Organizational Barriers

Organizational Barriers to Effective Communication

An organization Opens in new window is a collection of people who work together to achieve a common objective.

Organizational barriers hinder effective communication between the members of the organization.

These barriers pertain to hierarchical factors—problems with structures or systems in place in an organization, such as inefficient information systems, lack of supervision or training, lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities, and other deficiencies in organizational design which make it unclear and confusing to know who to communicate with.

In an organization Opens in new window, if the chain of command is not established or there is a lack of proper management/supervision, it is quite possible that there will be a lack in clarity regarding roles and responsibilities.

This would make the staff uncertain about what is expected of them, thus, hindering communication—both intra- and inter-organizational. Some common types of organizational barriers are:

1.    Status and power consciousness

Status reflects the degree of power, authority, importance and responsibility placed on an individual by other people in the society.

Status consciousness exists in most organizations and is a formidable barrier to genuine communication.

Frontline managers or other subordinates in the organizational hierarchy may feel hesitant about communicating their problems, shortcomings, or any unpleasant information upward to their bosses.

This is because they may be either too conscious of their inferior status or afraid that their superiors might consider them incompetent and unworthy of doing their jobs. Similarly, the high-ups too are strongly conscious of their status.

Most status-conscious superiors think that consulting their juniors would be compromising their dignity.

In their aim to safeguard the dignity of their status, they may avoid accepting suggestions from the subordinates and presume that their higher status stands for better knowledge and competence.

These assumptions prove serious barriers to communication between the superiors and subordinates.

Status-consciousness proves to be a very serious barrier in face-to-face communication too.

Consequently, there is a total failure of communication and the subordinate feels frustrated, while the boss resumes work feeling that the subordinate has been inconsiderate and has wasted their time.

Such communication failures can be averted if managers and other people in authority rise above the consciousness of their status and encourage their employees to talk freely.

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2.    Message filtering

In organizations, some messages are filtered or stopped altogether on their way up or down in the organizational hierarchy.

Filtering may involve deleting or delaying negative information, or using subtler words so that events sound more favourable.

Managers and supervisors usually filter communication to create a good impression about themselves.

Filtering is most common in organizations that reward employees who communicate positive information among employees with strong career mobility aspirations.

3.    Organizational structure

Organizations are structured based on the hierarchies so that people of different experience levels, roles and responsibilities are at different levels of authority.

Large organizations have a number of layers of supervision and long communication lines.

This can cause distance between the workers and the top management resulting in communication barrier, especially as the organization is divided into departments. Thus, free interdepartmental communication becomes difficult because of the organization structure, rules and bureaucratic system.

4.    Absence of formal channels

Formal channels of communication usually follow an organization’s hierarchy of command. Information about policies and procedures originates with executives and flows down through managers to supervisors and finally to lower-level employees.

The absence of formal channels can be damaging to effective communication.

Organizations must put in place adequate upward, downward, and horizontal communication in the form of employee surveys, open-door policies, newsletters, memos, task forces, and liaison personnel. Without these formal channels, the organization cannot communicate as a whole.

5.    Communication flow

The communication flow may not fit the team’s or organization’s task. If a centralized communication structure is used for nonroutine tasks, not enough information will be circulated to solve problems.

The organization, department, or team is most efficient when the amount of communication flowing among employees fits the task.

6.    Wrong message type

Selecting a message type appropriate to the occasion is crucial to communication success.

For example, communicating complex job instructions orally may fail because the receiver must rely solely on his or her memory of what was said—or perhaps memory plus sketchy notes.

In this case, a written message will deliver the desired result because the worker can refer back to it as at when needed.

An in-person oral message is ideal when resolving a conflict between employees. If the message is a report on some sort of evaluation, the type of message will depend on the receiver. The report may be written or oral, long or short, technical or simple.

Furthermore, the higher the level in an organization to which a message is sent, the more concise the message should be. Top managers view time as a precious commodity; therefore, a brief summary may be more suitable than a long, detailed report.

Managers who have greater involvement with operating procedures may derive more benefits from long, technical messages.

7.    Goal conflicts

Sometimes clashes may occur between two individuals on the goals they wish to achieve. This happens because their interpersonal relationships are not cordial and hence, even if both wish to achieve the same goal, because of mutual misunderstandings, they appear to be in a goal conflict. This problem is frequent and appears between departments within the organization.

8.    Poor coordination

Poor coordination is a damaging condition to effective communication so that different parts of the organization are working in isolation and not knowing or understanding what other parts are doing.

Top executives are out of touch with lower levels, or departments and divisions are so poorly coordinated that people do not understand how the system works together as a whole.

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Tips to prevent organizational barrier

Managers can design the organization to encourage positive, effective communications.

  • First, face-to-face communication should be encouraged.
  • Second, top management should take sincere and concrete actions to establish a free and permissive climate favoring upward communication.
  • Third, a people-centered rather than a production-centered attitude by management along with an open door in fact as well as in word are other essential elements for effective communication.
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