Popular Theories of Organizational Communication

Introduction to Organizational Communication

Organizational communication as a field has grown immensely in scope and depth over the last few decades. Concomitant with the rise of the corporation and the managerial way of doing business, it has become the norm for management theorists to define how, what and why an organization should be the way it is. Hence, there have been several practitioners of management who have put forward their views and posited theories on the theory of management.

Prominent among these have been Max Weber, Philip Tompkins and George Cheney who along with Stanley Deetz have pioneered the field of organizational communication studies. This article compares and contrasts the contributions of these experts to the art and science of organizational communication.

Before launching into a detailed discussion, it would be pertinent to note that organizational communication is indeed relevant and important for corporations all over the world as communication defines the raison d’être of organizations and determines the success or otherwise of companies.

Weber’s Classic Organizational Theory of Fixed Structures

The widely respected management theorist, Max Weber can be considered the pioneer of organizational studies. His theory of bureaucratic organizations is the first attempt to define organizational structure and give meaning to the communication processes that happen within organizations.

Weberian theory holds that organizations have clearly defined roles and responsibilities and hence communication is hierarchical, structured, and clear. There is no scope for confusion in the messages being sent from the top (the theory is inherently a top down one) and hence organizations have rigid machine like structures where each individual contributes by way of defined and unambiguous roles and responsibilities.

Of course, Weberian analysis gives a place of prominence to merit and the way organizations work is by allocating work according to capabilities and seniority determined by fixed notions of these concepts.

Tompkins and Cheney’s Organizational Control Theory

Tompkins and Cheney’s organizational control theory is an extension of Weberian theory applied to organizations that are moving past the bureaucratic mode but are yet to be totally amorphous. This theory holds that there are four kinds of control that determine how organizations exercise power within and they are simple, technical, bureaucratic, and concertive.

In a way, these four types of control are defined according to the progression of the organization from very simple organizational models to pure bureaucracies to overly technical and finally an organization where everyone knows what is expected of him or her and has the purpose of the organization’s mission and vision clearly etched within them.

The point here is that Tompkins and Cheney posit a model where control and communication is more than what Weber had envisaged and less than what post modern theorists say about organizational control and communication.

Deetz’s Managerialism Theory

The evolution of organizational structure and models over the years has spawned theories that reflect the changing organizational norms and Stanley Deetz’s Managerialism Theory is one such attempt to define how organizational communication and organizational control happens in the companies where classical notions are replaced with an acknowledgement of the political and economic interests as well as the need to represent and give voice to these diverse interests.

The highlight of this theory is that Deetz goes beyond fixed notions of organizations and instead, posits a view of organizations that take into account the democratic aspirations of the people and the power centers in the organization. This combination of recognizing the fact that meaning lies in people and not their words and to find out the interests behind these meanings is indeed a progression from the faceless and nameless bureaucratic model of Weber and the slightly improved control theory of Tompkins and Cheney.

The point here is that Deetz’s theory arose out of the need to recognize the preeminence of the managerial class as a force to reckon with in organizations in the latter part of the 20th century and hence represents the natural evolution of organizational theory of control and communication.


The point to note about these theories is that they are representations of reality as seen by the proponents and also reflect the idealistic aspirations of these theorists. There is nothing to say that such structures alone exist or that they are not valid. Instead, a nuanced view of organizational theory that has emerged in recent years with the systems view of organizations is something that is contemporary and relevant to the agile and nimble organizations of the 21st century.

Indeed, these theorists discussed here were pioneers during their time and likewise the emerging crop of management experts now are taking the views of these theorists to the next level. In conclusion, all management theorists acknowledge the natural progression of organizational models and hence their contributions to the field of organizational control and communication are akin to each wave of theorists standing on the shoulders of giants who were there previously.


Anderson, C. (2007). The Long Tail. New York: Random House.

Robbins, S.F., Judge, T.A. (2007). Organizational Behavior. 12th Ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc.

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