Different Types of Communication Networks

by Emily Hunsaker; Updated June 25, 2018
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Business employees communicate in a variety of different ways. Some discuss ongoing business activities with their supervisors, while others enjoy talking about their weekend plans with their colleagues. These examples of organizational communication exemplify the types of communication networks within a business.

Typically, organizational communication travels throughout a business’s employee sector on one of two paths: an informal or formal communication network. The type of network used typically depends on the information being shared and the role of the employee who is sharing that information.

Informal Communication Networks

An informal communication network is also known as a grapevine network and is typically made up of lower-level employees. This type of network is present in every organization and typically consists of office gossip that has not been distributed through a formal communication network.

There are four ways in which information is shared through an informal network. Under the single-strand communication pattern, one employee shares knowledge with another employee, who then passes that information on to a third party, and so on. This linear communication network is typically unreliable and can result in the propagation of inaccurate information.

In the gossip chain network, one employee distributes information to a group of other employees directly. Similarly, the probability chain network of communication occurs when knowledge or information is passed randomly from one person to another. In both of these communication networks, information transmitted is often interesting but unrelated to the work at hand.

The most common informal communication network is the cluster chain network. In this type of communication network, on individual transmits information to a select group of individuals, who then tell another select group of individuals. This type of organization communication network allows for information to be passed across hierarchical barriers with ease.

Formal Communication Networks

Formal communication networks are usually initiated by employees at the top of a business’s organizational chart. In this type of network, information can flow downward from top supervisors to lower employees, horizontally from peer to peer or diagonally from employee to employee regardless of rank or function.

There are a variety of ways a formal communication network can be composed. Some, like the wheel network, revolves around a central figure who distributes information to each member of a business group directly. Similarly, in the chain and circle networks, a supervisor transmits information to their immediate subordinate, who then passes that information to the employee below them. Information in the chain and circle networks can travel up or down the chain of command. The inverted “V” network also contains a centralized figure but allows for direct communication between each member of the group from employee to supervisor and supervisor to CEO. Communication between the employee and the CEO is limited in this context.

Finally, a free flow network of formal communication connects all employees to each other regardless of their position in the company. This decentralized communication network allows for free communication among all employees throughout the business.

About the Author

Emily Hunsaker is a writer and marketing consultant with diverse employment background, ranging from journalism to nonprofit marketing. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Tulane University, in addition to an MBA from Southern Illinois University.

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