Understanding Organisational Communication

The organisation’s role in organisational communication

In the ideal situation:

  • The organisation gives priority to developing a positive work environment where open respectful communication is the norm between hierarchical levels and business units. All staff members are encouraged to communicate freely with others.
  • The organisation develops and assesses the effectiveness of communication strategies that support the organisation’s vision.
  • The organisation has strong formal and informal communication networks. It develops formal networks to ensure organisational goals are reached. It encourages informal networks to share ideas, information and feedback.

The manager’s role in organisational communication

In the ideal situation:

  • Managers communicate freely across all business units and hierarchical levels of the organisation.
  • Managers promote and practice open, respectful communication.
  • Managers seek input and confidential feedback from their staff.

The individual’s role in organisational communication

In the ideal situation:

  • Individuals communicate respectfully with one another. They communicate freely with all staff including senior managers.
  • Individuals participate enthusiastically in formal and informal communication networks to share ideas and information.

The litmus test for organisational communication

Some important questions to ask about your organisation:

  • Is communication with others in the organisation generally open, friendly and positive?
  • Is corporate information such as changes to policy, organisational structure or processes communicated effectively to staff?
  • Does the organisation involve staff in developing and evaluating the communication strategy?
  • Does the organisation encourage formal and informal communication amongst staff?
  • Is open and informal communication evident across all levels of the organisation?
  • Is individual communication broader than with others as needed to perform daily tasks?
  • Are staff members able to freely seek information and feedback from people throughout the organisation without first going through formal reporting lines?


Measures that may be useful for confirming the quick check tool results or monitoring cultural change could include:

  • Manager quality index
  • Employee engagement index

Source: A Dictionary of People Metrics

Case study: Caring about Communication

Rural Community Care Victoria had a very high incidence of workplace conflict. Staff worked almost alone in residential units and felt isolated from one another. The same problems continuously arose but were never properly addressed. They were either ignored until they became very serious or were escalated too quickly to a formal complaint.

Meredith’s response in the past was to tell managers what they must do to change staff behaviour. But this time, she took a different approach. She recognised the problem was one of communication and that everyone had an active role to play, particularly managers. She engaged a consultant to tailor a program called ‘courageous conversations’ for all her managers.

The initial response was one of open hostility. Nicole’s response was typical: “I’ll be honest. I thought the program would be too ‘touchy feely’. I’m a social worker, I wouldn’t benefit from this type of training and anyway surely it is others who are at fault, not me. I’m not the trouble maker.”

The two-day residential program used a diverse range of techniques from role-play to individual counselling sessions to give managers the skills and confidence to talk to their staff about problems in a constructive way. It also established a support network amongst managers and so had a positive effect both on relationships and workplace culture.

The next round of reports from the Employee Assistance Program showed a marked reduction in workplace conflict. Open communication had brought about a very positive cultural change. People were happier and felt a greater connection with their colleagues. They looked for opportunities to interact both professionally and socially.

Further Resources for Organisational Communication

  • Developing Conflict Resilient Workplaces
  • Ethics Framework: section on building commitment
  • Ethics Framework Planner: how to build commitment
  • Fair and Reasonable Treatment Standard and Guidelines Feedback Matters: Effective Communication is Essential Talking Performance
  • Tips for Sustaining an Ethical Workplace: a component of the Ethics Resource Kit