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11th Edition

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Chapter 23Communicative Constitution of Organizations


  1. Introduction
    1. Robert McPhee and other communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) theorists believe that communication is not just a process that happens within organizations; it creates the organization itself.
    2. CCO isn’t a single theory but rather a family of theoretical approaches to thinking about how organizations are co-constructed.
    3. McPhee believes that communication creates, or constitutes, an organization.
  1. Communication: The essence of organization
    1. Employees are not a set of lifeless parts; people create an organization.
    2. Communication calls organization into being.
    3. For CCO theorists, communication is the primary means of constructing social reality.
    4. McPhee’s answer to the big CCO question [how does communication create organization?] is four specific forms of communication, or flows.
      1. Membership negotiation.
      2. Self-structuring.
      3. Activity coordination.
      4. Institutional positioning.
    5. McPhee thinks each flow literally creates the company as members talk. These flows aren’t something an organization does but rather what an organization is.
  1. The four flows of CCO.
    1. CCO theorists believe organizations are like a river—always moving and changing.
    2. McPhee believes the communication must occur in four flows, or “circulating systems or fields of messages.”
    3. Specifically, these four flows concern who is a member of the organization, how these members structure their working relationships, how they coordinate their work, and how the organization positions itself with other people and organizations.
    4. It’s worth noting that not all communication between organization members involves the four flows.
    5. What sets the four flows apart is that they are necessary for creating the organization itself.
    6. Chapter illustrations are drawn from Habitat for Humanity and Greek organizations on campuses.
  1. Membership negotiation: Joining and learning the ropes.
    1. All organizations regulate who is a member and who is not.
    2. You become an organizational member through a communicative process.
    3. Membership negotiation doesn’t end after accepting a job offer.
    4. The next step of membership negotiation is socialization, or learning what it means to be a member of the organization.
  1. Self-structuring: Figuring out who’s who in the organization.
    1. Self-structuring refers to the formal communication acts that create the organization.
    2. After the organization’s founding, self-structuring continues through the writing of procedures manuals, memos, and sometimes a chart that specifies the relationships among employees.
    3. How can members align their activities when they’re geographically far apart? Cooren and Fairhurst point out that we seek closure, or a sense of shared understanding that emerges in back-and-forth interaction.
    4. McPhee reminds us that the official chart isn’t the final word on structure.
  1. Activity coordination: Getting the job done.
    1. McPhee believes all organizations have goals.
    2. A defined purpose, such as a mission statement, separates an organization from a crowd of people. Most important to CCO theorists, members communicate to accomplish the organization’s day-to-day work toward their goals—a flow McPhee terms activity coordination.
    3. Activity coordination becomes quite complex at any organization with more than a handful of employees.
  1. Institutional positioning: Dealing with other people and organizations.
    1. Institutional positioning is communication between an organization and external entities—other organizations and people.
    2. No organization survives on its own.
  1. Four principles of the four flows.
    1. McPhee claims that communication constitutes organization through the four flows of membership negotiation, self-structuring, activity coordination, and institutional positioning.
    2. It’s the intersection of the four flows, mixing and blending together, that constitutes organization.
    3. Four principles direct the four flows of communication.
      1. All four flows are necessary for organization.
      2. Different flows happen in different places.
      3. The same message can address multiple flows.
      4. Different flows address different audiences.
        1. Self-structuring is of little interest to those outside an organization.
        2. Membership negotiation targets new members or those who may be leaving.
        3. Activity coordination addresses specific groups within an organization.
        4. Institutional positioning focuses on external organizations.
  1. Diverting the flow: Crafting solutions to organizational problems.
    1. Some CCO scholars are pragmatists who try to use such insights to fix organizational problems.
    2. Recall that one goal of an interpretive theory is to foster new understanding of people.
    3. It is likely that improvements to an organization must address more than just one flow.
  1. Critique: Are the four flows the best approach to communicative constitution?  
    1. The idea that communication creates organizations provides a compelling explanation for the value of organizational communication.
    2. McPhee provides a degree of relative simplicity and aesthetic appeal by suggesting the four flows, but that simplicity doesn’t appeal to everybody.
    3. CCO researcher James Taylor is critical of McPhee’s simplicity and its top-down approach and instead prefers a ground-up theory that starts with everyday conversation.
    4. Taylor is critical of McPhee’s vague definitions, particularly of the term “flow.”
    5. With such imprecision, Taylor doubts CCO can provide a new understanding of people.
    6. Taylor counters that conversations organize when members engage in co-orientation, or communication “wherein two or more actors are entwined in relation to an object.”
    7. Some researchers suggest that this focus on materiality is the reason the Montreal School approach has generated more extensions of theory and research than McPhee’s CCO.
    8. According to Bishop and Bisel, both approaches are valuable.
    9. Both may be necessary conditions rather than sufficient conditions.
    10. Although they may disagree on the details, CCO theorists share a broad community of agreement.


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Theory Outlines
11th Edition

From the Instructors Manual

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Chapter 23Communicative Constitution of Organizations


  1. Introduction
    1. Robert McPhee and other communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) theorists believe that communication is not just a process that happens within organizations; it creates the organization itself.
    2. CCO isn’t a single theory but rather a family of theoretical approaches to thinking about how organizations are co-constructed.
    3. McPhee believes that communication creates, or constitutes, an organization.
  1. Communication: The essence of organization
    1. Employees are not a set of lifeless parts; people create an organization.
    2. Communication calls organization into being.
    3. For CCO theorists, communication is the primary means of constructing social reality.
    4. McPhee’s answer to the big CCO question [how does communication create organization?] is four specific forms of communication, or flows.
      1. Membership negotiation.
      2. Self-structuring.
      3. Activity coordination.
      4. Institutional positioning.
    5. McPhee thinks each flow literally creates the company as members talk. These flows aren’t something an organization does but rather what an organization is.
  1. The four flows of CCO.
    1. CCO theorists believe organizations are like a river—always moving and changing.
    2. McPhee believes the communication must occur in four flows, or “circulating systems or fields of messages.”
    3. Specifically, these four flows concern who is a member of the organization, how these members structure their working relationships, how they coordinate their work, and how the organization positions itself with other people and organizations.
    4. It’s worth noting that not all communication between organization members involves the four flows.
    5. What sets the four flows apart is that they are necessary for creating the organization itself.
    6. Chapter illustrations are drawn from Habitat for Humanity and Greek organizations on campuses.
  1. Membership negotiation: Joining and learning the ropes.
    1. All organizations regulate who is a member and who is not.
    2. You become an organizational member through a communicative process.
    3. Membership negotiation doesn’t end after accepting a job offer.
    4. The next step of membership negotiation is socialization, or learning what it means to be a member of the organization.
  1. Self-structuring: Figuring out who’s who in the organization.
    1. Self-structuring refers to the formal communication acts that create the organization.
    2. After the organization’s founding, self-structuring continues through the writing of procedures manuals, memos, and sometimes a chart that specifies the relationships among employees.
    3. How can members align their activities when they’re geographically far apart? Cooren and Fairhurst point out that we seek closure, or a sense of shared understanding that emerges in back-and-forth interaction.
    4. McPhee reminds us that the official chart isn’t the final word on structure.
  1. Activity coordination: Getting the job done.
    1. McPhee believes all organizations have goals.
    2. A defined purpose, such as a mission statement, separates an organization from a crowd of people. Most important to CCO theorists, members communicate to accomplish the organization’s day-to-day work toward their goals—a flow McPhee terms activity coordination.
    3. Activity coordination becomes quite complex at any organization with more than a handful of employees.
  1. Institutional positioning: Dealing with other people and organizations.
    1. Institutional positioning is communication between an organization and external entities—other organizations and people.
    2. No organization survives on its own.
  1. Four principles of the four flows.
    1. McPhee claims that communication constitutes organization through the four flows of membership negotiation, self-structuring, activity coordination, and institutional positioning.
    2. It’s the intersection of the four flows, mixing and blending together, that constitutes organization.
    3. Four principles direct the four flows of communication.
      1. All four flows are necessary for organization.
      2. Different flows happen in different places.
      3. The same message can address multiple flows.
      4. Different flows address different audiences.
        1. Self-structuring is of little interest to those outside an organization.
        2. Membership negotiation targets new members or those who may be leaving.
        3. Activity coordination addresses specific groups within an organization.
        4. Institutional positioning focuses on external organizations.
  1. Diverting the flow: Crafting solutions to organizational problems.
    1. Some CCO scholars are pragmatists who try to use such insights to fix organizational problems.
    2. Recall that one goal of an interpretive theory is to foster new understanding of people.
    3. It is likely that improvements to an organization must address more than just one flow.
  1. Critique: Are the four flows the best approach to communicative constitution?  
    1. The idea that communication creates organizations provides a compelling explanation for the value of organizational communication.
    2. McPhee provides a degree of relative simplicity and aesthetic appeal by suggesting the four flows, but that simplicity doesn’t appeal to everybody.
    3. CCO researcher James Taylor is critical of McPhee’s simplicity and its top-down approach and instead prefers a ground-up theory that starts with everyday conversation.
    4. Taylor is critical of McPhee’s vague definitions, particularly of the term “flow.”
    5. With such imprecision, Taylor doubts CCO can provide a new understanding of people.
    6. Taylor counters that conversations organize when members engage in co-orientation, or communication “wherein two or more actors are entwined in relation to an object.”
    7. Some researchers suggest that this focus on materiality is the reason the Montreal School approach has generated more extensions of theory and research than McPhee’s CCO.
    8. According to Bishop and Bisel, both approaches are valuable.
    9. Both may be necessary conditions rather than sufficient conditions.
    10. Although they may disagree on the details, CCO theorists share a broad community of agreement.


You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

  • Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
  • To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
  • You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.

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