Constitutive role of communication in organizations
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The focal point of the communicative constitution of organizations is that “organization is an effect of communication not its predecessor”. This approach, also referred to as the CCO perspective, posits that "elements of communication, rather than being fixed in advance, are reflexively constituted within the act of communication itself".
Background of the perspective
The model of communication as constitutive of organizations has origins in the linguistic approach to organizational communication taken in the 1980s. Theorists such as Karl E. Weick were among the first to posit that organizations were not static but inherently comprised by a dynamic process of communicating.
The notion of a communicative constitution of organization comprises three schools of thought: (1) The Montréal School, (2) the McPhee's Four Flows based on Gidden's Structuration Theory, and (3), Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems.
McPhee's Four Flows
In their seminal 2000 article, The Communicative Constitution of Organizations: A Framework for Explanation, Robert D. McPhee and Pamela Zaug distinguish four types of communicative flows generate a social structure through interaction. The flows, though distinct, can affect one another in the model and lead to multi-way conversation or texts typically involving reproduction of as well as resistance to the rules and resources of the organization.
Reflexive self-structuring separates organizations from other groupings such as a crowd or mob. The self-structuring process is deliberately carried out through communication among role-holders and groups. Communication regarding self-structuring is recursive and dialogic in nature. It concerns the control, design, and documentation of an organization's relations, norms, processes, and entities. Communication of formal structure predetermines work routines rather than allowing them to emerge and controls the collaboration and membership-negotiation processes. Physical examples of organizational self-structuring include a charter, organizational chart, and policy manual.
Organizational self-structuring is a political, subjective process that can be affected by systems, individuals, interests, and traditions in which it takes place. It is not necessarily free of error or ambiguity. To constitute an organization, the communication must imply the formation and governance of a differentiated whole with its own reflexive response cycle and mechanisms.
Organizations are necessarily composed of, yet are distinct from, individual members. Because humans are not inherently members of organizations, negotiatory communication must occur to incorporate them. Membership negotiation links an organization to its members by establishing and maintaining relationships. Practices in membership negotiation include job recruitment and socialization. In recruitment, potential members are evaluated, both parties must agree to a relationship, and the member must be incorporated into the structure of the organization. The negotiation process can be influenced by powers including prior existence and supervision, and all parties involved may redefine themselves to fit expectations. Among higher status members, power-claiming and spokesmanship are examples of negotiation processes to gain resources of an organization.
Activity coordination is a result of the fact that organizations inherently have at least one purpose to which the members' activity is contributing. Often an organization's self-structuring defines the division of labor, work flow sequences, policies, etc. that set the course for activity coordination. The structure is reflexively changing and may not be complete, relevant, fully understood, or free of problems. Therefore, a necessity of communication arises among members to amend and adjust the work process. Activity coordination can include adjusting the work process and resolving immediate or unforeseen practical problems.
Activity coordination operates on the assumption that members are working in an interdependent social unit beyond the work tasks themselves. It incorporates any processes and attitudes and therefore includes coordination for members to not complete work or to seek power over one another. The work of Dr. Henry Mintzberg exemplifies activity coordination in the mechanism of mutual adjustment in his theory of organizational forms. In this example, co-workers informally coordinate work arounds for issues on the job.
Institutional positioning links the organization to the environment outside the organization at a macro level. Examples of entities outside the organization include suppliers, customers, and competitors. Communication outside the organization negotiates terms of recognition of the organization’s existence and place in what is called "identity negotiation" or "positioning". Often the communicators of this message are individuals who concurrently negotiate their own relationships but messages can come from the greater organization as a whole.
Though there is not one configuration that an organization must embody, in order to be considered by peer institutions, the minimum process involves negotiating inclusion in the environment. Organizations must establish and maintain a presence, image, status, and a two-way communication channel with partners. Objects such as organizational charts can assert a particular image and demonstrate legitimacy. Organizations which are marginalized due to their lack of institutional positioning include startup companies and illegal groups such as the Mafia. Generally, the more secure an organization, the stronger relationships and control over uncertainty and resources it has in its environment. Pre-existing institutional (corporations, agencies), political, legal, cultural, etc. structures allow for easier constitution of complex organizations.
The Montréal School
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One of the most distinctive stances of the Montreal School approach, birthed in the Universite de Montreal by James Taylor, Francois Cooren (see particularly Cooren, 2004), and Bruno Latour amongst others, is that texts have agency. Texts do something to humans that is not reducible to certain human interactions and human actions.
Luhmann's Social Systems
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- McPhee, Robert D; Pamela Zaug (2000). "The communicative constitution of organizations: A framework for explanation". Electronic Journal of Communication/La Revue Electronique de Communication. 10 (1-2): 1–16. Reprinted in: Putnam, Linda L; Anne M Nicotera (2009). Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication. New York: Routledge. pp. 21–45. ISBN 978-0805847109.
- Craig, Robert T. "Communication". Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- Blaschke, Steffen. "Building Blocks of Postmodern Organizational Communication". Universitat Hamburg. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Weick, Karl (1979). The social psychology of organizing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Schoeneborn, Dennis; Steffen Blaschke (2014). "The Three Schools of CCO Thinking:Interactive Dialogue and Systematic Comparison.". Management Communication Quarterly 28 (2): 285–316. doi:10.1177/0893318914527000.
- McPhee, Robert (1985). Organizational communication: Traditional themes and new directions. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. pp. 149–178.
- Cooren, F. (2004). Textual Agency: How Texts Do Tings in Organizational Settings. Organization, 11, pp. 373-393. DOI 10.1177/1350508404041998