Approach & Theory of Organizational Communication


Chapter 2: Classical Approaches and Organizational Structure


The Industrial Revolution (late 19th and early 20th century) sparked major changes in society

Shift from an agrarian and artisan environment  manufacturing processes

Changes in both the management and communication of workers became necessary

Classical theorists impacted the way industry understood and practiced organization and communicating

Case Study: IPhones and Suicide Nets?

In 2010, nine factory workers committed suicide at the Foxxconn plant in Shenzhen China

A few years later, 150 workers threatened to commit suicide

Workers cited overly strict management, long work shifts, dangerous work and living conditions, boring and repetitive job tasks, and low pay as contributing factors

Foxxconn installed nets around the building to physically catch any attempted suicides

What are the ethical concerns or issues with this solution?

Frederick Taylor

The father of scientific management

Developed a system of scientific management in an effort to improve industrial efficiency, prevent “soldiering”

Asserted the need for organizations to scientifically determine the “best” way for employees to do their work

Conceptualized time and motion studies, introduced incentives, emphasized selection and training of workers, worker-management cooperation

Max Weber

Bureaucratic theory (also referred to as the legal-rational model)

Emphasized three primary types of authority




Organizations are impersonal systems that rely on rationality and highly formalized systems of rules

Henri Fayol

Proposed five primary functions of management:






And 14 principles of management emphasizing highly structured work environments where everyone knows their place

Critical Thinking Questions – Classical

What are the benefits of such strict, rigid systems utilizing a classical approach?

What is missing from the classical approach?

Classical Management Communication

Taylor, Weber, and Fayol emphasized a machine metaphor in the understanding of the common worker

Communication was a tool to complete the task at hand

Managers focused on control, hierarchy, and division of labor, and communication was for getting the job done

Communication can flow vertically (up or down), diagonally, or horizontally

In classical organizations, communication was narrowly focused, specific to the task at hand, and moved vertically downward

Mary Parker Follett

American social worker and management consultant

Follett indicated a need for a shared, collective sense of control

Articulated four principles of coordination:

As the reciprocal relating of all the factors in a situation

By direct contact of the responsible people concerned

In the early stages

As a continuing process

Classical Influences in Today’s Global Economy

Matrix structures, which violates traditional classical approaches including unity of direction and unity of command

Employees report to two supervisors (not one)

Allows for teams of empowered employees with diverse skill sets

Virtual and boundaryless structures

Use technology to focus on core competencies while outsourcing other work

Challenging traditional classical theory on organizational structure and communication

Critical Thinking Questions – Mary Parker Follett

Why might the ideas of Mary Parker Follett be unpopular among the classical theorists?

In what ways do Mary Parker Follett’s ideas facilitate the types of matrix, virtual, and boundaryless structures seen in organizations today (and in the pictured figure)?

Context Matters

For-Profit Organizations

Informal and formal communication, emphasis on formal hierarchy, following orders, making a profit

Entrepreneurship – Small Business

Standardized procedures, ideas encouraged from all employees, informal communication, relationships

Nonprofit Organizations

Administrative hierarchy and a “Book of Discipline” with the rules of the church

Government Sector

Constrained by regulations that often connect them to a larger governmental structure