Miller(2011)defines organizational communication as “the process through which individuals stimulate meaning in the minds of others by means of verbal and non-verbal messages in the context of a formal organization”. The importance of studying organizational communication is to identify and resolve problems in the communication channels. Seamless communication and interpretation of signals in an organization would result in higher efficiency and productivity. One of the most important factors in determining the effectiveness of communication flows is the organizational design. Most organizations are divided into either; tall or flat organizations on the basis of hierarchy.
A tall organization has several tiers in its structural hierarchy and a narrow span of control. This means that the organization has multiple levels of management control, thus creating a bureaucratic and mechanistic communication hierarchy. The tall organization is arranged like a pyramid with numerous middle level managers. Communication flow, either upward or downward, must follow the chain of command. The paths of communication in this organization structure are clearly delineated (Miller, 2011).
Tall organizations have a strict chain of command that establishes clear lines of communication between employees and managers. This allows for clear decision making by the top executives, who are perceived to wield more power and authority. This structure is useful in non-routine engagements where close supervision of subordinates is required.The tall organization structure encourages division of labor and specialization which may lead to higher efficiency in operations (Schein, 2010).
Effective communication in tall organization is hindered by the problem of distortion. Thanks to the numerous levels of control in tall organizations, information can be lost or distorted when moving from the sender to receiver. Communication through a tall structure with several tiers is time consuming. This may frustrate subordinate members of staff. In addition, the bureaucratic communication process makes it difficult for the organization to adapt quickly to changes in the market or industry.
Flat organizations are decentralized and have few levels of management. The organization has a wide span of control and subordinate workers can easily interact with the executives (Schein, 2010). The flat organization encourages autonomy of workers and places more decision making power in the few middle level managers. The organization is less bureaucratic and can respond quickly to changing market environment.
I currently work as a teacher in a private school which has a very flat organizational structure. The organizational design only recognizes three direct stakeholders in the school; teachers, parents and students. The principal is the head of the organization, followed by a deputy principal, department heads and other teachers in no particular order. Communication from the principal to teachers (downward communication) is general and impersonal. Organizational hierarchy is rarely considered in the communication process.
The flat structure encourages autonomy and proffers more responsibility and decision making authority to individual workers. It also allows horizontal communication and exchange of knowledge, ideas and thoughts with peers.
The decentralized organization structure may create confusion in division of responsibilities and places a lot of pressure on the few middle level managers who control operational level employees.
The type of organizational structure plays a major role in determining the communication approach and its efficiency. Both tall and flat organizations have their distinct merits in the flow of communication. Numerous factors such as management style, organization culture, market competition and regulation are determinants of the organization structure.
Handel, M. J. (2013). Sociology of Organizations: Classic, Contemporary and Critical Readings.
Miller, K. (2011). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes. Boston: Cengage Learning
Schein, H.E. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership. New York City: John Wiley & Sons