Friday, February 27, 2009

Weeks 7-8: Team Performance: Internal and External Concerns

In Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance, W. Dyer, W. G. Dyer, Jr. and J. H. Dyer (2007) outline key aspects for team success. For them, there are 4 factors that are critical to understand and manage for team to be high performing in a superior manner:

1. Team Context: The team must have the appropriate organizational structure and culture in which to function, an environment that supports its particular make-up and task. It is imperative that the team members, particularly the team leader, understand and is able to manipulate the organizational environment to its advantage. "High-performing teams manage context effectively by 1) establishing measurable team performance goals that are clear and compelling, 2) ensuring that team members understand that effective teamwork is critical to meeting those goals, 3) establishing reward systems that reward team performance (more than individual performance), 4) eliminating roadblocks to teamwork that formal organizational structures might create, and 5) establishing an organizational culture that supports teamwork-oriented processes and behaviors" (p. 7).

2. Team Composition: Team members must have the requisite skills needed for the assigned project, be committed to each other, be motivated by the task, and have complementary skills that can be used in a synergistic manner. "High-performing teams effectively manage team composition by 1) establishing processes to select individuals for the team who are both skilled and motivated, 2) establishing processes that develop the technical and interpersonal skills of team members as well as their commitment to achieving team goals, 3) cutting loose individuals who lack skills or motivation, 4) managing the team differently depending on the skills and motivation of team members, and 5) ensuring that the team is "right sized," which usually means making sure the team is not too large or small to accomplish the task" (p. 8).

3. Team Competencies: Team compentencies are not just abilities that individual members possess, but that are part of the "team's" make-up, its formal and informal processes. "High-performaing teams have developed processes that all the team to 1) clearly articulate their goals and the metrics for achieving thos goals, 2) clearly articulate the means to achieve the goals, ensuring that individuals understand their assignments and how their work contributes to team goals, 3) make effective decisions, 4) effectively communicate, including giving and receiving feedback, 5) build trust and commitment to the team and its goals, and 6)resolve disputes or disagreements" (pp. 8-9).

Team Change Management Skills: Adaptation and change are just part of the daily workplace. This is no different for high performance teams. "High-performing teams have developed the ability to change by 1) establishing team-building processes that result in the regular evaluation of the team context, team composition, and team competencies with the explicit objective of initiating needed changes in order to better achieve the desired team goals, and 2) establishing a philosophy among team members that regular change is necessary in order to meet the demands of a constantly changing world" (p. 10).

An important point in #1 is that the organizational structure and culture supports teams, and that they truly foster and reward teamwork, not merely individual contribution. If such support is not present, it is difficult for a team to have the interdependence--ability to feel valued by and to be connected with the larger organization--needed to be perform well and be successful. This is still a challenge for many organizations.

The notion of "complementarity" and "team synergy" mentioned in #2 is equally important. It is about the team as a "whole," its ability as a unified and talented group, that is key. Team members, while having pride in their capabilities and drawing upon them, focus on the operations, contribution and success of the team. To do this, including being complementary, does not mean that all are the same, and that harmony is the norm. The energy of the tension of diversity and disagreement is harnessed to create innovation and creative problem solving.

The above perspective is an important and viable view of teams, but one that is concerned about the team and its internal composition and operation. Teams have to align themselves with the organization; they have to serve the goals of the organization, be in sync with its core leaders and engage with the core stakeholders related to its project. They must be able to satify their "cleints" and engergize those who need to implement or carry-on their ideas.

D. Ancona and H. Bresman (2007) in X-Teams: How to Build Teams that lead, Innovate and Succeed point out that a team must be consciously connected to its environment, cross its boundaries, and work for the good and overall success of the organization. In their view teams must:

1. Engage in high levels of external activity, particularly conducting scouting activities that provide an understanding of the "world" in which they exist and function, being ambassadors and creating links and working relationships with top management and others as needed, and cordinating the task well with the organization and its goals.

2. Combine high levels of external activity outside the team with exetreme execution inside the team, including having an open and safe team culture that allows for frank discussions, team reflection, and knowledge sharing.

3. Change their core tasks over the team's lifetime to enure that they do not get stuck in any one way of functioning. They explore and discover, expoit ideas by choosing a course of action, and then present, act and get others involved. They turn over their work to others.

So successful teams have to manage their internal and external arenas. So organizations cannot just focus on and reward individual, nor can leaders and team members cannot just be focused on the team itself. It is about the team as a unified entity gathering information from, and communicating, networking and collaborating with the organizational system--the organization as a knowing and producing enterprise.

What do you think are the challenges for teams to achieve these two functions? What competencies and skills do both team leaders and members have to have to do the above, and function well?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Week 6: Decision Making

Focusing on decision-making, let's take the previous discussion on organizational communication further.

Well-informed decision-making takes up-to-date information, sound knowledge, and practical wisdom. As Choo in the Knowing Organization points out, organizational knowledge creating activities involve importing knowledge, shared problem-solving, implementing and integrating new tools into its operations, and experimenting and prototyping (p. 152).

"The fundamental task of an organization is to integrate the knowledge and coordinate the efforts of its many specialized individuals. Four mechanisms for integrating specialized knowledge are rules and directives, sequencing, routines, and group problem solving and decision making (p. 196)."

The decision-making process works best when it is an "intentional" process that is both formal and informal, structured and unstructured, and reasoned and intuitive. It involves:

  • Describing, clarifying and understanding the situation, issue, and/or problem.
    Identifying and articulating the causes and factors influencing the situation or issues.
  • Compiling and critically analyzing the above, and collecting all of the data that is reasonably and realistically possible.
  • Understanding one's biases, fears, self-interest in the situation, etc.
    Discussing information, questions, insights, etc. with colleagues and experts who have similar and opposing views, as well as with mentors.
  • Outlining all possible solutions or decisions, and discerning the pros and cons of each.
  • Discerning the ramifications and consequences of each solution or decision.
  • Taking time to reflect and deliberate to eliminate non-workable possibilities.
  • Making a choice from the viable possibilities.
  • Assess and evaluate the outcomes.

How do you make professional decisions? What are the strengths and limitations of your process?

Chuck Piazza

Friday, October 26, 2007

Week 5: A Midpoint Reflection on Organizational Communication in a Knowing Organization

As the midpoint of the course draws near and you continue to craft the first draft of your own organizational communication vision, it is a good time to stop and draw some conclusions about organizational communication and the contemporary knowing organization. In this manner, I will further discuss my own vision of organizational communication in a dispersed, team-oriented organization.

Organizational communication is just that—organizations and communication. The key is how one understands organizations and how they operate, and what form of communication one needs to use and what level of communication one needs to achieve. It also entails how one envisions employees and the workplace at large.

So, keep in mind that today a large portion of workers are seen as knowledge workers, and the workplace is to be team-oriented and collaborative and to include interactive communities of practice. What type of organizational communication is needed in such and organization?

To begin, organizational communication is about organizations and how they self-organize, creating and maintaining an identity and operational processes so their members can coherently and consistently interact so they can achieve their purpose, thus providing their product and/or service. As Conrad and Poole state, it is about strategic discourse.

For today’s fast-paced, market-driven, knowing organizations, though, I hold that this definition needs to be expanded to dialogical and collaborative strategic discourse, i.e., empowering knowledge networks comprised of conversations and relationships that cut across time zones, geographies, and cultures. This is a challenge for organizations, particularly older organizations and large corporations who find it easier to function in a “top-down,” directive manner.

Building upon this, this course views organizations through the lens of communication in a digital Information Age, i.e., through a sociotechnical framework of collaborative information processing, knowledge generation and application, and innovative problem solving and decision making.

The Digitally Networked Organization

Thus, 21st century organizations, whether they be for-profit businesses, non profit organizations or government agencies, are dynamic sociotechnical systems driven by information and powered by knowledge. Organizations:

Are a system of networks, even a network of networks. They are partnerships and alliances with internal and external individuals and groups.

Organizations are a dynamic self-organizing web of conversations and relationships. They are formed and given life by interaction. No conversation and interaction, no organization or, at least, not a living one. The web of conversations and relationships include organizational partners, vendors, competitors, local communities, and customers/clients.

Effective organizations, while emergent and evolutionary in nature thus being creative and having a spontaneous element, are consciously, and thoughtfully designed.

  • Organizations now are a hybrid entity, a blend of physical and virtual aspects. Workers routinely and freely move in and out of physical and virtual domains.
  • Have both a human infrastructure and technological infrastructure. These two infrastructures are intertwined.
  • Organizations are information and knowledge ecologies where information must continuously be able to be accessed, as well as be continuously flowing on a “as needed” or “on demand” basis. These ecologies are comprised of various types of “communities” that support individual and teams, share resources, foster learning, and aid each other problem solve.
  • The workforce is people and information and communication technology woven into one system. Business technologies are not merely tools. By augmenting human capabilities, they create a more agile, versatile, mobile and interconnected employee and team….the knowledge worker who functions in an intelligent organization.
  • Virtual information spaces, the various organizational forums for sharing information using the Internet and organizational intranets, need to be transformed into information places, forums where people actual meet (feel present to each other) and interact with each other, not just review and respond to text.
  • Digital-based social networking is a vital element of how work tasks are completed, business conducted and customers served.

Knowledge Sharing Organizations and Information Systems

While communication has always been at the heart of organizations, it can easily be seen that in a global work environment and dispersed organizational business arena, it is even more important. Plus, there are more chances for misinterpretation. In an organization, leaders, staffs members, and frontline workers, individually and collectively as departments and teams, communicate for a variety of reasons. The same hold true for organizational partners, vendors and customers. They communicate to a) convey information, b) influence and persuade, c) make a public statement, d) address an injustice, e) share personal meaning, or f) construct a social or organizational worldview. It is key that all parties involved understand why each is communicating so communication is efficient and an effective dialogue.

As Burton, DeSantis and Obel (2006) point out in Organizational Design, designing organizations—firms, departments, teams, etc.—involves understanding and strategically setting out the specifications regarding “strategy, structure, processes, people, coordination and control, and incentives,” i.e., motivational processes and reward systems. (p. 17)

The organization’s configuration—structure or architecture—determines it complexity, and eventually it communication style. The configuration must match the organization’s goals, strategy, and environment. Designing an organization’s involves 1) envisioning the overall organization’s mission, 2) understanding the tasks needed to achieve the mission, 3) breaking up the overall task into smaller takes that can be carried out by sub groups, and 4) coordinating the smaller subunit tasks so they fit together to efficiently and effectively accomplish the overall organizational goals (p. 57).

This takes coordination and control, with leaders ranging from those who empower workers, giving them voice and freedom to be innovative and productive to micro managers who do not trust employees, and thus do not delegate, feeling a need to oversee and hold onto the authority of making the final decisions. (p. 57)

In light of the above, information processing structures and processes are conceived and developed. In designing this organizational component one answers: Who makes what decisions based upon what information? Who talks with whom about what, or what is the structure of communication? (p. 57)

Organizational information systems can be designed in 4 ways:

  • Event-driven: “Systems designed to process information associated with specific occasions or results as they occur.” (p. 168)
  • Data-driven: Systems designed to “process high volumes of information, and do so in a systematic and intelligent manner in order to increase the firm’s information capacity….Data-driven information systems increase the information processing in the firm by bring timely, detailed information to decision makers, who can then act quickly and precisely to meet organizational goals.” (p. 169)
  • People-Driven: Systems designed to capture, process and transfer data “that is embedded in the minds and actions of people.” Presuming that the “vital information of the organization is difficult to codify in a routine way” the priority of these systems is “to bring people together face-to-face so that they can share tacit knowledge, or to use computer- or telecommunication-based systems that readily support subtle, rich knowledge transfer. (pp. 169-70)
  • Relationship-driven: Systems designed to capture, process and transfer data “that is embedded in links, or relationships, between people and data…Relationship-driven systems integrate hard (codifiable) data with soft (interpretation) data to yield rich results for organizational decision making….Well-designed relationship systems include up-to-date transaction and database information as well as softer, interpretive information that arises as people use the quantifiable data. In this way the systems are not simply “updated” over time but instead continually grow in knowledge capacity as they are used. “ (p. 170).

    Workplace Engagement

    Fundamental to communication and knowledge sharing is social interaction and engagement, finding meaning in work, having a voice, and feeling valued by and making a contribution to the organization. In Managing Interactivity: Executing Business Strategy, Improving Communication, and Creating a Knowledge-Sharing Culture, Mary Boone (2001) highlights 3 key elements of the organizational communication process that must be imbedded in the organizations culture:
  • Connect: a) make people accessible to each other, b) Design the “physical” environment to accommodate the needed communication, c) Create rituals and share experiences to establish working relationships, d) Develop managers and employees interpersonal communication skills, Share power and delegate.
  • Inform: a) make information available, useful and enticing, b) Use stories to capture and share information, c) Be consistent in what you say and align it with what you do.
  • Engage: a) listen and converse creatively, b) Engage people across organizational boundaries.
  • Thus, when designing organizations and the knowing culture in which their departments and teams function, the above constructs are an important starting point—aligning organizational structure and communication with people and the task, and developing a knowledge generating and applying system that arising from an “open knowledge common or forum” culture that is rooted in mutual collaboration.

    Conducting business and collaboratively functioning as a knowledge worker and team member in a distributed workplace is very challenging. Often current organizational communication and collaborative processes, tools and platforms do not foster the needed level of human interconnectivity and interaction needed to enable the establishment of deep trusting workplace relationships and foster the needed credibility and risk to authentically problem solve.

    So, in light of this discussion, continue to develop your own vision of organizational communication.

    Focusing on practical application: How does the above overall visions mirror or challenge your current organizational communication practice? How does your organization connect, inform, and engage? How can such a perspective enhance or improve organizational communication and collaboration in your organization, department, and/or team?

    Chuck Piazza

    Week 4: Cultural Knowledge and Organizational Communication

    This week strategies of organizing rooted in organizational culture and networking are explored. As you would guess, these are fundamental to the 21st century knowing organization, for workplace knowledge exists and flows in the various ecologies that make up the organization and its internal and external interactions. As you have already seen:

    • Organizational communication both arises from and shapes organizational culture.

    • Communication philosophies, patterns, techniques, methods and tools are evolutionary; ie, they change over time and are affected by the organizational structure, leadership, management practices, workforce personality, and the workplace demands. Social trends, market demands, and customer relationship perspectives also influence the nature of organizational communication, and the methods utilized.

    • Contemporary organizations, whether for profit or nonprofit, have a socialtechnical culture. As the workplace becomes more and more dependent upon electronic information, communication and collaboration systems and tools, social networking on and off the job is changing. This shift is a radical departure from past ways of communication, and is a challenge. Sensitivity to and an understanding of workers communication styles and skills is very important. Experimentation is a key element is discovering and evolving effective workplace communication systems, processes, and technologies.

    With these ideas in mind, let's continue our explorations of organizational communication.

    In light of the idea that organizational communication is concerned with and facilitates "self-organizing" among a group which has a social identity, purpose, and mission, organizational communication can be said, in varying degrees, to involve:

    • Information transfer.
    • Transactional processes.
    • Strategic control.
    • Balancing individual creativity and organizational constraint. (Eisenberg & Goodall, 2001)

    Organizations can be: a) centralized, hierarchical, and specialized, b) decentralized, participatory, and team-oriented, or c) a combination of both. Aspects of self-organizing and communication include:

    • People and personalities in historical and contextual situations.
    • Cultures and sub-cultures.
    • Verbal and written discourse.
    • Written policies and procedures.
    • Information systems.
    • Shared understanding, interpretation and expressions.
    • Power and politics.
    • Decision-making processes.

    From an organizational culture perspective, organizational communication strives to unify organizational members around a vision and mission, as well as inform, direct, empower, and motivate them. It also provides a means to evaluate organizational functions and effectiveness so needed adjustments can be made.

    Usually, professionals and theorists place an emphasis on one of the above characteristics. In this manner each become a model for understanding organizational communication.

    I prefer to see each of these aspects as dynamic characteristics of organizational communication, each capturing an important aspect of how enterprises self-organize, share information, create and apply knowledge, make decisions, and achieve their tasks, and, thus, their goals.

    Each of these characteristics can be seen in the learning organization which is an interactive web of human-technical dialogical networks--an intelligent, collaborative organization that has the capacity to consciously shape and create its future by sharing and applying information, innovatively problem-solving, developing new ideas, strategies and products, and adapting to its environment and situations.

    For learning and innovation to take place, information must be readily accessible, and continuously flowing, and people must be networking to partner on strategizing, problem-solving and decision-making.

    Besides having a "bias" towards information systems, I also take an organizational culture perspective.

    As you consider the above ideas about organizational communication reflect upon the following concepts presented by W. Choo in the Knowing Organization about cultural knowledge (pp. 143-147).

    1. Organizations are knowledge generators and integrators that consciously coordinates, integrates, and combines its specialized skills and capabilities.

    2. Organizations are systems of persuasion, critical thinking, decision-making, and action.

    3. Cultural knowledge establishes a framework where meaningful discourse can take place. In an organization there is:

    • Dictionary Knowledge: Commonly held descriptions, definitions, etc.
    • Directory Knowledge: Commonly held practices and knowledge about the sequence of events, and their cause and effect relationships.
    • Recipe Knowledge: Prescriptions for repair and improvement strategies that recommend what action should be taken.
    • Axiomatic Knowledge: Reasons and explanations of the final causes or a priori premises that are perceived to account for why events happen.

    4. Cultural knowledge's role includes:

    • Helping to define a shared language for creating community and social identity.
    • Providing resources for persuasion, dialogue, analysis, creative thinking, and reflection that gives rise to practical wisdom.
    • Giving the operation a profile or intended image.
    • Creating legitimacy and good faith about actions and outcomes.
    • Obscuring uncertainty and reducing ambiguity.

    Organizational communication enables an enterprise to have an a particular identity, share a knowledge base, have effective and analytical discourse, make decisions, and act so it can reach its articulated goals. One could say, from an organizational communication perspective, that enterprises are systems of continuously information processing, collaboratively decision-making, and practical wisdom applying social networks.


    Eisenberg, E. M. & Goodall, Jr., H. L. (2001). Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint (3rd ed.). Bedford/St. Martins: Boston, MA.

    Week 3: Interdependence and Organizational Communication and Learning.

    We are moving deeper into our exploration of organizational communication from an information systems and knowledge management perspective. You have covered important material, and delved into numerous concepts.

    You are being challenged to bring together many related, but diverse ideas. So, as you proceed, recognize your accomplishments, and give yourself a "pat on the back." Be proud of the work you are doing, and engage with your online colleagues in the "Student Lounge."

    This course is an organization, a group that has self-organized around interactive learning. It is a hybrid--physically located and virtual--information organization that achieves its purpose through knowledge networking. Thus, you are encouraged to become more actively engaged in conversations with me and your fellow students. You are encouraged to critically discuss important topics that are essential for organizational success and how they pertain to how organizations develop knowledge generationing/applying conversations and empowered working relationships.

    Interdependence and Control In Self-Organizing.

    As you can see from your reading, there are various strategies on how to organize and create strategic discourse--hierarchical, relational, cultural and networking. Each has its specific purpose, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. Each has its own perspective on learning, and how to foster it. As an organizational leader or manager, you will have to decide which strategy is called for by your particular organization, department, or project team in light of its mission and personnel. You will have to decide which provides the best way to create a collective identity, share the operative vision, motivate employees, and enable the assigned tasks to be accomplished.

    Organizations have to be consciously (re)designed. Their structure (or architechture), managerial practices, information flow, and growth over time, has to be planned and intentionally, even strategically, faciltated. Organizational architechure dictates communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing, and thus an organization's ability learn and respond to changes.

    Further, two qualities of an organization are interdependence and control. An organization's units, departments, and project teams are dependent upon each other. Together they form the heart of the organization, and must effectively network together with information easily flowing across boundaries. The heart of the organization, though, must link with external individuals, groups and organizations. It must share with and receive information from suppliers, business partners, customers, etc. Internal and external linking must be able to form spontaneously--formally and informally-- as needed, and information must be able to flow freely and unhindered. Business and work relationships must be able to be emerge as needed. Managers, staffs and employees must have the authority to take the leadership to create the networks and share information to fulfill their job responsibilities, accomplish their assigned tasks, learn from each other, and collabortaively problem solve, as well as aid the orgainzation to grow and develop, and achieve its goals.

    Yet, there must be control, a structuring of the networking and conversations so that managers and employees stay focused on the organization' s mission, work is completed in a timely manner, and that information is shared and utilized appropriately. The organizations culture, structure and leadership (e.g., power systems) establish and maintain the communication styles and boundaries.

    So, organizational communication involves balancing individual freedom and control for the sake of the function of the collective, i.e., the organization. It involves being aware and interpreting the organization's context, continuously monitoring the situation, and building the appropraite structures, management systems and workplace processes that enable, even empower, and motivate employees, as well as garner their loyalty and unleash their creativity.

    What are effective ways to balance freedom and control, and thus enable empowerment and interdependence? What are examples of organizations that have good organizational communication? What makes their organizational communication effective?

    Organizational Communication as Fostering Organizational Learning.

    Keeping the above in mind as it relates to the knowing organization, let's further examine organizational learning, and the factors that comprise it and enable organizational development.

    As you know, for today's agile organization on-going learning is essential. It is pivotal for effective operations and competitive advantage.

    "...[L]earning is the key to long-term survival and growth...[and]...organizational effectiveness is...intimately linked to adaptability and flexibility....An organization cannot become a learning organization without first becoming a 'teaching' organization" (Gavin, 2000, p. 188)

    Like employees, organizations need to continuously be evolving, and adapting to economic factors, market demands, newer technologies, and improved ways of operating. Organizations are continuously shifting ways of perceiving and behaving, "morphing" themselves to into new entities with new ways of operating.

    Gavin (2000), in Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work, outlines some key points about organizational learning.

    • First, there is no one "best" approach to learning. A portfolio of skills and practices are needed in an effective organization supported by its culture and the training and development department.
    • Second, learning involves 3 core steps: "acquiring, interpreting, and applying information." Each has its strengths and limitations, and need "vastly different sensitivities, systems and skills" (p.47).
    • Third, organizational learning involves "collection and interpretation of information that exits outside the organization....the accumulation of knowledge through experience and the manipulation of variable and experimental conditions to draw from inferences." Learning is a "progression from less to more active modes, from techniques that accept the environment as given to those that engage or alter it to create insights...small-scale improvements...radical changes...breakthroughs and dramatic innovations" (p. 48).
    • Fourthly, a critical attribute of the learning is a workforce--managers and staffs, individuals and teams that routinely "gather intelligence," analyze it, and apply their insights--a) search for information, b) inquire, ask questions and explore, c) observe surroundings and events, d) experiment, e) reflect upon their experiences, f) review their conclusionsLastly, when learning, it is important to remember that issues and problems have "complexity, scope and unexpected. surprises" (p.122).

    Ongoing learning must be part of the organization's culture, managerial empowerment strategies, and an employee's skill set. It must be a component of way the workforce and its managers self-organize. Further, in the sociotechnical organization learning happens in both a physical--face-to-face--and virtual manner. Blended learning approaches mix these different learning methods "to optimize the effects of each" (Tai, 2008, p. 26).

    So, what organizational cultural perspectives and values, and managerial practices promote and reward on-going learning and professional development? Plus, what are your suggestions on how to blend face-to-face and computer or online based learning and training opportunities? Why do you make these recommendations?

    As mentioned earlier, you are being challenged to bring together many related, but divergent principles and perspectives. As you move forward, there are a few points to keep in mind:

    • Organizational communication is a complex subject and phenomenon, and has many angles. At this point, focus on the main themes related to the sociotechnical knowing organization, organizational communication, and team dynamics.

    • There are many aspects and levels to the concepts you are examining. Do not try to understand or remember them all, or every characteristic mentioned. Focus on a few concepts, principles, issues, etc. of interest.

    • Take time to reflect upon the material. Do not strive "just to get through the assigned reading." Allow yourself to stop to think upon and/or critically examine concepts that are new or that intrigue you. Since all the ideas are inter-related, by spending time on one, the others will eventually be covered, and come into greater focus and understanding.

    • Try to see the course's organizational communication and team concepts in your workplace or community. Identify and think about how they operate there. Use them as lens to understand and assess your workplace culture and processes. Make practical applications, noting how the concepts and principles discussed here impact how you work or understand your organization.

    • Finally, spend time reflecting upon the course material, and strive to articulate your own critical definitions of organizational communication and team as they appear in a dispersed work environment that is sociotechnical and information-driven in nature.

    With that said, the next few blogs sketch out some perspectives on components of organizational communication that are important.

    To continuing the exciting conversations...

    Chuck Piazza


    Gavin, D. (2000). Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work. Boston, MA; Harvard Business School Press.

    Tai, Luther (2008). Corporate E-Learning: An Inside View of IBM's Solutions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Week 2: Understanding Organizational Communication as Self-Organizing and Conversations

    This week we begin an analytical "conversation" about organizational communication as more than "sender, receiver, message and noise." While that is the foundational principle of communication, human communication, be it individual, civic or organizational, is far more than that, and much more complex.

    Organizational communication is strategic discourse. It is about human choice-making behaviors in formal enterprises be they for profit or nonprofit. It is about choices that lead to action. As Poole and Conrad (2005) point out in Strategic Organizational Communication:

    "Communication is...defined as a process through which people, acting together, create, sustain, and manage meanings through the use of verbal and nonverbal signs and symbols within a particular context....During every conversation people create and exchange a complex set of messages with one another and in doing so create meaning for each message and for the interaction....The systems of meanings that individuals create together influence their impressions of one another, their interpretations of their relationship, and the meanings that they attach to their communication. As their conversation continues, their goals may change as they discover that the other person is more (or less) sympathetic to thei position than expected. Similarly, people's assumptions about how civil they should be toward one another may change when they notice others are more civil than ever before, and so on....We communicate with people at work because we like them or because our tasks require us to do so, or sometimes both. Thus, our relationships at work have both an interpersonal and an organizational dimension....[W]e have to negotiate an appriate mix of these two dimensions....[T]he mirracle of organizational communication processes is that they allow large numbers of people from very different backgrounds, ways of thinking, needs, and goals to coordinate their actions and craete "organizations" that at least seem to be stable containers within which information flows from person to person." (pp. 4-5, 10)

    The understanding of communication has evolved over the last century, and can be exemplified by three key models.

    • The first is Mechanistic-Linear-One Way Action. The core elements of this model were espoused by Shannon and Weaver (1949) as sender, receiver, content, channel, encoding, decoding and noise. This viewpoint, while working well for computer communication machinery, is limited because it does not account for feedback.

    • DeFleur (1970), expanded upon the linear model by adding feedback, helping establish a Circular-Two Way Interaction Model. In this construct all involved are sender-receivers—participants who connect with each other in a manner so the message can be reviewed, better assuring its accuracy. This approach still does not recognize the complexity of the communication process. The context of the sender-receivers impact the verbal and nonverbal messages being sent is critical in understanding the communication process.

    • In Barnlund’s (1962) Simultaneous-Transaction Model, participants are perceived as continuously being both a sender and receiver, with encoding and decoding processes being influenced by internal and external factors. Noise consists of physical, psychological and semantic entities. In this perspective, communication has a “past, present, and future” with “participants playing roles” (Byers, 1997, p. 12)

    Organizations and their management are conversations, formal and informal networks of individuals and teams that interpret and reinterpret information and experiences, learn and unlearn in order to respond to organizational needs, guide projects, set directions, etc.

    “Organizational tasks require work units to process information “ (Poole, 1977, 494).

    Organizational communication is traditionally understood as a process involving information sharing and the enabling of the coordination of individuals, teams and activities in an organizational context. More completely, it involves systems that join people and technology in intimate relationships where one or more of the following occur: data and information is transferred (Shannon & Weavor, 1963), meaning is expressed (Isaacs, 1999), knowledge is created (Allee, 1997), interpersonal relationships are fostered (Cohen & Prusak, 2001), learning is facilitated (Argyris, 2001), and decision-making and action is enabled (Simon, 1997). It is “both the behaviors and symbols, generated whether intentionally or unintentionally, occurring between and among people who assign meaning to them, within an organizational setting” (Byers, 1997, 34).

    Organizational communication systems are always evolving. They emerge based upon the people involved, job tasks occurring, and the specific needs of the organization at a particular time. In this manner the current work demands augment, at time even creates, the organization’s communication system and makes the organization more responsive (Deetz, 1995).

    Organizational communication must create interest among employees, motivating them to review the material and utilize the information shared. The communication process must also be interactive, enticing, enchanting, and thought provoking, causing analytical reflection resulting in risk-taking and innovation.

    So, how do you understand (interpret) this notion of organizational communication as the process by which a company or institution self-organizes itself so it 1) understands "what or who" it is--forms an identity, 2) can develop and seek a mission, 3) operate or function effectively, and 4) develop and provide a product or service? What examples have you seen of organizational communication in action? What are the challenges to effective organizational communication?

    How are organizational communication and workplace "knowing" linked?

    As you grapple with the above, think about how most communicate daily, whether on the job or off. For many the preference is still to communication or engage with others in a "face-to-face" (F2F) manner. This is the primary manner for human interaction for millenia.

    For many, F2F is still considered the best way, the most effective manner. It is the most natural, allowing individuals and groups to personally interact and get to know each other. It allows for a broader range of emotions and for body langauge to be perceived and interpreted.

    But, digital technologies have now become an ubiquitous component of human communication and networking--socially and workwise. Communicating and relating in a "sociotechnical" manner is part of one's lifestyle and work environment. It is how enterprises "organize," network, problem solve, make decisions, etc. It is how leaders manage, employees work, and teams collaborate. So, how can organizational communication incorporate a high level of "social capital," a sense of "high touch," as some would say.

    What would be key characteristics of effective "high touch" organizational communication systems; i.e., systems and processes that enabled managers and staff member to create meaning, share information and craete knowledge, to develop working relationships, and to complete their tasks?

    So, let stop there for this week.

    I'll be interested in your insights.

    Chuck Piazza


    Allee, V. (1997). The knowledge evolution: Expanding organizational intelligence. Boston, MA: Butterworth Heinemann.

    Argyris, C. (2000). On organizational learning (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Business.

    Byers, P. Y. (1997). Organizational communication: Theory and behavior. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

    Conrad, C & Poole, M. S. (2005). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

    Deetz, S. (1995). Transforming communication, transforming business: Building responsive and responsible workplaces. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.

    Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together: A pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. New York, NY: Doubleday & Company.

    Shannon, C. & Weaver, W. (1949). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana, Ill: University of Illinois Press.

    Simon, H. A. (1997). Administrative behavior: A study of decision-making processes in administrative organizations (4th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    Week 1: Beginning the Conversation.

    Greetings to all, and best wishes for a productive and exciting quarter.

    To begin, this weekly Instructor Coaching Blog is a forum where I will present ideas, and discuss with you topics related to the course's focus on organizational communication and teams.

    The format is conversation, with the purpose being to build a working rapport in a virtual environment, just as is needed in the workplace.

    BUS 5475 will be an adventurous course, weaving together concepts and themes that are central to JFKU's MBA program--systems thinking, organizational behavior and culture, information and communication systems, managing human resources, and leadership. Yes, this an interdisciplinary course with a sociotechnical--people and technology--perspective of organizational communication and team dynamics.

    Organizations are a dynamic adaptive "system of systems" that form an ever evolving intelligent "network of networks." Communication give "face" or a discernable surface or image to an organization. Organizations are both "an entity" that is something and "a process that is always in the state of flux," "a dynamic conversation" that is occurring.

    Different images reveal different aspects of the nature and function of organizations. As Gareth Morgan (1997) points out, organizations can be "seen" or understood as machines, organisms, brains, cultures, and political systems. C. W. Choo (2006) understands the enterprise as a "knowing organization" (also the title of his book) that is intelligent.

    With organizations being broken up--distributed--all over the world, and with team members not being co-located, the business enterprise of the past is gone forever. Plus, face-to-face (F2F) is becoming a rare experience. Information and communication systems (ICS) and the various technologies they use are a fundamental component of any organization's infrastructure.

    Further, organizations are driven by information, and employees have become knowledge workers. No longer is it enough to "push information out to employees." Work is achieved by participating in dialogical conversations and interacting via electronic collaborative networks.

    So, with that in mind, what is organizational communication? How do organizations "know what they know," share their practical wisdom and understandings, and make decisions?

    What do you think?

    So, let's get the conversation rolling.

    Chuck Piazza