Formal and Informal Communication in an Organization

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 29 September 2016

Formal and Informal Communication in an Organization

* Formal communication channels, follows the chain of command and is recognized as official. One way to view formal communication within organizations. * 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 organization. When top-level managers make decisions, create strategic plans, convey directions, and so forth, they are often communicating downward. Downward communication flows from individuals in higher levels of the organization to those in lower levels.

The most common forms of downward communication are meetings, official’s memos, policy statements, procedure manuals, information needed to conduct work, and company publications. Information sent downward may include new company goals, job instructions, procedures, and feedback on performance. Studies show that only 20% of an intended messages sent by top-level management is intact by the time it reaches the entry level performance. This information loss occurs for several reasons. First, managers tend to reply too heavily on written channels an avalanche of written material may cause the overload subordinate to ignore some messages.

This is especially true with the glut of information stemming from e-communications. Second, the oral face-to-face message, which commands more attention and can provide immediate feedback, is often underutilized. Managers may e-mail the colleague or subordinate down the hall instead of walking over for a chat. They may e-mail a business client across town instead of picking up the phone. Experts agree that managers often forget that the best way to communicate the richest channel is face to face, with its potential for abundant feedback. Upward communication consists of messages sent up the line from subordinates to managers.

Openness to ideas and inputs from people in the lower levels of the organization is often the hallmark of a healthy and enjoyable organization. Effective organizations need upward communication as much as downward communication. People at all levels can and will have ideas for organizational improvement. Plus, managers need to have accurate feedback to properly guide the entire organization. Upward communication from subordinates to managers usually falls into one of the following categories:

* Personal reports of performance, problems, or concerns. Reports about others and their performance, problems, or concerns. * Reactions to organizational policies and practices. * Suggestions about what tasks need to be done and how they can be accomplished. This type of communication is frequently sent up only one level in the organization to the person’s immediate supervisor. The supervisor may send some of the information to the next higher level but usually in a modified form. Upward communication is beneficial to both the manager and the subordinate. For the manager, it is often necessary for sound decision making.

Upward communication helps managers knows employees’ accomplishments’, problems, and attitudes and allows employees to make suggestions and feel that they are part of the decision making process. In addition, it provides feedback, encourages ongoing two-way communication, and indicates the subordinate, upward communication may provide a release of tensions and a sense of personal worth that may lead to a feeling of commitment to the organization. Achieving effective upward communication getting open and honest messages from employees to management is an especially difficult task.

Although suggestion boxes, employees surveys, and open-door policies are often used to encourage upward communication, upper level manager are responsible for responding to messages from lower level employees. If they do not take advantage of this information, the chance to tap into a critical resource is lost. Managers need to act on feedback from subordinates and get back to the individuals who sent it if only to indicate that the suggestion cannot be carried out or that progress is being made about the problem or suggestion. The track record on effectively communicating upward is not especially positive.

Even for managers, on average, less than 15% of their communications is to their supervisors. Also, when managers communicate upward, their conversations tend to be shorter than discussions with peers, and they often highlight their accomplishments’ and downplay their mistakes if the mistakes will be looked upon unfavorably. In addition, junior managers are not trained in nor do they seek needed information and pass it upward. As we discussed previously, a trusting relationship is almost a perquisite for effective communication. Trust cannot be mandated by policy or directives.

It must be earned by the manager through credible behaviour and communication. Horizontal communication is the flow of information that occurs both within and between departments. Effective organizations encourage horizontal communication because it increases coordination, collaboration, and cooperation. Communication provides a means for members on the same level of an organization to share information without directly involving their supervisors. Examples include the communication that may occur between members of different departments of an organization and between coworkers in the same department.

Self-managed teams create situations in which horizontal communication can flourish. In addition, more formal liaison roles may be created to support information flows. These are important to coordinate activities that support the organizational objectives. * Spontaneous communication channels the flows of communication described so far have been part of formal system used to accomplish the work of the organization. In addition to these formal channels, organizations have spontaneous channels of communication.

Spontaneous channels communications are casual, opportunistic, and informal communication paths arising from the social relationships that evolve in the organization. They are neither required nor controlled by management. A term often associated with spontaneous channels is the grapevine. The grapevine is an informal method of transmitting information, depicted as the wandering of messages throughout the organization. It typically involves small clusters of people who exchange information in all directions through unsanctioned organizational channels and networks.

We refer to this as peer-to-peer conversations. This communication is a useful and important for managers and employees at all levels and is used as much as the company newsletter or employee meetings. Peer-to-peer conversations may be personal, task focused, or organization focused. When people offer thoughts and guidance on personal issues or situations, it is considered personal. These discussions may not relate to strategic objectives, but they do build relationships among coworkers, which ultimately affect culture and communication effectiveness.

Conversations may relate to the task. For example, coworkers discuss the day’s assignment or team projects. Or the organization may be the focus with the “inside” story on changes and company news. These spontaneous communication processes can potentially compete with or complement the formal communication system in the organization. The grapevine can be beneficial. Managers need to at least be aware of the grapevine because it is probably one of the most prevalent and reliable forms of communication.

In fact, one well-known study found that approximately 80% of the information transmitted through the grapevine was correct. The remaining 20%, though, can often lead to serious trouble. As you probably know from your own experience, a story can be mainly true but still be quite misleading because essential facts are omitted or distorted. Information in the spontaneous channels is usually unverified and often includes rumours that are exaggerated and frequently wrong. To help prevent incorrect rumours, managers must keep the information that flows through informal channels accurate and rumours free.

To do so, managers should share as much information as possible with employees, tell them of changes far in advance, and encourage employees to ask questions about rumours they heard. To some extent, the spontaneous channels are always present in any organization and are more than just a means of conveying corporate gossip. The information may be less official, but it is no less important for understanding the organization. Despite being pervasive, the grapevine has escaped being directly managed in most companies. Research by Crampton, Dodge, and Jitrendra found that 92% of companies had no policy to deal with the grapevine.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 29 September 2016

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