Everyone’s talking about it. But what is organisational communication, and why is it so important?
Put simply, it’s all the communication that takes place within a business or organisation. Emails, meetings, phone calls, discussions, presentations and everything else that makes up the day to day business of the workplace.
So here at Bright Direction Training, we’ve taken an in-depth look at organisational communication and its role in effective leadership and management.
The importance of organisational communication
Because we’re all engaging in organisational communication all the time (the meetings, the emails… see above), it’s something many of us may not give a great deal of thought to.
But if we told you poor organisational communication can cost you money or, on the flip side, that improving it can enhance personal and organisational performance, perhaps you’d think about it a little more.
Well, one survey of 400 companies with a total of 100,000 employees found that each company lost an average of $62.4 million each year because of poor communication. (Grace College, December 2017). So it’s not surprising many organisational communication theories and models have emerged to help managers create better communication networks and processes.
Types of organisational communication
One of the things we emphasise to learners at Bright Direction Training is the importance of understanding the different types of communication within an organisation.
Most organisational communication models recognise two broad categories, namely formal and informal communication.
Formal communication is best thought of as ‘official business’ communications. Contracts from HR, emails from head office, performance review reports… anything that leaves a clear paper trail (or more usually these days, a pixel trail) and which can be considered as ‘on the record’ information or opinion.
Informal communication, on the other hand, is the much less structured, day-to-day exchanges we have with co-workers. Also known as ‘the grapevine’, ‘water-cooler moments’ and, yes, even ‘office gossip’, informal organisational communication is happening all the time in the workplace, often without us being aware of it.
The other important concept in organisational communication theory is the direction that information travels in. Downward communication comes from senior management and flows to those below them in an organisation. As you’d expect, 99% of the time it consists of formal messages dealing with company policy or personal matters like promotions or disciplinary actions.
Upward communication moves in the opposite direction and usually comes in the form of reports, suggestions and responses to requests from management. Again, because of the relationship between those who send and receive such information, it is mostly formal in nature.
Horizontal communication is largely between people on the same level within an organisation, or between members of the same team. It often has more of an informal element to it as shared tasks are managed and progressed.
Organisational barriers to communication and how to overcome them
As we’ve seen, not all organisations communicate as well as they should, with serious implications for their performance. Drawing on their many years’ experience in leadership and management, the Bright Direction Training team have identified some of the main reasons why:
Sometimes, communication can be hampered by structural factors such as a dispersed office network or complex hierarchies and chains of command. That’s why it’s a good idea to review communication channels and practices periodically – with the help of an outside consultant if necessary – in order to identify any problems.
While technology has revolutionised organisational communication, it can have its drawbacks too. Hasty emails can easily be misconstrued without the non-verbal cues that come with a face to face conversation and all good managers know the value of a ‘one-to-one’ for getting their message across.
Other barriers to effective communication include managers assuming too much knowledge among those they are talking to or overcomplicating communication with irrelevant detail. Trainers and teachers are often advised to ‘check learning’ and tailor the content of their sessions accordingly, and that’s equally good advice for anyone looking to improve communication in their organisation.
Effective communication in meetings
We’ve all been in meetings that leave us more confused at the end then when we started. That’s usually because they’re poorly planned and their objectives poorly communicated.
There are techniques you can follow to make communications in a meeting clearer and more effective, such as encouraging open discussion to involve all participants and ‘wrapping up’ one topic before moving on to the next so everyone is clear about what is being discussed.
It also helps to review any conclusions and assign ‘next step’ actions at the end of your meeting and to circulate accurate meeting minutes within 24 hours.
Learning to improve communication effectiveness
As we’ve seen, communication is crucial to how well or how poorly an organisation performs.
Both our Level 3 Team Leader Apprenticeship and Level 5 Operations/Departmental Manager Apprenticeship involve a structured approach to the theory and practice of effective interpersonal and organisational communication. All our apprenticeship courses are aligned with ILM qualifications