|Organizational Structure Impacts Communication Style
by Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
There is an ongoing debate as to what type of organizational structure
promotes open and healthy communication. Some say a clear hierarchy
with a direct chain of command limits confusion by knowing exactly
who is in charge. Others say a flat organizational structure with
few lines of authority with a CEO having direct communication with
virtually all employees promotes a free flow of ideas and information.
Fact is, there is no one organizational structure that works best
in every situation. Organization size matters. The task matters.
Lots of variables matter. However, if communicating the right information
to the right people at the right time is your goal, here are some
points to consider:
--The strict hierarchy with a tight chain of command probably works
best in a military-like situation, particularly in wartime. In such
an intense environment, it is essential that you know exactly who
has the final authority to make a decision. Communicating and debating
options when under enemy fire (or in a police situation) has limited
value. It can also create organizational paralysis. With a strict
hierarchy, even if you disagree with the decision of the person
you are reporting to, you have no other option unless you quit.
--This same structure can be problematic in terms of open communication
and information sharing in an organization that thrives on creativity,
imagination and risk-taking. Consider advertising, where a campaign
must be developed to communicate a compelling message to a target
audience in a crowded environment. In this instance, the flatter
organization model with very few lines of authority makes more sense.
Everyone in the organization is offering his or her ideas without
fear of reprisal. If a leader consistently “pulls rank,”
it will stifle communication and impede risk taking.
--Flat organizations promote more open communication, but can also
create chaos. Some CEOs are proud of saying they have an “open
door” policy with ALL of their employees. That may work in
a small to mid-size organization, but the bigger an organization
gets, the more the top person needs some form of “gate keeper”
to filter information and manage communication. If not, the risk
of information overload is great. Further, the CEO has little ability
to strategically determine what is most important to focus his or
her limited time or attention on. This will result in lost productivity
and missed opportunities.
--Regardless of the organizational structure, who the gatekeeper
is matters a great deal. Gatekeepers can become obsessed with their
ability to “control” information and communication.
In the extreme, these gatekeepers can demoralize team members who
feel they have little or no opportunity to communicate with the
person at the top. Gatekeepers must know and buy into the leader’s
vision for the organization and understand that the “assistant
to” is a facilitator, NOT the boss.
--Organizational charts can be valuable, but they can also be restricting
and demoralizing. At best, these charts should represent a loose,
but always dynamic, visualization of who reports to whom. But when
people start to feel confined by the box they are put in and the
layers of boxes and lines above them, organizational charts are
a negative force. These charts should help avoid chaos, (except
for the confusing “dotted line” relationship) but great
leaders understand that charts aren’t set in stone. Many temporary
teams and project leaders (that don’t show up on the org chart)
are critically important to promoting effective communication, information
sharing and timely decision making.
Does your organization’s structure promote open and healthy
communication? Write to me.
Dr. Steve Adubato coaches and speaks on the subjects of communication and leadership and is the author of the book "Speak from the Heart." Write to him at The Star-Ledger, 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, NJ 07102, or click here to contact him through this web site.