What Are Communication Channels Within an Organization?

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Even the best managers can't lead effectively if they don't communicate their ideas. Typically there are multiple channels of communication in an organization: online and face-to-face, written and verbal, official and unofficial. Internal channels are an important tool but even businesses that master communicating with the outside world may not use internal channels as effectively.

Internal Communication Matters

Channels of communication in an organization may not be important if it's small enough people can just knock on each other's doors with questions. Once an organization starts to grow, particularly when it divides into different departments, internal communication is essential for a few reasons:

  • Communicating about what's happening helps ensure transparency, so that everyone knows what's going on.
  • Sharing information about objectives and goals keeps all the departments on the same page. If, for instance, marketing has no idea what new products are being made, it can't plan to promote them.
  • Communication can show departments and employees how they fit into the big picture. Without that awareness, they may question their work and wind up at cross-purposes.
  • Internal communication can help build staff loyalty. Allowing employees to take negative PTO when regular time off runs out is a generous benefit, but it's no good if employees don't know about it.
  • Internal communication makes it easier for employees in different departments or different locations to work together.
  • Announcing team and organization achievements and promote major accomplishments shows employees the company appreciates their work. 

Modes of Communication

In the 21st century organization, channels of communication in an organization range from "how to" Wikipedia entries to in-depth manager/subordinate discussions.

  • Digital methods include email, apps such as Slack, social media, video and blogs. Each has its pros and cons; a CEO blog can show the boss's human side, but it has to be updated regularly, for instance. 
  • Environmental communication is old school, putting up posters and banners or pinning notes to a bulletin board. Federal regulations may require an organization put up posters about workers' rights, for instance.
  • Print is another old-school approach. Giving employees a hard-copy newsletter may seem old-fashioned, but it's easy for them to take home and read.
  • Face to face can be the most effective method of communicating, whether in staff meetings, private discussions, manager presentations or discussion groups. If the management team isn't good at this kind of communication, though, it can fail horribly. 

Upward and Downward

Communication in organizations can't be just top to bottom; sometimes it has to be bottom to top. Even if the C-Suite communicates its vision to employees, it needs to hear back on how things work out in practice. For example, if the organization is meeting its ambitious sales goals but at the price of employee burnout, management needs to know that.

This is particularly true if there are serious problems, such as harassment or discrimination. If management doesn't give employees an opportunity to speak up, or doesn't listen when they do, the employees may end up going public. Then on top of the original problem, the firm may suffer a wave of negative publicity.

Official and Unofficial Communication Channels

Every organization has both official and unofficial communication channels. Formal communications include meetings, posters, emails from managers and the company's internal website. The unofficial communication definition covers what employees say to each other, and sometimes to management, outside the formal system.

The classic unofficial communication channels example is the office grapevine. One employee shares news with a couple of colleagues, who each share it with a couple more people. The grapevine can often spread news faster than official communications channels.

Unofficial Communication Pros and Cons

There are several advantages of unofficial communication channels:

  • Employees can kick ideas back and forth, developing them to present to management.
  • Peer pressure and informal conversation can help underperforming employees get back on track.
  • News of new developments gives staff time to prepare before the official announcements.

The big downside to informal communication is that it can spread rumors and misinformation just as fast as the truth. This is another reason formal communication is important: if employees don't hear anything through official channels, rumors flourish.

References

About the Author

Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com

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