What is Organizational Communication?

When addressing the topic of communication, most OB textbooks refer to the sender-receiver-model, write about downward, upward, and lateral as well as written, oral, and no-verbal communication, discuss various types of communication channels and how to best use them for conveying different messages, and pay attention to formal communication and the grapevine.

I have not yet been able to find a OB textbook that introduces students to the idea that it is through communication that we establish the whole notion of what we take to be the organization. Even though the concept of communication as being constitutive for organizations has become quite prominent within organization studies, at least among those, who work in the subfield of organizational communication, apparently it has not yet found its way into OB textbooks.

In case you would supplement your OB textbook, you could do so by watching the following video aptly differentiating between the more classical way of understanding communication in organizations and the perspective that sees organizations as communication.

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Life and death in Apple’s forbidden city


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Organisational Treasure Hunt

One of my student instructors (Thank you, Dicte!) came up with the idea to offer our students the possibility for an organisational treasure hunt. She suggested contacting local businesses and asking whether one representative would be available for an interview with a group of two or three students from our course. Initially I was unsure whether we would be able to establish contacts. But in the end we had a list of twelve businesses that were ready for an interview. I have to admit that we did not succeed to get access to well-known firms. Rather we ended up with a list of contacts to local shops, hairdressers, restaurants, a butcher etc. Not very impressive you might retort. However, given the short time that was available for contacting the firms and the small-town environment of our campus, we were fairly satisfied.

After matching the students to the businesses, i.e. asking students to form small groups and selecting one of the businesses from the list, we offered them a short interview guide. This guide consisted of the following list of questions, addressing the topics that we talked about so far in the course:

  1. What do you think is good leadership in your business?
  2. Do you believe that leaders in your business have to have a specific personality? If yes, could you please describe this personality?
  3. How would you describe a good worker in your business?
  4. What do you (or your company) do in order to find and select a new employee?
  5. How do you motivate your workers? Why do you motivate them the way you do?
  6. How do you deal with emotions in your business? Think about the relationship towards customers or the relationship between employees.

You will easily discover that in our treasure hunt-exercise, we addressed fairly traditional OB topics. This is due to the fact that currently I cannot teach OB from a critical perspective but have to subordinate to a more traditional curriculum, emphasising organisational effectiveness, hierarchy, and the teaching of instrumental knowledge. However, without much effort I could imagine asking students to conduct interviews with firm representatives addressing topics such as race, gender, sexuality, equality, identity, emotional labour, yet, also managerial control, alienation, and exploitation.

Furthermore, we decided for contacts to private businesses. However, depending on the local conditions of your campus, students could also visit other organisations such as voluntary organisations, cooperatives, NGOs, or social businesses in order to learn about their ways of organising work and how the people, who work in these organisations, perceive their world of work.

Working with the results of the interviews, we invited the students to create a poster. We asked them to use their creative potential and produce a poster that aptly summarises the information that they gathered in the interview. In one of the classes we let students present their poster and we offered a prize to the group, who provided the best one.

Asking students for their feedback, I learned that some of the businesses that we had chosen were considered to be too small, i.e. only one or two employees, in some cases only the owner and her or his partner. This made it difficult for the students to receive satisfying answers to questions about leadership or employee motivation. Therefore students suggested that next time we should attempt to find bigger businesses, even though most of them were aware of the fact that in a small town this would constitute a challenge.

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Male flight attendants’ identity work

I assume that not many of us struggle explaining to our students how male flight attendants have to work on their identity as a reaction to for example being employed in a sex-stereotyped occupation and the emotional labour that is required from them by the employer (and the passengers). However, we may struggle aptly illustrating how male flight attendants behave in the cabin. The following videos of the performance of safety instructions of Westjet Steward, Michael McAdam, could be of help. At least they are hilarious.





Posted in Emotional labour, gender, identity, Men and women working, Stereotype | Leave a comment

Do CEO’s Matter?

Well, it might be that the immediate response of some of you would be a straightforward “Yes”, or in some cases possibly a “No”. However, there seem to be management scholars, who try to provide research-driven answers to this question. In so doing, three of them investigated the effects of CEOs on an organisation’s performance by studying the effect of a) CEO deaths and b) the deaths of CEOs’ immediate family members, such as spouses, parents, and children. In the abstract of their paper they claim that their research demonstrates “that managers are a key determinant of firm performance” (p. 1). Aha!

Unsurprisingly the death of a CEO has significant negative impacts on a firm’s profitability, investment, and sales growth. Well, what else would we have expected? Likewise, we would have kind of expected “that the loss of a child obtains the largest estimated effects on profitability, followed by the death of a spouse” (p. 4), wouldn’t we. However, I found it truly surprising that “the death of a CEO’s mother-in-law generates a positive but insignificant effect on performance” (p. 5).

Without going deeper into the study or the paper, I wonder what these findings may tell us. Corporations apparently should not wait until their CEO becomes so old that this person inanimately falls of the executive chair, in case they want to avoid a decline in their profitability. It may also be wise beginning to recognize that – surprise, surprise – CEOs are human beings and therefore they have emotions. How could they actually dare? Finally, I thought about the mother-in-law finding. Well, perhaps firms should think about hiring a CEO, whose mother-in-law is somewhat elderly…

Here is the link to the full article:


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Heterotopian Studies

I found an interesting Blog that is devoted to Foucault’s notion of heterotopia. The Blog-owner describes the site in the following way:

“The site is devoted to Michel Foucault’s ideas on heterotopia. Foucault outlines the notion of heterotopia on three occasions between 1966-67. A talk given to a group of architects is the most well-known explanation of the term. Overall, Foucault attempts to describe certain relational principles and features of a range of cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘different’:  disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming. In a nutshell, heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside. Foucault provides examples: ships, cemeteries, brothels, prisons, gardens of antiquity, fairs, Turkish baths and many more.

Writers, artists, fim makers, performers, academics and many others have shown an interest in heterotopia. The web seems a particularly apt place to explore Foucault’s diverse notion of ‘different spaces’.  Rather than trying to draw together a definitive understanding of this curious spatial concept, the site will explore its possibilities, limitations and dangers.

The site offers thorough on-going bibliographies, background information and resources, which are updated through my blog, a selection of personal reflections and essays and some of my own specific studies of sites related to gardens and cemeteries.

Aiming to be the hub of a network of contributions, please add comments to individual pages and my blog and  send in your own text and suggested links. If you have written essays, dissertations or theses on different spaces, heterotopia or any linked concept and would like them published on the website, do send in a copy. It is a chance to get your work read by others with a similar interest and research focus.”

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Deconstructing the Organizational Behavior Text

“Although the pedagogy of organizational behavior (OB) has made some progress in addressing gender, racial, and cultural diversity in the past decade, it remains essentially noncritical-politically, economically, socially, and ecologically. It continues to uphold positivist conventions, reinforce modernistic illusions of objectivity, and resist reflexivity. This article advocates that OB pedagogy in method and content, in particular teaching that involves the textbook as a basis of instruction, becomes more reflexive and self-critical, more aware of its presuppositions, interests, and limitations. This article demonstrates a postmodernistic strategy to counter the overly totalizing and positivist currents in OB teaching and texts—the deconstruction of taken-for-granted assumptions and principles. To this end, one of the top-selling textbooks in OB is subjected to deconstruction. The case for deconstruction as a potentially powerful classroom tool, an active and inclusive learning strategy that encourages readers to engage in dialogue with OB teachers and the authors of OB texts, is made.”

Abstract from: Debra J. Summers, David M. Boje, Robert F. Dennehy, Grace Ann Rosile (1997) Deconstructing the Organizational Behavior Text. Journal of Management Education, Vol 21, Issue 3, pp. 343 – 360

I know that quite a few of you might think about this text as being a bit old and, hence, probably also outdated. However, I would argue: NO, IT ISN’T! Looking at the newer edition of the textbook that the authors deconstruct or on any other of the more traditional OB textbooks, I would say that these books continue to be “noncritical-politically, economically, socially, and ecologically”. Of course, OB textbooks nowadays write about gender, minorities (at least some of them do), environmental issues, or inequality. However, they subordinate these aspects under the premise to provide students with an overview of instrumental knowledge to be used to make capitalist for-profit organisations more efficient. Once the students become managers they should remember and apply this knowledge to promote the idea of capitalist production and managerial governance of corporations, thereby perhaps reinforcing students to uphold and strengthen the conditions that causes the social and environmental problems that we face nowadays. If this sounds too ‘leftist’ for you, let me put it differently. Traditional OB textbooks are not at the forefront of promoting alternative thinking among management students. Therefore, if these textbooks continue to be uncritical, how could we expect that our students would be able to address the problems that our planet currently faces?

Posted in capitalist economy, Change, Critical pedagogy, Critical thinking, Management, Teaching | Leave a comment