Communicative Coworkership

Part IV: What has been told?

If we are to develop a thorough understanding of how communication generates organization we must know more about the unexplored communication of coworkers – not only in relation to leadership, but also in relation to other organizational processes.

(Heide & Simonsson, 2011, p. 202)

Within organizational research, communication is no longer seen as just another of several factors in service of organizing. A perspective that it is through communication which organizations are composed, designed and maintained has evolved, and has been termed Communicative Constitution of Organization (CCO) (Coreen et al, 2011; Putnam & Nicotera, 2009; McPhee & Zaug, 2000). Associated scholars encourage a constructive dialogue between communication and organizational literature to create a more integrated understanding of the role of communication, in order to create meaning, form, and even the possibility of organizational life (Coreen et al, 2011). It is from this approach that we can understand a research project such as Communicative Organizations, which creates an opportunity to change the epistemological and ontological positions on organizing (Nothhaft & von Platen, 2015).

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The notion of a communicative leadership exists both in academia and in practice (Simonsson, 2002; Axäll, 2004). The concept is based on the idea that modern organizations tend to be less hierarchical, with a view of the leader as a person who cannot make sense on their own or impose their interpretation on employees. In its place, this is seen as a social mutual process, dependent on dialogue between managers (understood as the official position) and coworkers (Simonsson, 2002).

On the other hand, leadership researchers recognize that leadership is about influence, and therefore there is always an unequal balance of power between a leader and a coworker, as for example manifested in that the manager’s superior position offers interpretive prerogative (Axäll, 2004). Although organizations are dependent on coworkers who are motivated, productive and healthy, research from a coworker perspective is underrepresented in organizational research and in the field of strategic communication (Heide & Simonsson, 2011).

Tengblad (2007) however, argues the viewpoint of coworkership as a field of knowledge itself, more than as an appendage to the leadership – and organizational development literature. The idea of coworkership can be linked to the organization being post-bureaucratic where the manager is stressed as a facilitator for independent employees, which places new demands on both the coworker and the employer; coworkers expect more than a salary out of the employment organization such as development of their professional skills and expertise, while the coworker on the other hand is expected from organizational management to be participative and socially competent (Tengblad, 2007).

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Ciulla (2004) on the other hand, argues how this form of demands on employees are not realistic, since they are not given the conditions required in order to comply with the demands. The participation and engagement of the coworker thus becomes a notion that has poor value, in that it falls in priority when the traditional instrumental values, such as time and money, in effect are the most valued in the organization (Simonsson, 2002). The concept of participation entails ironies, contradictions and paradoxes when coworkers on the one hand are expected to show commitment and involvement, but on the other hand rarely have a decision-making mandate (Ciulla, 2004; Stohl & Cheney, 2001). These strains clarify how the power aspect is important to highlight in order to understand tensions that exist within the organizational life of the coworker, as well as their consequences.

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Organization and leadership

Is your office open? Let’s see what it really is saying.

BildWhat would happen if employees in an organization did not somehow see each other, didn’t talk to each other, did not cooperate with each other? The thought doesn’t seem very realistic today, there is simply no such organization! An organization without communication does not exist since the communication permeates all activities (see, among others, Putnam, Phillips & Chapman, 1996; McPhee & Zaug, 2000; Taylor, 1993; Weick, 2004). Hatch and Schultz (2009, p. 121) argues ”Top managers need to listen and respond to both internal and external stakeholders if they want to formulate a strategy that employees can and will deliver”. A question for academia and practitioners thus becomes how to promote a valuable communication within the organization.

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One factor that has implications for communication in an organization is how you organize. The work environment is important for an organization since the business needs to attract and retain qualified personnel in a competitive world. The organization is dependent on employees who are motivated, productive and healthy. Despite the environmental effect on the staff, there are few scientific studies of how office types affect employees (Westerlund, nd). The coming posts will thus illuminate a theme that requires greater understanding, both from an organizational communicative perspective to foster communication that creates value and is meaningful for employees and for the organization, but also from a broader societal perspective, to provide more insight in areas such as architecture design, work environment and health psychology. The texts will discuss the open office landscape that reflects a trend in organizational environments which more and more organizations embrace (ibid). So, how can we understand the trend of open offices in organizations, and what are the implications on the communication?

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