Horizontal Communication

What is Horizontal Communication?

Horizontal communication refers to the flow of information among employees and units that are at the same hierarchical level in an organization.

In other words, horizontal communication (also called lateral communication) refers to departments and managers on the same organizational level communicating with one another across organizational silos. It is distinguished from vertical communicationOpens in new window—the flow of information between different levels of the organizational hierarchy.

Horizontal (or lateral ) communication is used to run departments, where it is essential to gather information across members of the same work group, across members of work groups at the same level, across managers at the same level, or across any other horizontally equivalent personnel.

In horizontal communication, one functional silo may be engineering; another might be sales and marketing. These two divisional silos might not have a formal avenue for meeting or communicating. Nevertheless, what one does definitely affects the other.

Some departments are dependent on one another for pertinent information in doing their work. A diagram of horizontal communication looks like this ...

Horizontal communication across managerial levels. Image courtesy of Sandglaz BlogOpens in new window

Based in structure, horizontal communication is less formal than both downward communicationOpens in new window and upward communicationOpens in new window. It appears to be more prevalent across the lower levels of the organization, where it tends to focus on problem-solving and the coordination of work flow, and relates to task coordination, problem-solving, information sharing and conflict resolution.

Importance of horizontal communication
  • Horizontal communication introduces flexibility in organizational structure.
  • It permits people at the same level to communicate directly without going through several levels of organization.
  • It facilitates problem solving, information sharing across different work groups.
  • It also facilitates task coordination between departments or project teams.
  • It enhances morale and affords a means for resolving conflicts (Koehler et al., 1981).
  • It is an essential feature of participative decision making and organizational adaptiveness (French, Bell, & Zawacki, 1983).

Horizontal communication may be carried out through informal discussions, management gossip, telephone calls, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, memos, routine meetings, and so on.

Informal communication exists in all organizations. People who knew each other talk informally about the happenings in the company and the people. This is also known as grapevine communicationOpens in new window.

When people are kept uninformed about certain important things through formal channels, they seek the information through grapevine. However excessive use of this can lead to misinterpretation, misunderstandings and can even influence the thinking process of employees. Sometimes superiors also use this channel to express their unhappiness.