Different Structures & Types of Formal Communication With Examples

In this guide, we have listed different structures & types of formal communication with examples, in addition to a detailed explanation of formal & informal communication with their network types.

Different Structures of Formal Communication channels

1) Vertical Communication 

This is the type of communication that takes place hierarchically among different people in an organization. It is most direct, meaning that supervisors communicate with their direct employees or staff and vice versa.

On diving deeper, vertical communication can be further divided into two types- upward and downward communication

A) Upward Communication 

Here, the direction in which the formal communication flows is upward. This involves the flow of communication starting from the lower levels of an organization or group and heading toward managers. It includes reviews, reports, and follow-ups. Upward communication mostly facilitates clear feedback in communication within an organization. 

Must Read: What Is Upward Communication A Detailed Guide With Examples

Objectives of Upward Communication 

  1. Decision-making: Upward communication helps superiors in better decision-making by providing detailed information and crucial reports from subordinates.
  2. Employee Feedback: Communication that moves from bottom to top is helpful in the flow of genuine feedback and promotes the smooth and efficient working of a group.
  3. Motivation & Growth: Upward communication promotes healthy work spirit and motivation among employees and ultimately helps in the growth of an organization. 

Advantages of upward communication: 

  1. Employee Participation: The upward flow of communication promotes the participation of employees by allowing them to put up their suggestions and ideas. 
  2. Better Working Environment: It promotes harmony and develops an efficient working environment in an organization.
  3. Overall Growth: Benefits of upward communication also include better decision-making and future planning. It ultimately aids in the overall growth of individuals as well as the organization. 

Disadvantages of upward communication: 

  1. Filtration of Information: There is a great possibility of only selective information being communicated by the subordinates to the higher levels.
  2. Fear of Negative Response: There can be the risk of receiving negative or unwanted responses from superiors or managers, leading to less participation from the end of subordinates in the process of upward communication.
  3. Willful Manipulation: Information or data could be manipulated or even completely changed to attain personal goals. This may not lead to fruitful decision-making in some cases. 

Must Read: Check out our detailed article on the advantages and disadvantages of upward communication to know more.

B) Downward Communication

This is one of the forms of vertical communication where the flow is downward, that is starting from a manager or superior toward an employee. The channels of communication could be verbal as well as written here. It could be in the form of instruction, guidance, order, or an announcement. Conversations are usually focused on controlling, directing, and managing such types of communication. 

Must read: What is Downward Communication with examples & Types

Objectives of Downward Communication

  1. Training & Education: A major objective of implementing downward communication in an organization is to educate and train employees for better outcomes and performance.
  2. Advice & Motivation: This flow of communication encourages employees to work better with pieces of advice and words of motivation from their superiors.
  3. Passing of Information: The basic objective of downward communication is to inform the employees about new decisions, implementation, changes, short-term and long-term goals, and other important information.

Advantages of downward communication:

  1. Informing of Decisions: An advantage of downward communication is that it helps managers pass any new plans, policies, or changes to their subordinates- ultimately keeping everyone in an organization informed about all important decisions. 
  2. Work Efficiency: This type of communication motivates the employees to work better and ultimately promotes work efficiency in the organization or within a group.
  3. Clarity in Responsibility: Downward communication helps bring more clarity in the minds of employees about their individual responsibilities and limitations, ultimately helping in the efficient working of the organization.

Disadvantages of downward communication:

  1. Late Passage of Information: Since there are various levels of management in an organization, it may get too late for a piece of information to reach the lowest level in such type of communication- ultimately leading to late implementation of the instructions. 
  2. Risk of Wrong Miscommunication: There are high chances of an order being wrongly interpreted or communicated in downward communication.
  3. Risk of Decreased Efficiency: Since the flow of communication is downward, there are lesser chances of receiving feedback from subordinates and higher chances of decreasing efficiency.

Must Read: Advantages And Disadvantages of Downward Communication

Example of vertical communication

Example 1.1

An example of vertical communication involves information being passed from top to bottom and bottom to up.

This includes when orders and instructions are issued by managers to subordinates in the form of vertical downward communication and performance reports/ feedbacks are sent by subordinates to the managers in the form of vertical upward communication.


2) Horizontal Communication

One another type of formal communication is horizontal communication. Here, communication takes place among people who work at the same level of organizational structure. However, it’s not necessary for them to belong to the same group. For instance, when managers from different segments of an organization communicate- this would be called horizontal communication. 

Examples of horizontal communication

Example 1.1

The head of the marketing and sales department of a manufacturing firm needs to maintain continuous follow of horizontal communication among each other in order to strengthen the sales revenue and brand presence in the market.

Purpose of Horizontal Communication

  • Coordination of work: Horizontal communication promotes the coordination of work and goals between different groups of an organization.
  • Better work environment: This type of communication improves the working environment for employees by offering them better communication opportunities.
  • Enhanced Relationships: The relationship among employees from different departments gets enhanced formally as well as informally through horizontal communication.

Advantages of Horizontal Communication

  1. Improved work quality: Since horizontal communication allows employees to coordinate their individual efforts better, it improves the overall work quality. 
  2. Elimination of misunderstandings: One of the biggest advantages of formal communication that takes place horizontally is that it eliminates misunderstandings or any negative feelings among employees and between different groups of an organization. 
  3. Time-saving: When solving an urgent issue or conflict, horizontal communication can help save time with faster communication. This may not be possible in other types of communication.

Disadvantages of Horizontal Communication

  1. Information overload: There are high chances of information overload among employees when horizontal communication takes place through different formal channels of communication, ultimately leading to poor performance.
  2. Sense of demotivation: Both too much and too little horizontal communication may lead to negative feelings like demotivation, envy, or jealousy. Hence, a balance is very crucial. 
  3. Decreased productivity: Horizontal communication can lead to wastage of time, leading to delays in decision-making, and gradually contributing to decreased productivity and growth within the organization. 

Must Read: What Is Horizontal Communication: (Example And Types)

3) Diagonal Communication

Also known as crosswise communication, this type of formal communication takes place within the line of employees belonging to different groups and levels. This means that one has the liberty to communicate with anyone in the organization, irrespective of their level or department. Both formal and informal channels of communication could be used to execute such a flow. 

Example of diagonal communication

Example 1.1
When a talent acquisition head demands the list of additional manpower requirements from manufacturing department executives.
Example 2.1
The Operations head sends a message to field supervisors for creating a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for the new line of machinery attached.

Advantages of Diagonal Communication: 

  1. Rapid flow of information: Since there is no certain direction of communication here, diagonal communication helps boost the speed of traveling for a piece of information within the organization.
  2. Better problem-solving: With inter-level communication, problems can be communicated and solved efficiently as well as rapidly with the help of diagonal communication in an organization. 
  3. Clarity in messages: Diagonal communication decreases the chances of a message being distorted or wrongly transferred. This is due to the direct communication between two individuals, which rarely happens in other types of formal communication in organizations.

Disadvantages of Diagonal Communication: 

  1. Poor organizational environment: Diagonal communication may sometimes leave the direct superiors uninformed about the work their subordinates are doing and may create problems in the future. 
  2. Disturbance in the chains of command: Diagonal communication often disturbs the pre-decided lines of authority and leads to confusion and misunderstandings. 
  3. Wrong interpretation: Since the flow of communication is not certain diagonally, it may be interpreted as interference or taken negatively in some cases.

Must Read: What Is Diagonal Communication: Examples, Advantages & Features

What is Formal Communication?

Formal communication refers to a communication style that follows a hierarchical pattern. It has a well-defined flow of information allowed by the management of an organization. Formal communication is possible to occur in all four communication directions, that is upward, downward, and side by side. Reviews, reports, meetings, announcements, memos, etc, are some common forms of such communication.  

Example of Formal Communication- 

Example 1.0 represent Formal Greetings between professor Austin and his two students James and Emma.

Example 1.0

JAMES: Good morning, Professor Austin, how are you doing?

PROFESSOR AUSTIN: Good morning, James. I am doing well. And you?

JAMES: I’m great, thank you. This is my friend Emma. She is thinking about applying to this college. She has a few questions. Would you mind telling us about the process, please?

PROFESSOR AUSTIN: Hello, Emma! It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m more than happy to speak with you. Please stop by my office next week.

EMMA: It’s a pleasure to meet you, professor. Thank you so much for helping us.

PROFESSOR AUSTIN: Don’t mention it. Hopefully, I will be able to answer your questions!


Types of Formal Communication Networks

  • Circle network: Information in this network, flows in the form of a circle between superiors and subordinates. This network offers two-way communication but often becomes unorganized and confusing.  
  • Chain network: Information flows in a straight verticle line in a chain network. A superior gives orders to his employee, who further passes them to his subordinate, and the chain goes on in a vertical flow. 
  • Wheel or Star network: This is the most centralized network where a superior communicates with all his employees but the employees are not connected to each other. The superior is the center of all communication.
  • Y-type network: When two subordinates report to a superior together, who further reports to a higher superior, is called a Y-type network of formal communication. 
  • All-channel network: This is a network where a decentralized type of formal communication takes place. With no central positioning or restrictions, all the members of a group can communicate with each other freely.

Advantages of Formal Communication

  1. Fixed responsibility: Formal communication makes it easy to fix the responsibilities of both managers and employees at each level. It also facilitates the delegation of authority in the future. 
  2. Minimal distortion of information: Since formal communication has a fixed pattern of flow, the chances of distortion of a message become minimal and avoidable. This also prevents the spread of rumors within the organization. 

Must Read: Advantages And Disadvantages of Formal Communication With Examples

Characteristics of Formal Communication

  • Fixed chain of command: Formal communication follows a fixed chain of command through which the information is to pass.
  • Work or task-oriented: Formal communication focuses more on tasks, work, or official goals rather than building interpersonal relationships. 
  • Based on rules: There are certain rules and regulations followed in formal communication. The whole procedure is designed by the top management or higher authorities of an organization. 

What is Informal Communication?

Informal communication is the opposite of formal communication. This type of communication doesn’t follow a pattern and usually builds social relationships between individuals in an organization. It is also called grapevine as it expands in all directions irrespective of departments or hierarchy. Spontaneity and flexibility are two common features of communication here. 

Related Reading: Informal Communication Advantages And Disadvantages With Example

Types of Informal Communication

  • Single-strand chain: Here, information is passed on through a single chain of people. One shares information with another, who again tells it to someone else, and the process goes on. 
  • Gossip chain: When one person shares information with multiple people, it forms a gossip chain. This group of people again share it with another group of people to pass the information ahead.
  • Probability chain: This is a random process of communication where a person tells information to another person by choosing them as per their preference. Information is passed to more people in a similar way, without following a specific chain. 
  • Cluster chain: A cluster chain occurs when a person passes a piece of information to selected people who pass it to more selected people as per their preference.

Difference between Formal & Informal Communication

Formal communication is official and mostly involves work-related matters. On the other hand, informal communication may involve friendly conversations not related to work.

While formal communication uses only written and oral channels, informal communication may also use non-verbal channels. There is authenticity, accuracy, and origin in a formal message or communication. However, all these elements may be absent in some cases of informal communication. 

Aditya Soni

Aditya is the head of content at clearinfo and is responsible for improving the site's organic visibility. He is a certified SEO trainer and has worked with SaaS companies and startups to enhance their digital marketing presence. He is also an ahref fanboy. Click to connect with him on Twitter, and LinkedIn.  

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