specific task directives about job instructions, 2. to give information about organizational procedures and practices, 3. to provide information about the rationale of the job, 4. to tell subordinates about their performance, and 5. to provide ideological-type information to facilitate the indoctrination of goals. Most government bureaucracies concentrate on the first two; most common complaints of employees, therefore, often deal with the last three–”no one tells me why the job needs to be done,” “no one tells me how I’m doing,” etc. If the organization is to function properly, upward communication is critical. There are a number of barriers to effective upward communication, however, including:
Physical distance or inaccessibility. Technology is making this much less of a problem than it once was.Dilution or distortion at each level–filtering. Each level filters out part of the messages it receives and sends “what’s relevant upwards. Consider the figure shown below. If lower levels send just 10% of the information they receive upward, and you have just four levels, only 0.1% of the original data ever reaches the top–presenting a picture quite different from the one Michels portrayed.
MESSAGE CONDENSATION IN HIERARCHICAL ORGANIZATIONS Amount of 0.1% 1 Information 1% 2 2 Reaching a Given 10% 3 3 Level 100% 4 4
The attitude of superiors–or their perceived attitude. Some superiors don’t want
information unless it is “good” for the organization. Mussolini was like that as dictator of Italy. He had a military machine that was falling apart due to logistical and parts problems, but no one dared tell him. The Italian Air Force could barely keep 200 planes in the air–but they kept them near Rome where they could do impressive fly-bys.
The inferior status of the subordinate. Reedy calls this the “Kings Messenger Syndrome.” The king lops of the head of a messenger who brings bad news. This is closely related to the problem identified above, but the twist is that it is the subordinate who doesn’t wish to be the bearer of bad news. This may lead to “groupthink”–a term coined by Janis.Tradition. Downward communication has force of tradition behind it; upward communication is in a very real sense “unnatural”.
Communications and Organizational Behavior