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on organizational communitation

One of the reasons that I'm an anarchist is that I'm uncomfortable with the way communication—and, by extension, control—works in large organizations. And by large, I mean any bigger than, say, fifteen people. Think of a committee meeting. It's set up to let people address their grievances and to come up with a plan for fixing them. All the participants work together, and while they may have their disagreements they can get along and with the best will in the world want to solve them in a way that will please everyone. And yet.

How does this work out? Each person thinks of what they want to say, and then needs to translate that into appropriate language to share with the group. Whoever is taking notes processes what he hears and translates it again, into language that can be written down and fits the tone of the organization's written communications. Next it's read by decision-makers, who bring their own understanding to the text and refashion it into a proposal for the whole organization to consider. Reading it, do the originators of the ideas recognize what they initially wanted to say? Yes, in that they can translate the organizational language as well as everyone else involved with the process; but at the same time there's an unsettling sense that "that's not quite what I meant." Only there's no way to fix it, to get at the real meaning: every thought has to go through the same process and be filtered in the same way.

It's not that I think there's a bad guy in this process. No one is ever trying to subvert individuals' meaning or desires, it just happens. And it's probably inevitable, because the alternative is working out every single difference of opinion on a one-to-one basis, which would both take forever and create additional problems when separate resolutions led in different operational directions.

This happens everywhere: I've experienced it in the workplace, local government, churches, and volunteer groups. As I say, I can't imagine a workable solution short of disbanding all those organizations (hey, what a definition of workable!), but I think being aware of the problem is helpful in itself. There must be all sorts of literature on the subject already, too; maybe someone can point me towards some good examples? And maybe we can try as much as we can to address problems we have with other individuals as soon as they come up rather than letting them become institutional issues. Doing that might involve breaking down some hierarchical boundaries to organizational communication, so hooray, it's a double win! Who wants to go first?

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