Communication Networks

Formal Communication Channels within Organization

Organizations have networks of communication much like the human body has a network of nerves that move impulses from the brain to the various body parts and back to the brain again. Because of the way the organization is designed, certain people and groups of people communicate with one another regularly and leave a record of this communication. This is called the formal communication networks because it comes from the form or structure of the organization.

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

Formal communication channels are in principle, authorized, planned, and regulated by the organization and are directly connected to the official structure or chain of command defined by the organization.

Consistent with organization's formal structure, there are two major networks or channels by which communication flow, they include:

Vertical Communication

Vertical communication 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:

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:

  • Job instruction or specific jobs
  • Relations between tasks
  • Goals/objectives
  • Directions, decisions
  • Procedures and practices to be adopted
  • Performance feedback
  • Encouragement/appreciations
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:

  • Progress reports or information.
  • Problem resolutions.
  • New developments
  • Suggestions for improvements
  • Complaints/problems
  • Appeal (Requests)
  • Exit interviews

Horizontal communication

Horizontal (or lateral) communication occurs in an organization between employees at the same hierarchical level. Horizontal communication, 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.

The three formal communication channels and types of information conveyed in each.
The three formal communication channels and types of information conveyed in each.

Downward and upward communications are the primary forms of communication used in most traditional, vertically oriented organizations. However, in today’s dynamics of organization, horizontal communication is prevalent, with people continuously sharing information across departments and levels.

Why Formal Channels Are Important

Formal communication channels are like highlighted roads on a road map. They specify organizational members who are responsible for tasks and communicating information along the chain of command established by the organization’s hierarchy of authority and structural boundaries.

Formal channels also indicate the persons or positions to which work-related messages should be sent. Because formal channels are recognized as authoritative, it is typical for communication of policies, procedures, and other official announcements to adhere to them. The formal channels can be modified, and thus they have some flexibility, but they can seldom be disregarded.