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Impact of Hierarchical Structures on Organizational Communication


Impactof Hierarchical Structures on Organizational Communication

Impactof Hierarchical Structures on Organizational Communication

Oneof the key pillars of success in any organization is the existence ofproper channels and process of communication, as the manner in whichemployees communicate with their superiors and with one anotherdetermines the effectiveness with which organizational goals areachieved (Holden, 2016). Among other functions, communication hasbeen found to play a central role in facilitating decision-makingprocesses within organizations (Fitzpatrick &amp Bronstein, 2006).However, one of the barriers to effective organizationalcommunication is the presence of hierarchical structures, which giverise to a scenario that is referred to as filteringintercommunication (Holden, 2016). In simple terms, this is asituation where information is distorted as it passes from one personto another. More importantly, it has been observed that hierarchicalstructures hamper effective communication due to the widespreadperception that it is an abomination for subordinates to question ordoubt any information provided by their superiors. Clearly,communication between employees and their managers tends to be lesseffective when compared to that of employees who belong to a similarrank.

Thispaper intends to explore the degree of communication effectivenessthat exists in hierarchical organizations, the aim being to identifythe effect of hierarchical structures on communication effectiveness.

Communicationrefers to the process of transmitting information by the sender tothe receiver, who may include a group, a person and an organization.Communication in an organization involves the process of sending andreceiving organizational messages through formal and informalchannels (Watson,Heatley, Gallois &amp Kruske, 2016).

Effectivecommunication refers to successful delivery of information that isclear and can be easily understood by the receiver. In anorganization, effective communication involves that ability ofmanager to promote sharing of information among employees that wouldcontribute to success of the business. Effective communication goesbeyond simply transferring of information from one person to another.Effective communication is more engaging and involves establishingmeaning together through different processes including adaptation andnegotiation (Watson,Heatley, Gallois &amp Kruske, 2016).

Hierarchicalcommunication involves exchange of information that has majorinfluence on members of the organization. Mangers are able tocommunicate to employees’ five types of information including thepractices and procedures of the organization, job instructions,feedback on the performance, rationale of the job and instructions onthe goals of the organization. Similarly, employees communicate tomanagers and provide them with information about themselves andco-workers, the problems they are experiencing, the policies of theorganization and things that need to be done (Yan,Qian, Sharif &amp Tipper, 2013).

Theconcept of effective communication is an often quoted one inorganizational behavior. Nonetheless, it is essential to understandwhat effective communication means in order to obtain a clearerpicture of the impact of organizational structure on communicationeffectiveness. Scanlan, Heuer and Sinopoli (2010) outline five mainfeatures of effective communication, which include timeliness, lackof ambiguity, accuracy, completeness, and ability to be comprehendedby the person for whom the message is intended. This suggests thateffective communication is the capability to communicate in such away that prevents the listener from filtering the message beingcommunicated. This is to say that effective communication resultswhen the speaker captures the listener’s attention such that he orshe does not interpret the message in a biased way. In other words,effective communication refers to a process of disseminatinginformation such that the recipient obtains a meaning that is veryclose to, if not the same as, the one intended by the sender(Griffin, 2016).

Inan attempt to foster effective communication within organizations, anumber of theories have been put forth. One of these is thecontingency theory, which suggests that managers should identify andimplement the structure that facilitates effective communication,depending on the prevailing environmental circumstances. As appliedin the context of organizational communication, the contingency modelpostulates that horizontal communication is more effective ascompared to vertical communication, essentially because it givesindividuals equal power in making decisions and consulting with oneanother (Griffin, 2015). Subsequently, individuals are able tointerconnect and discuss information, which results in effectivecommunication.

Otherthan the contingency model, the systems theory also provides anunderstanding of why communication tends to be more effective betweenemployees of a similar rank as opposed to people who hold differentpositions of power within the organization. In brief, the theoryrevolves around the premise that everything operates throughassociations comprising a variety of elements. More importantly, thetheory asserts that systems are characterized by common elements suchas input, output, and the environment. An implication that can bededuced from this statement is that an organization’s ability toachieve its goals is determined by the kind of information that isgiven to members and the way these individuals interpret thisinformation. A crucial observation about the systems model is thatthere are many different kinds of systems in organizations, and theseinfluence the power and contribution of individuals (Harris &ampNelson, 2008). The bottom-line is that it might become necessary formanagers to change the organizational structure and decision-makingprocess in order to suit the demands and needs prevailing at a giventime.

Theargument that hierarchical structures impede effective communicationin organizations is supported by many authors. For example, aqualitative research done by Widhiastuti (2012) established thathierarchical organizational structures pose a barrier to effectivecommunication because they make it hard for employees to give theiropinions concerning a given issue. In the authors’ words, suchstructures reduce the speed with which employees’ responses can behandled. Apart from this, the author strongly supports the idea thathierarchical structures cause distortions to messages being passed inthe organization. Citing law enforcement firms, Holden (2016) concurswith the argument that effective communication between managers andemployees is, in most cases, an elusive concept because of theexistence of cumbersome chains of command that at times make feedbackimpossible. Holden (2016) also believes that bureaucratic structureselongate the social space between ranks, which in turn hampersinterpersonal communication.

Regardingthe thesis that hierarchical structures obstruct effectivecommunication, Fitzpatrick and Bronstein (2006) state that suchstructures are characterized by many levels through which informationmust pass before reaching the target recipient. For this reason,there is a tendency for messages becoming blurred in terms ofclarity. Eventually, the message may become totally distorted by thetime it gets to its intended recipient.

Nevertheless,not all authors are of the view that horizontal communication is moreeffective than vertical communication. Alonso, Dessein and Matouschek(2008) report a sentiment shared by academics together withpractitioners, which portrays hierarchical structures as beingnecessary for coordinated communication in the organization. Therationale behind this school of thought is that modern businessorganizations are defined by managerial hierarchies, without whichfirms cannot achieve the goal of improving organizationalproductivity.

Anotherissue raised in opposition to the view that communication tends to bemore effective when it takes place amongst employees is the assertionthat information is the outcome of a sound decision-making process.Sympathizers of hierarchical structures argue that decision-making ismost effective when it is undertaken by a few individuals who arehighly knowledge (Alonso et al., 2008). When viewed from thisdimension, one might be led to think that hierarchical structuresenhance communication effectiveness in the sense that they resultinto sound decisions and information, which are likely to be acceptedby all members of the organization. In view of the abovecontroversies, the present study will help shed light on the issue ofhierarchical structures and their influence on communication.Precisely, the comparison between communication amongst employees andcommunication between employees and managers is anticipated to clearthe dilemma regarding the topic.

Theresearch will employ a qualitative design, with participants beingdrawn from 8 different organizations. The qualitative design has beenchosen for this particular study owing to the fact that the aim ofthe study is to understand the meaning or reasons behind theobservation that employees of a similar rank tend to communicate moreeffectively as compared to those from different ranks. In otherwords, the researcher is intent on finding out the meanings inherentin these differences, hence the appropriateness of a qualitativeresearch design (Rasinger, 2013). For data collection purposes,structured interviews will be administered, the purpose being toobtain open-ended responses from participants. A total of 250participants are targeted to take part in the study, and these willbe drawn from various ranks within the respective organizations thatthey represent. The random sampling technique will be used in theselection of participants, after which informed consent will beobtained from the participants. It is planned that each interviewsession will take a maximum of 45 minutes, with the responsesaudiotaped and transcribed to facilitate analysis. Some of thequestions that will be asked during the interviews includeparticipants` preferences with regard to the source of information,as well as their perceptions regarding vertical communication.

Despitethe seeming simplicity of the proposed study, there are a number ofchallenges that are anticipated to occur. For example, it might bedifficult for some participants to reveal their true perceptionsregarding vertical communication, precisely out of fear that theiridentity could be revealed. Secondly, the research will rely onself-reports, which are not necessarily accurate and reliable at alltimes (Regoli &amp Hewitt, 2009).

Inconclusion, controversies exist as to the impact of hierarchicalstructures on organizational communication. Even so, findings frompast research indicate that the effect is negative. Precisely, acommon theme held by most authors is that hierarchical structuresimpede effective communication due to distortion that occurs asmessages are passed from one person to another. Effectivecommunication is very significant in organizations. It fostersdevelopment of good relationships among members of the organizationand improving functioning and productivity of the organization. It isevident that communication between employees at the same level in theorganization is more effective compared to communication betweenmanagers and employees. This is because employees are more likely toengage in regular communications with each other as opposed tocommunication between managers and employees. Regular communicationpractices encourageemployees to participate in discussions, promotes development of aculture of sharing of information, knowledge and ideas, improvesperformance of the organization, fostersconsistency and facilitates understanding of the goals and strategyof organization.


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