Functions of Organizational Communication

Learning Outcomes

  • Define the functions of organizational communication
people using their smart phones

Even when we’re not speaking, we’re often using technology to communicate with other individuals.

Research tells us that poor communication is the most frequently cited source of interpersonal conflict.[1] It’s not surprising, really. We spend about 70 percent of our waking hours engaged in some sort of communication. Whether it’s writing, reading, speaking, or listening, we’re participating in the transference and understanding of meaning between individuals. Those individuals who are good at communicating are setting themselves up for success. Those organizations that facilitate good communication—both inside their walls and with their customers and community—set themselves up for success as well.

In an organization, communication serves four purposes:

  • Control
  • Motivation
  • Information
  • Emotional Expression


Organizations have rules and processes that employees must follow, communicated to workers to keep order and equity operating within the system. For instance, if an individual has a grievance about her job task, the organization might dictate that the grievance first has to be addressed with a supervisor. If it goes unresolved, the next step in the process might be to file a complaint that is reviewed by a committee. This is an example of an organization leveraging their communication processes to keep order and ensure grievances are heard fairly.

There’s an informal version of control within an organization, too. A department member might be too eager to please the boss, staying late and producing more than the others on his team. The other team members might pick on that eager individual, make fun of him, and very informally control that person’s behavior.


Goals, feedback and reinforcement are among those items communicated to employees to improve performance and stimulate motivation. Organizations are likely to exhibit a bit of the “control” aspect in communicating goals to individual contributors, transferring information via a chain like the management by objective process we discussed in an earlier module. Feedback and reinforcement can also be a formal controlled process (via a mid- or end-of-year performance review, for example) but it can also occur in informal ways. When a manager passes an individual, she might stop and say, “Hey, I heard from Fred today about how well you did presenting to his group. Great job! We’ll try to find other opportunities for you to get in front of a crowd.” That would be an informal version of feedback and reinforcement that acts as a motivator.


Organizations need to keep their employees informed of their goals, industry information, preferred processes, new developments and technology, etc., in order that they can do their jobs correctly and efficiently. This information might come to employees in formal ways, via meetings with managers, news and messaging via a centralized system (like an intranet site), or it could be informal, as when a team member on the assembly line suggests a quicker way to approach a task and gets his coworkers to adopt the method.

Emotional Expression

Communication is the means by which employees express themselves, air their grievances, and interact socially. For a lot of employees, their employment is a primary source of social interaction. The communication that goes on between them is an important part of an organization and often sets the culture of the organization.

There is not one function of organizational communication that’s more important than another—an organization needs to have all four of the functions operating well.

Practice Question

An organization can’t actually communicate, though, can it? Technically and scientifically, no. It’s the organization’s employees that do the communicating and follow the processes on behalf of the organization. So, individual expertise is equally important if an organization is going to have a successful communication function.

Communication is happening between individuals when all parties are engaged in uncovering and understanding the meaning behind the words. It’s not something that one person does alone. When business professionals makes their contribution to the uncovering and understanding process, they should strive to be:

  • Clear. Their messages should be easily understood
  • Concise. Their messages should feature only necessary information
  • Objective. Their messages should be impartial
  • Consistent. Their messages, when communicated more than once, should always be the same
  • Complete. Their messages should feature all the necessary information
  • Relevant. Their messages should have meaning to its receiver
  • Understanding of Audience Knowledge. Their messages should consider what the receiver already knows about the situation, and not assume too much or too little

These are the seven pillars, or principals, of business communication. If an individual opens his mouth, puts pen to paper, or picks up a camera to make a video, he should be striving to create a message that meets this criteria.

Why? Well, the point of communication is not to talk. It’s to be understood. When your team understands you, they deliver results. When your customers understand you, they buy. When your manager understands you, she advocates for you and supports you in your career. When organizations communicate well and employees understand their roles and how they fit into the organization’s mission, they succeed.


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  1. Thomas, Kenneth W. and Warren H. Schmidt. "A Survey of Managerial Interests with Respect to Conflict," Academy of Management Journal, vol 19, no. 2