The Importance of Organizational Culture and Communication

Four Cultural Factors That Determine Capability to Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is essential for an organization to function well. When your people communicate with each other, many magical things happen such as:

Teams that communicate well collaborate better, deliver greater innovation, and, as long ago as 2004, it was found that:

  • ‘Better communications resulted in a higher return on investment (ROI)’; and

  • ‘Organizations that communicated effectively, especially internally, dramatically outpaced organizations that did not.’ 

(Connecting Organizational Communication to Financial Performance—2003/2004 Communication ROI Study. Watson Wyatt: Worldwide Research Report.)

The way your organization communicates internally (and externally) is an integral part of your organizational culture. If your leaders and managers foster the culture in which open and honest communication exists, then it is likely that employee retention will improve, your people will be motivated to pursue continuous improvement, and your bottom line will benefit.

Analyze how your organizational culture impacts communication

Research shows us that internal belief systems work with organizational culture to affect how people communicate in their workplace. 

Therefore, when examining your culture, it is important to consider people’s internal beliefs. Only by doing this can you understand why people communicate the way they do – and the effect that your culture is having on communication within your teams.

Manage your organization’s culture to promote open communication

A person’s internal beliefs leads them to decide when to speak up and when to remain silent, as discussed on the research titled ‘Speaking Up, Remaining Silent: The Dynamics of Voice and Silence in Organizations’ (Milliken, Morrison, and Hewlin). 

When considering how your culture entwines with an individual’s beliefs, and therefore their willingness to speak up, we see four cultural factors that shape communication behaviors the most:

  1. Psychological safety

Psychological safety is the belief that the team is a safe space for interpersonal risk-taking. When working in such an environment, a person is more willing to share their thoughts and ideas, openly discuss those shared by others, ask questions, seek feedback, and accept accountability for their mistakes.

Leaders can help to create this environment by ensuring that they encourage discussion, don’t point the finger of blame, and listen to what others say. It is important to ensure that people feel that their views and opinions are considered as valuable and that they are respected.

  1. Organizational hierarchy

Bureaucratic organizations in which there are distinct ‘lines of authority’ are less likely to experience freedom of communication. The flatter the management structure, the better the communication with it.

  1. Autonomy

When people have a say in how they do their work, they are more likely to communicate freely. Why? Because they have an impact on their contribution. Their ideas matter, and therefore they are engaged in ensuring their work is productive.

People naturally want to work smarter, not harder. By allowing them the freedom to design their job, you give permission for them to be innovative. While people must still be guided, autonomy empowers them to discuss their ideas, seek other opinions, and gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Create autonomous teams, and you take a big step toward a culture of open communication.

  1. The behaviors of leaders

Culture permeates from the top. How your leaders and managers behave will directly impact how your organization, teams, and individuals communicate. If your leaders don’t demonstrate a willingness to listen – really listen – to your people, you can never expect your people to speak openly and honestly.

It is important for your managers to show interest in the ideas and views of their employees and their team. They should be adept at giving and receiving feedback, helping to show that employees are not ignored and that they can criticize their manager without fear of reprimand.

Communication is a cultural issue

How well your organization, leaders, managers, and employees communicate is determined by your culture. It is this that allows you to develop strategies to communicate effectively for individual beliefs, building engagement from the ground up by communicating effectively from the top down.

To learn how our leadership coaching can help your organization build the culture that encourages positive communication, contact us today.


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