Flow of communications in an organization

Three types of communications in an organization can be classified by their flow: vertical, horizontal and informal. In directing activities of subordinates, the manager issues orders to others further down in the hierarchy. Organization charts show the flow of authority and the channels through which this downward, vertical communication flows. Authority lines are important channels of communication but they comprise only one type of channel. Control reports and memoranda flow back up through the levels of the hierarchy as subordinates are made accountable for their actions. This upward vertical flow of communications is the heart of a control system.

Horizontal channels provide means by which managers on the same level of an organization coordinate their activities without referring all matters to their superior. Such communication is sarcastically named as a “gang plank”. Because many matters can be handled at the same level of an organization by direct mutual interaction instead of a formal communication thereby speeding action while at the same time relieving superiors of unnecessary problems. Multiple copies of memoranda that flow to all positions needing the information increase coordination of effort.

Formal communications are planned to meet the specific needs of the organization; however, many communication are informal. The grapevine may be helpful for the attainment of organizational goals, but it also serves the social needs of the individuals in the organization. A manager can utilize the grapevine as a positive aid, but may also face problems of rumors, gossip, and other negative outlets of expressions by people in the organization. The grapevine cannot be destroyed; therefore, it should receive conscious attention. Informal channels may be superior for some organizational purposes. A “word” can be dropped at the proper time and may remedy a disciplinary problem without resort to a formal reprimand. Because the speed at which information flows through a grapevine is often astounding, management must seriously consider this third type of communication.

Communication may be viewed as a pattern of interconnecting lines, referred to as networks. Researchers have experimented with various structural patterns of communications in small groups.

Overloading of communication channels can cause the network to be jammed with irrelevant messages. Newer methods of processing and transmitting data have increased the number of communications which flow to executives. Managers can literally be buried in memoranda and reports with no hope of digging themselves out. The answer to this problem lies in monitoring the channels to clear messages in order of priority and importance. More messages do not necessarily mean more information. The communication system should provide for editing devices, or persons, to regulate the quality and quantity of communication with regard to sufficiency of information for decision centers.

Timing of communications can result in problems for management. Some types of messages need to be released so that everyone will receive them simultaneously. Other types of messages being transmitted should be timed sequentially so that receivers will not be confused by issues that are not important to them at the moment.

Routing of communications should provide sufficient information for a decision to be made by the proper persons. The route may determine the content of the message and the language in which it is stated. If official information is first received by the grapevine, or from persons outside the organization, the employee may be placed in an insecure position. If a supervisor receives information from subordinates, it signifies a short circuit in the line of communication from top management, and thus threatens the supervisor’s status and authority. The answers to the problem are in the proper planning of a communication system and in the recognition of its human elements.

Determination of the flow of communication and recognition of the many barriers to good communication is basic to the communicating function. Communication networks, communication channels, and barriers to communication must continually receive attention.

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