What Are Communication Channels Within an Organization?

by Steven Symes; Updated September 26, 2017
No matter the channel, communication in an organization either takes place orally or in a written form.

Communication allows an organization to coordinate and unify to achieve a common goal, whether the organization is a business, government entity, public service entity or religious group. Three main channels of communication exist in an organization of any size, allowing not only communication between management and workers, but also between peers within the organization.

Formal

Formal communication, no matter the format, uses the hierarchical structure of an organization to spread information or directives from the top of the organization down. In other words, subordinates are informed of policy changes, announcements or other information pertaining to the organization by their direct supervisors. Middle management receives the communication from upper management and then turns around and delivers the information to the lower levels of the organization. Formal communication can also come from the lower levels of the organization, reaching top-level management, but to be considered formal, the communication must pass through middle management.

Informal

Informal communication takes place outside of the organization’s hierarchical structure. A low-level member of the organization may communicate directly with a top-level manager about a concern or even an idea to benefit the organization’s operations. Informal communication has an advantage over formal communication, as it accelerates the communication process. If it's used too much in an organization, however, it undermines the management structure of the organization.

Unofficial

Gossip or rumors make up a portion of unofficial communication in an organization. Information may be spread unofficially from any level of an organization, utilizing an undocumented web of contact between peers in the organization. Not everyone is included in unofficial communication channels, meaning information may reach only a portion of the organization. Because the communication isn't sanctioned, the validity of the information communicated unofficially can be questionable. If management is able to tap into the unofficial communication channels, though, they can gain an understanding of the values of their subordinates’ attitudes or values, as well as counter any false information being spread through the unofficial communication levels.

Means of Communication

Any of the three types of communication channels use a number of means or tools of communication to spread information. Verbal forms of communication include face-to-face interaction in groups or individually, phone conversations, conference calls and Webinars. Written forms of communication include email, organization newsletters, bulletin board posts in a breakroom or other common area, paycheck stubs, union newsletters, instant messages, handwritten notes and suggestion boxes. Certain means of communication may not be sanctioned by the organization, making them favored methods of unofficial communication.

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