Organizational Communication

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last updated 9/22/2010

Sources of Organizational Culture

 Pacanowsky and Trujillo argue that there are seven sources of information about an organization’s culture.  Researchers can use these sources to develop an understanding of the culture and individuals can use information revealed by these sources to learn to "fit in."

  • Relevant constructs:  Try to discover and organization’s general and specific goals and what their shared meanings are.  These notions will become important to you as you gain experience in the organization and can rely on it for important information.

  • Facts: From the relevant constructs you should be able to gain an appreciation for what counts as information for the organization.

  • Practices:  Try to find out how this particular organization knows when it has accomplished its goals and how communication practices are viewed in relation to accomplishing the goal.

  • Vocabulary:  Try to learn the particular jargon or technical language used by the organization and its members.  The more you learn to use the organization’s language, the more likely they are to accept you into the culture. 

  • Metaphors:  Listen to how the organizational members talk about themselves and the organization.  What are the typical metaphors they use to describe their organizational experiences?  This can reveal valuable information about how they see themselves within the group or organization.  Are they “playing the game,” or “changing the system?”

  • Stories:  Listen to the stories individual organizational members tell about themselves and others.  Are there ritualized “screw-ups” when the boss is away, or perhaps an important event happened when the computer system broke down?  In stories we reveal significant information about the members and the organization.

  • Rites and Rituals:  Every culture has its own ceremonies and important dates and observances.  Examples are the semi-annual reviews of performance, weekly staff meetings, daily coffee breaks, etc.  Knowing what these rites and rituals are provides valuable insight into the inner workings of the groups, as well as a sense of what the operating roles are.

 Based on Pacanowsky, M.E. & O’Donnell-Trujillo, N. (1982).  Communication and organizational cultures.  Western Journal of Speech Communication, 46, 115-130.