Focus Group on Organizational Communications

What Is It?

The Focus Group on Organizational Communications tool contains supporting materials to conduct a focus group that examines communications issues (i.e., a fully editable sample protocol, coding sheet, outline, invitation letter, and recorder sheets). The purpose of this type of focus group is to use semi-structured employee discussions to explore how communications typically occur in your organization, the strengths and weaknesses of your company's communications, and any ideas or suggestions participants might have for improving communications. This type of session should be led by a designated facilitator, supported by a designated "recorder." See  Working with Focus Groups for a comprehensive view of how to organize, develop and conduct a focus group.

When to Use It?

This tool can be used whenever it is important to examine communication issues within your business unit or organization. Its use is typically triggered by the perception that communications could be improved in some way (e.g., when concerns have been voiced or survey results suggest communication problems). The benefit of using focus groups is that you can identify what participants think about current communications, and why they think or feel that way. It can be used in conjunction with other forms of information gathering, including surveys, observations, or interviews.

How to Use It?

  1. Clarify how the focus group can provide useful information on organizational communications during change. For a full review on how to design, structure, and conduct focus groups (and how to use a protocol and recorder sheets), see  Working with Focus Groups.
  2. Create a focus group protocol that lists a series of 2-4 questions. The protocol will be used by the facilitator to guide the group discussion. These questions should "focus" on the communication issues that you hope to address during the session. The downloadable file   Communications Focus Group Protocol provides a sample protocol. It contains three main questions, each with relevant probes to stimulate further discussion. Modify this protocol as necessary to address the specific communication issues within your organization.
  3. Design recorder sheets that will enable the "recorder" to easily take notes during the session. In some cases, the recorder will be capturing specific comments made during a session and will be noting who made them (using a coding scheme). In addition, a good recorder will be synthesizing the information as it is recorded. The recorder sheets should make this process easier. There are two types of recorder sheets:
    1. A generic recording form can be used to capture the flow of each participant's response during a session. With this type of form, the recorder simply notes "Q1" on the sheet (for question one) and then records the participant's responses to the question, along with the appropriate participant code. When the facilitator asks question number 2, the recorder places a Q2 on the sheet and continues recording responses. See the downloadable file  Focus Group Recording Forms for recorder sheets that can be modified to meet your situation. This file contains recorder sheets that are generic and could be used with any focus group.

    2. Alternatively, you can develop customized recorder forms that correspond to the questions included in the protocol. In this case, the recorder will capture themes as they emerge during the session, using pre-established categories noted on the recorder form (e.g., strengths and weaknesses). See the downloadable file  Focus Group Communication Issues Recording Forms for recorder sheets that can be modified to meet your situation. This file contains recorder sheets that correspond directly to the questions contained in the communication focus group protocol.

Tip The second type of recording form may be more applicable when: your recorder is fairly knowledgeable about the issue; you can identify a few primary response categories for each question prior to conducting the session; and you want to be able to get a quick, preliminary assessment of the results of the session. If you will be taping the session, the recorder can use the tape to fill in sections later, using either type of form.

  1. Establish an outline for the session. The outline should describe the sequence and timing of events during the session. See the  Communications Focus Group Outline for an editable, sample outline.
  2. You will need to send invitation letters to participants and their supervisors. See  Communications Focus Group Invitation Letters for editable, sample invitation letters.
  3. Prior to conducting each focus group, the recorder should complete a participant "coding" sheet. This sheet lists each participant's name, background and a code. The recorder assigns a code to each participant so he can easily record the source of various comments during a session without having to list participants by name (e.g., labeling participants as 1, 2, 3). You should capture participants' background information (e.g., level in the company) so that you will be able to examine possible background trends in the results. See the  Focus Group Code Sheet for an example coding sheet that can be modified for your situation.

Tip The use of a coding scheme also contributes to the confidentiality of the participants' responses.