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Communication: The Lifeblood of Culture

In a living organism the function of blood is to transport oxygen and nutrients to every cell in the body so that the sum can function efficiently as a whole. In an organization internal communication serves a very similar purpose, except instead of carrying nutrients it transports such things as information, norms, and expectations.

Ultimately internal communication is all about building relationships and influencing the attitudes and behaviors of others; and organizational culture is all about relationships and behaviors. We meet together to build authentic relationships of trust and respect. Through those relationships we share best practices to increase productivity, provide feedback to encourage desirable behaviors, and support one another in our successes and struggles.

Culture and communication have a symbiotic relationship. Each helps the other to thrive (or not). For example, communication is influenced by filters and perceptions. The more these filters and perceptions are addressed by a collective strategy and shared by the organization, the better information will flow through the company. This is the role of culture.

comm-cycle

As the image above shows, messages are encoded by the sender and later decoded by the receiver. This encoding or decoding process in profoundly influenced by the values, perceptions, and assumptions of the sender or receiver. That’s where culture comes into play. A culture brings to bear a structure characterized by a shared language as well as a common set of norms, rituals, and stories. This structure provides a framework by which information and expectations can flow effectively. In turn, the communications reinforce and proliferate the cultural structure.

Organizations that hope to develop and reinforce successful cultures should take a good hard look at their internal communication systems and assess the degree to which they are supporting the desired behaviors.