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Organizational Information Theory

Weick's Organizational Information Theory has been identified as a powerful theoretical framework for explaining how organizations make sense of the information that is essential for their existence. Organizational Information Theory draws from other theoretical perspectives that explain the processes that organizations undergo to receive input from others. Specifically, Weick emphasizes the importance of human interaction as central to processing information; thus, communication is the central focus of his theory. The primary idea is that organizations are not simply structures but are instead continually transforming and changing entities, created by their members. By making the process of reducing equivocality central to his theory, Weick emphasizes the importance of communication to the ability of organizations and their members to achieve goals.

The theory's utility is underscored by its focus on the communication process, a topic that we explored in Chapter 1. Organizational Information Theory focuses on the process of communication rather than on the role of communicators themselves. This is of great benefit to understanding how members of an organization engage in collaborative efforts with both internal and external environments to understand the information that they receive. The theory has inspired thinking and research in negotiation (Putnam, 1989), public discourse (Robichaud, 1999), and organizational learning (Weick & Westley, 1996). Charles Bantz (1989) observed that in terms of Weick's influence on research overall, "it is not surprising that a variety of scholars picked up the organizing concept directly from Weick or integrated into their on-going research" (p. 233). Weick was clearly influential, thereby making Organizational Information Theory a heuristic theory.

The prevailing criticism of Organizational Information Theory pertains to Weick's belief that people are guided by rules in an organization. Yet, Tom Daniels, Barry Spiker, and Michael Papa (1997) note that "we puzzle and mull over, fret and stew over, and generally select, manipulate, and transform meanings to come up with an interpretation of a situation" (p. 52). In other words, people may have little concern with the communication rules in their work environments. Individuals are not always so conscious or precise in their selection procedures, and their actions may have more to do with their intuition than with organizational rules.

An additional criticism of Organizational Information Theory is that it looks at organizations as static units in society (Taylor & Van Every, 2000). These researchers challenge Weick's view by noting that "at no point are inherent contradictions in organizational structure and process even remotely evoked" (p. 275) in his research. Taylor and Van Every believe that organizations have ongoing tensions and these need to be examined in light of Weick's theory.

Weick's work has inspired other scholars to apply his theory in examining various aspects of how organizations communicate in an attempt to make sense of the information they receive. He has provided researchers and practitioners with an excellent beginning in understanding the importance of communication in organizational activities. Organizational Information Theory will remain an influential theory in organizational behavior.

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