It’s one of the most critical skills for success in the workplace: communication.

Whether you are a technical genius or a marketing maven, effective conversation with peers, management, and clients is the first rung in the ladder to success at the workplace.

Communication is also essential for effective teamwork and building a positive company culture.

One of the key factors that determine workplace communication is an organization’s hierarchy. Organizational communication needs to be structured for the smooth functioning of an organization. How does organizational communication flow?

Types of communication flow in an organization

Let’s understand the different types of communication flow in an organization:

  1. The downward flow of communication:

Most people associate organizational communication with downward communication. This refers to the formal process of relaying information to employees through a chain of command. The downward flow of communication transfers information from a higher level to a lower level in an organization.

Typically, top-level managers use downward communication to provide information to employees on company objectives, strategies, policies, and procedures. They use speeches, meetings, memos, and messages to get their message across to all employees.

One of the goals of downward communication is to provide information that employees need to get the job done.  Another goal of downward communication is to motivate employees to meet and even exceed expectations.

An effective way to structure information for downward communication is to use the SCQR—or Situation-Complication-Question-Resolution—Framework from Harappa’s Writing Proficiently course. It’s a storytelling framework to share the message effectively and ensure that it lands with the audience.

Do you remember how your manager or team leader starts a meeting? Perhaps they open with an anecdote or a famous quote. Or they use references and quotes from movies and popular culture to get the attention of employees. This is a good way of breaking any communication barriers that stem from a company’s hierarchy.

So what’s the exact role of downward communication? It is used in the following ways:

  • Giving instructions and information required for the job
  • Providing feedback on an employee’s performance
  • Communicating the organization’s mission and vision to the employees
  • Helping employees understand the structure of their job

  1. The upward flow of communication:

Another key form of communication is upward communication, in which information travels from lower levels to higher levels in an organization. Upward communication reduces frustration among employees, enables supportive structures to be put in place, and fosters cooperation. You can think of many other upward communication flow examples in an organization: requests, estimations, complaints, proposals, and so on.

Let’s say you’re a team leader and your project is facing some technical problems. You know there’s a real chance of your team missing the deadline on a crucial project. What do you? You go to your manager and request to speak with the client regarding a deadline extension. This is upward communication in an organization.

  1. Horizontal communication:

Now, let’s turn to another form of communication: lateral communication or horizontal communication. Horizontal communication takes place when individuals at the same level in the organization exchange messages. This is a type of communication we are all familiar with, especially when we work in teams with our peers. A team meeting to coordinate tasks and iron out any confusion is a good place to see horizontal communication flow.

  1. Diagonal communication:

Here, information is shared within different levels and different departments of the organization. This kind of communication often happens in cross-functional teams. And just like cross-functional teams, diagonal communication has become the norm in today’s nimble and multidisciplinary workplace. Channels of diagonal communication must be opened to make information sharing faster. In this communication flow, you can directly communicate with a counterpart without the message getting tempered, filtered, or carried in any other way by superiors or juniors.

  1. External communication:

External communication is when the organization initiates communication with people or groups outside the business. Conversation with a client—whether verbal or written— is a good example of external communication flow. Any kind of shop talk with potential vendors, existing suppliers, or the public at large also falls within the category of external communication. These conversations are often handled by the sales and marketing teams.

Understanding the different types of organizational communication is critical for effective communication. To take the first step towards being an effective communicator, sign up for Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course.


Explore blogs on topics such as the importance of business communication, the types of business communication, and formal and informal communication in our Harappa Diaries section and learn how to deliver information effectively.

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