Communication Networks

Channels of Communication in the Organization

Communication networks are linked communication channels or paths through which communication flows from one person to another in the organization. Communication networks therefore signify the existence of specific patterns by which messages are communicated between three or more individuals (Neher 1997).

The networks or channels through which communication flow within the organization consists of two fundamental components, listed below:

The two components are essential for effective functioning of the organization, and neither type can easily substitute for the other.

1.   Formal Communication Channels

Formal communication channels are officially sanctioned channels for flow of communication—the exchange of messages (including personal instructions, interviews, training programs, letters, memoranda and annual reports) among the various positions in the organization.

Formal channels of communication function through rules, regulations and are directly connected to the organizational structureOpens in new window defined by the organization. Thus, the organization's designated structure indicates two major directions of communication flow, they include:

1.2.1.     Vertical Communication

Vertical communicationOpens in new window is the flow of information both up and down the chain of command. It involves an exchange of messages between two or more levels in the organizational hierarchy. There are two categories of vertical communication:

1.3.1.    Downward communication

In any organizational hierarchy, when vertical communication flows from a higher level to one or more lower levels it is called downward communicationOpens in new window.

Downward communication may be in the form of staff meeting, company policy statement, company newsletters, informational memos, face-to-face contact and speeches.

Most downward communication involves information in any of the five categories:

1.3.2.   Upward communication

In any organization, when the vertical communication flow is from a lower level to higher levels in the organization it is called upward communicationOpens in new window.

Upward communication consists of messages sent up the lines from subordinates to managers. It provides feedback for upper management regarding policies and practices, which allows for wider participation in decision-making.

Most upward communication consists in the following topical points:

1.2.2.   Horizontal communication

Horizontal (or lateral) communication occurs in an organization between employees at the same hierarchical level. Horizontal communication,Opens in new window also called crosswise communication, appears to be more prevalent across the lower levels of the organization, where it tends to focus on problem-solving, information sharing and conflict resolution.

Horizontal communication is used to improve understanding, coordinate efforts for achieving organization objectives.

Formal communication channels are like highlighted roads on a road map. They specify organizational members who are responsible for tasks and communicating information to levels above and below them and back and forth to adjacent units.

2.   Informal Communication Channels

Informal communication channels are communication routes that are not prespecified by the organization but that develop through interpersonal relationships in the organization. This channel helps to convey unofficial or informal information (for example, conversations among personnel and year-end functions.) This information may be work related, social or personal.

Channels can come into existence and change or disappear rapidly, depending on circumstances. However, they may also endure in many work situations, especially where individuals have been working together over a period of time. Another popular informal communication channel is the grapevine,Opens in new window also referred to as ‘the rumor mill’.

2.1   Features of Informal Communication Channels
There are three important features of informal communication:

  1. First, they tend to operate more often in the lateral than in the vertical direction compared to formal channels because they are not designated or authorized by the organization’s hierarchies.
  2. Secondly, information flowing through informal channels often moves faster, typically because sendersOpens in new window are highly motivated to pass information on. The informal platform known as grapevineOpens in new window is a classic example of rapid transmission of messages through informal channels.
  3. Thirdly, informal channels carry work related as well as non-work information. Just because channels are informal does not mean that only gossip and other message unrelated to jobs and tasks are carried by them.

3.   Comparison of Formal and Informal Channels

Comparisons of characteristics of formal and informal channels are shown below.

    Formal Channel
  • √  Authorized, planned, and regulated by the organization.
  • √  Define who has responsibility for information dissemination and indicate the proper recipients of work-related information.
  • Informal Channel
  • √  Develop through interpersonal activities of organization members.
    Formal Channel
  • √  Reflect the organization’s formal structure.
  • Informal Channel
  • √  Not specified by the organization.
    Formal Channel
  • √  May be modified by the organization.
  • √  Minor to severe consequences for ignoring them.
  • Informal Channel
  • √  May be short-lived or long-lasting.
  • √  They are more often horizontal (lateral) than vertical.
  • √  Information flow can be very fast.
  • √  Used for both work-related and non-work information.