Lateral and Informal Communication

Lateral communication usually follows the pattern of work flow in an organization, occurring between members of work groups, between one work group and another, between members of different departments, and between line and staff employees. The main purpose of lateral communication is to provide a direct channel for organizational coordination and problem solving. In this way it avoids the much slower procedure of directing communications through the chain of command. An added benefit of lateral communication is that it enables organization members to form relationships with their peers. As we have seen, these relationships are an important part of employee satisfaction.

The large amount of lateral communication that takes place outside the chain of command often occurs with the knowledge, approval, and encouragement of managers who understand that lateral communication may help relieve their communication burden and also reduces inaccuracy by putting relevant people in direct contact with each other.

One type of informal communication, not officially sanctioned, is the grapevine. The grapevine within organizations is made up of several informal communication networks that overlap and intersect at a number of points that is, some well informed individuals are likely to belong to more than one informal network. Grapevines circumvent rank or authority and can link organization members in any combination of directions – horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. The grapevine flows around water coolers, down hallways, through lunch rooms and wherever people get together in groups.

In addition to its social and informal communication functions, the grapevine has several work related functions. For example, although the grapevine is hard to control, it often operates much faster than formal communication channels. Managers may use it to distribute information through planned “leaks” or judiciously placed “just-between-you-and-me” remarks.

Davis identified four possible types of grapevine chains. In the single strand chain, person A tells something to person B, who tells it to person C, and so on down the line. This chain is least accurate at passing on information. In the gossip chain, one person seeks out and tells every one the information he or she has obtained. This chain is often used when information of an interesting but non-job related nature is being conveyed. In the probability chain, Individuals are indifferent about whom they offer information to. They tell people at random, and those people in turn tell others at random. This chain is likely to be used when the information is mildly interesting but insignificant. In the cluster chain, person A conveys the information to a few selected individuals, some of whom then inform a few selected others.

Davis believes that the cluster chain is the dominant grapevine pattern in organizations. Usually, only a few individuals, called “liaison individuals” pass on the information they have obtained, and they are likely to do so only to people they trust or from they would like favors. They are most likely to pass on information that is interesting to them, job related and above all timely

Communication by organizations:

Organizations also pay attention to the messages they send to external stakeholders, such as customer. The Italian Chemical Compnay, EniChem Polimeri, instituted a Responsible Care Program to communicate to both the community and its employees its corporate commitment to the environment. The program has opened an internal dialogue with company employees and has amplified external relations to create greater awareness of environmental concerns.

Communication with customers is vital. Schummel Novelty Products Inc., which exports plastic table cloths that can be colored by children, erased with a rag, and colored again, emphasizes attention to detail, especially, during international transactions. For this reason, Schummel is careful to fax to its overseas customers precise shipment information including flight and time of arrival. In addition, the company reaches most of its overseas customer by advertising in the Commerce Department’s catalog magazine, Commercial News USA and sending brochures, price lists, and ordering information to anyone who answers the ad. —