What Is Horizontal flow of Communication: (Example And Types)

Understand the concept of the horizontal flow of communication with examples and types. The guide also includes strategies to improve and implement effective horizontal communication in the workplace.

What is horizontal communication?

Horizontal communication is also known as lateral communication. In a horizontal network, communication occurs between two individuals at the same level in an organization. The same ranked persons can be in the managerial hierarchy or at the subordinate level. 

In a horizontal flow of communication, interactions can be within the same department or done interdepartmentally. In the case of interdepartmental communication, managers or subordinates of the same rank from different departments communicate with each other to achieve common goals.

This gives birth to the interdependence between different departments and builds a stronger level of coordination to run a business.

Horizontal channels of communication are less formal in nature as compared to other forms such as diagonal communication and vertical communication. They mainly rely on informal conversations, telephone calls, video conferences, etc.

This is done freely between two persons without following an official chain of command. It is vital to build a healthy work environment where co-workers can build bonds and develop greater levels of cooperation for effective teamwork.  

What is the purpose of horizontal communication?

The lateral flow of communication serves the following purpose in a business:

  • Problem-solving: Horizontal communication is important in sorting out business problems by creating a collaborative work environment. Workers at the same level can communicate with one another to share experiences and sort out issues.
  • Developing teamwork: One of the core purposes of horizontal communication is to build a cohesive work environment where individuals can communicate and promote stronger coordination. 
  • The peer-to-peer flow of communication: The purpose of horizontal communication is to promote a work culture where vertical communication is not the only mode of communication. It increases flexibility in the workspace by opening up a lateral flow of communication.

Types of horizontal communication

In business communication, horizontal communication can be divided into three categories. They are: 

1) Intradepartmental communication: In this type, lateral communication only occurs within the same department, i.e, workers of the same designation in a department communicate with each other to share information and solve problems.

2) Interdepartmental cooperation: Lateral communication in an organization can occur in an interdepartmental form where subordinates or managers facilitate communication with managers or subordinates of the same rank from other departments to reach common goals and coordinate on tasks. 

3) Staff advice to line departments: There are messages which are communicated from industry specialists from different fields such as finance, IT department, analysts, etc. to administrators seeking special assistance.

Diagram of horizontal communication

Flow-of-horizontal-communication-with-a-diagram

The above diagram represents the flow of horizontal communication among managers and vice presidents between various departments of an organization. 

How does horizontal communication work?

Horizontal communication serves four main functions in a business. They are:

  • Task coordination: Horizontal communication promotes communication between the members of an organization so they can coordinate and achieve business objectives effectively. 
  • Problem-solving: Horizontal communication gives rise to brainstorming and problem-solving as members of a department communicate by sharing experiences and coming up with ideal solutions to business problems.
  • Information sharing: Lateral communication makes it easy for individuals to share information quickly and increase collaboration among workers.
  • Resolving conflicts: In the case of conflicts between individuals, the best method of resolution is direct communication. Horizontal communication provides a channel to resolve misunderstandings in the workspace effectively.

Example of horizontal communication

Horizontal interactions within the organization are essential to enhance strategic initiatives taken by management for better performance. It triggers the 4C of components which includes Communication, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration between cross-department. 

For example, the top management wants to improve production capacity by up to 25% by achieving economies of scale.

A cross-departmental (EOS) team can be formed. This team is going to lead by the Sales and marketing department which will also include managers from finance and accounting, the human resource department, Information technology, and operational management. 

You can see the cross-departmental horizontal interaction between the department in figure 1.1 below.   

Illustration-of-horizontal-communication-between-four-departments-of-organization

The EOS Team could conduct production research on EOS; identify several EOS strategies; analyze the EOS strategies; select an EOS strategy; HR manager can perform training manuals to train the employees for the new procedure selected; implement the selected strategy in production, and measure the percentage change in the output with the help of new EOS strategy. 

An organization that is able to initiate a cross-departmental horizontal interaction is able to achieve better resource allocation that results in improve productivity. 

Example of barrier in horizontal communication 

At times managers from different departments are not able to collaborate and corporate with each other which results in a lack of efficiency in horizontal interaction. Figure 2.2 below shows the conflict between the Marketing and finance department as well as between operational and Informational technology. 

Illustration-of-barrier-in-lateral-communication-between-two-departments

 

The clashes can be regarding, powers concerns, physical barriers, resource allocation, sense of belonging, capital funding, working assets, etc.

Suppose the sales and marketing department does not collaborate with the finance team, the organization won’t be able to scale its production to achieve the economies of scale set.

At the same time, if the operational and informational tech departments are not able to coordinate among there self the organization will not be digitalize its production procedures and SOPs. 

Reference for the examples included.

What are the steps to implement an efficient horizontal communication strategy in a company?

Implementation of an effective horizontal communication strategy in an organization can be done in the following ways:

1) Organizing a linguistic audit and identifying any potential language barriers present.  

2) Prioritizing specific comprehension proficiency as often, an individual’s ability to understand a language can be more beneficial than their ability to speak or write it.

3) Encourage learning different variations of the English language (UK version, American English, etc.) to the members of the organization.  

4) Coaching native English speakers to participate in communication training by limiting their vocabularies and speaking slowly and clearly, so it is easy for non-native speakers to understand.

How can horizontal communication be improved?

Horizontal communication in a business can be improved by following the following practices:  

  • Develop lateral understanding: In order to avoid wastage of time and resources, making bad decisions, and work duplication, workers in an organization should be made aware of the goals, challenges, opportunities, and structures of other departments to increase unity and coordination.
  • Flexible chain of command:  When members of an organization are forced to follow rigid systems of communication on a vertical level, it decreases the effectiveness of horizontal communication. This is improved by promoting group discussions and giving employees opportunities to offer solutions, recommendations, etc.
  • Share clear direction: The third practice to be followed to increase the effectiveness of horizontal communication is to provide clear and consistent information downward. When all employees are on the same page, it eliminates confusion about work tasks and business goals when they communicate laterally. 
  • Set the example: To improve horizontal communication, experienced members and members in senior positions must lead by setting the right example for newer subordinates to follow.  
  • Institute lateral teams: This practice to improve horizontal communication is undertaken by establishing teams with members from different departments that help in initiating communication between different members of an organization. 
  • Ensure accountability between departments: A highly effective way to improve horizontal communication is to hold everyone accountable to the company. This improves the quality of communication and ensures the goals of the organization are being met.
  • Make training available: Another effective practice to boost the effectiveness of lateral communication is to provide training to new subordinates by teaching them how to communicate effectively, proactive team participation, and decision-making skills. 

What are the features of horizontal communication?

The features of lateral communication in an organization are as follows:

1) Horizontal communication helps in transmitting information quickly from one subordinate to another.

2) It helps in boosting coordination and teamwork among employees.

3) Lateral communication involves peer-to-peer communication which is used to share experiences and solve problems.

4) It is also used to create opportunities for growth in the business. 

Advantages of horizontal communication

The advantages of horizontal or lateral communication are:

1) Horizontal communication is a time-saving method of communication as information is transmitted peer-to-peer.

2) It improves the coordination of tasks between employees which boosts team spirit and employee morale. 

3) Lateral communication also helps in solving organizational problems by promoting brainstorming, group discussions, etc.

4) It provides emotional assistance and creates social bonds between the members of the organization. 

Disadvantages of horizontal communication

The disadvantages of horizontal communication are: 

1) It may conflict with vertical communication as horizontal communication occurs more frequently. Decisions taken through lateral communication can go against directions given by superiors. 

2) Horizontal communication can be time-wasting if individuals spend too much time communicating information that does not help the goals of a business.

3) It can give birth to gossip and rumors among employees which is not beneficial to a healthy work environment.

4) Too much horizontal communication between employees can cause conflicts, start rivalries and cause work demotivation.  

Methods of horizontal communication

Horizontal communication flows through both oral and written channels for business communication. It makes use of several methods of communication such as:

  • Memos: Memos are commonly used in business communication as they are short and concise pieces of information exchanged by the members of an organization.
  • Letters: Businesses use official letters as a method of horizontal communication to exchange information, build relationships, and spike growth.
  • Conference: Conferences are a vital part of business communication in any company. They are used as a means to communicate information, set goals, and research new opportunities for growth.
  • Meetings: Meetings are regularly held in a department to discuss important matters. These are a gathering of two or more people either in person or through channels such as video calls, audio conference calls, etc. 
  • Face-to-face conversations: In-person conversations are the most effective and fastest way employees communicate in a lateral communication model. Face-to-face conversations are an informal and flexible means of communication.      

Horizontal Vs Vertical Communication

Vertical and horizontal communication are both important parts of business communication. Both are used to share information and develop a cordial relationship between the sender and receiver of the message. However, there are a few key differences between the two.

These differences are based on the following criteria:

Criteria for comparison

Horizontal Communication

Vertical Communication

Meaning

Communication between employees of the same rank or managerial status is referred to as horizontal communication.

Communication from a superior to subordinate and vice versa is referred to as vertical communication.

Direction

Moves laterally.

Moves either upward or downward.

Flow

Subordinate to subordinate of the same level.

Superior to subordinate or subordinate to superior.

Nature

Participative and casual.

Directive and authoritative.

What is vertical communication and why is it important?

Vertical communication is the flow of information between superiors and subordinates. It is authoritative and directive in nature as it follows the organizational chain of command. It includes two types – Downward communication and upward communication.

Upward communication refers to information flow from a superior to a subordinate, whereas, downward communication implies when subordinate reports to a superior.

Related Reading:

Merits and Demerits of Upward Communication

Merits and Demerits of Downward Communication

Vertical communication is vital to an organization as it establishes a chain of command and direct reporting relationships between managers and employees. This creates a disciplined work environment where all members of the company are held accountable to high standards of work performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1) What is the most common form of horizontal communication?

Ans: Face-to-face conversations and memos are the most common form of horizontal communication in an organization. They are quick, informal, and effective channels of communication.

Q2) What is the difference between horizontal and diagonal communication?

Ans: Horizontal or lateral communication occurs between subordinates on the same level in the organization, whereas, diagonal or crosswise communication is a form of communication that happens between teams or individuals, not in the same department or employee status. 

Q3) What is the difference between downward, upward and horizontal communication?

Ans: Upward communication flows from bottom to top where subordinates report to superiors while downward communication is an authoritative form of communication where superiors give instructions to subordinates. These differ from horizontal communication as it is a lateral form of communication between employees of equal rank in an organization.

Related Reading: Check out our detailed article on difference between upward and downward communication

Q4) What is the purpose of downward communication?

Ans: The managers in a company utilize downward communication to achieve purposes such as: giving instructions to subordinates and informing them about important matters, education and training purposes, offering counseling and advice, boosting morale, etc. 

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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