Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication, often referred to as lateral communication, is communication that occurs between people at the same organizational level. In this context, communication describes any information that is transmitted between individuals, teams, departments, divisions, or units.

Horizontal CommunicationHorizontal Communication refers to the exchange of information, ideas, and messages among individuals or departments at the same organizational level. It typically involves communication between peers or colleagues rather than superiors or subordinates.
Key CharacteristicsSame Level: It occurs between individuals or units at the same hierarchical level within an organization.
Informal: Horizontal communication is often less structured and more informal compared to vertical communication.
Collaborative: It fosters collaboration, idea sharing, and problem-solving among peers.
Team-Based: Many horizontal communications happen within teams or workgroups.
PurposesCoordination: It facilitates the coordination of tasks and activities between departments or teams.
Information Sharing: Horizontal communication enables the sharing of relevant information, which is crucial for decision-making.
Problem Solving: It supports collective problem-solving and brainstorming among colleagues.
Conflict Resolution: In cases of disputes or conflicts, horizontal communication can help resolve issues at the same level.
BenefitsEfficiency: It can lead to quicker decision-making and problem resolution.
Innovation: Collaboration among peers can generate innovative ideas.
Employee Satisfaction: It fosters a sense of inclusion and involvement.
Conflict Resolution: It provides a platform for addressing conflicts without involving superiors.
ChallengesMiscommunication: Informality can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.
Lack of Structure: It may lack the structure and clarity of formal vertical communication.
Information Silos: Ineffective horizontal communication can result in information silos within departments or teams.
Resistance: Some employees may resist sharing ideas or information due to competition or other factors.
Modes of CommunicationHorizontal communication can occur through various means, including face-to-face discussions, email, instant messaging, team meetings, collaborative software, and internal social networks.
ImportanceEffective horizontal communication is essential for promoting collaboration, knowledge sharing, and a cohesive work environment. It contributes to organizational agility and adaptability in rapidly changing business landscapes.
Management’s RoleManagers play a role in facilitating and encouraging horizontal communication by creating a culture of openness, providing tools and platforms for collaboration, and recognizing and rewarding effective teamwork and idea sharing.
Examples– Team members in a project group sharing progress updates and ideas.
– Different departments (e.g., marketing and sales) coordinating efforts for a product launch.
– Colleagues discussing and resolving a workplace issue without involving supervisors.
– Employees in a cross-functional team collaborating to solve a complex problem.

Understanding horizontal communication

Horizontal communication describes any communication that occurs between people, teams, or departments at the same level within a company.

Effective horizontal communication creates a collaborative culture where visibility and accountability are the norm.

It also creates a sense of unity among employees at the same level where each is working toward a shared objective and not in direct competition with their co-workers or superiors.

However, like most forms of communication, there can be downsides. Ineffective lateral communication has the potential to create bottlenecks in the business – particularly if vertical communication is still required to ratify or approve decisions.

The extra visibility and accountability can also cause inefficiencies because employees spend much of their time interacting on multiple platforms or writing emails.

How can horizontal communication be improved?

Improving horizontal communication is very much context-dependent, but here are a few general ways to maximize its effectiveness.

Replace email with a messaging platform  

According to McKinsey, 28% of work time is spent on email with employees checking their inbox 11 times per hour on average.

This and the fact that response rates can vary from anywhere between 24 and 72 hours make email extremely inefficient.

Messaging platforms like Slack are a faster way to communicate and are especially useful when someone needs an instantaneous answer or access to a document.

By their very nature, they cut down on back-and-forth exchanges and tend to be more casual.

This means employees can avoid including introductions, sign-offs, or other email-related formalities that waste time.

Keep supervisors in the loop

That horizontal communication is collaborative may sometimes mean that employees know more about a project or task than their supervisor. 

When email must be used, it’s important to carbon copy supervisors to avoid inefficiencies that arise from repeating the same information multiple times.

Otherwise, these individuals should have access to Slack and other chat platforms.

Leverage Slack channels but beware of distraction

On a related note, Slack channels are a useful way to organize groups of people around a specific topic or project.

They increase the clarity and visibility of the work being performed in addition to who is responsible for what.

With access to the same information and saved conversation history, every member of the team – from new recruits to leaders – can easily remain abreast of the latest developments.

Note also that social or informal Slack channels are an effective way to build rapport between teams and departments. Indeed, there is no requirement that horizontal communication be limited to work topics only.

Key takeaways

  • Horizontal communication describes any communication that occurs between people, teams, or departments at the same level within a company.
  • Effective horizontal communication creates a collaborative culture where visibility and accountability are the norm. However, in some cases, it can result in bottlenecks and associated efficiencies.
  • To maximize the effectiveness of horizontal communication, replace email with chat communication wherever possible, ensure supervisors are kept in the loop, and utilize Slack channels to increase the clarity and visibility of communication. 

Key Highlights

  • Definition and Importance:
    • Horizontal communication, also known as lateral communication, refers to communication between individuals, teams, departments, or units at the same organizational level.
    • It fosters collaboration, visibility, and accountability among peers.
    • Promotes a sense of unity and shared objectives among employees at the same level, reducing direct competition.
  • Benefits and Challenges:
    • Effective horizontal communication cultivates a collaborative culture and shared responsibility.
    • May lead to bottlenecks if vertical communication is required for decision approval.
    • Increased visibility and accountability can potentially result in inefficiencies as employees spend time on various communication platforms.
  • Improving Horizontal Communication:
    • Use Messaging Platforms: Replace traditional email with faster messaging platforms like Slack to facilitate instant communication and reduce formalities. Minimize back-and-forth exchanges.
    • Involve Supervisors: Keep supervisors in the communication loop to prevent information repetition and ensure alignment. Provide supervisors access to chat platforms for seamless communication.
    • Utilize Slack Channels: Create dedicated channels on platforms like Slack to organize discussions around specific projects or topics. Enhance clarity, visibility, and accountability among team members.
    • Beware of Distraction: While using chat platforms, be cautious of potential distractions. Maintain a balance between work-related channels and informal channels that build rapport among teams.

Horizontal Communication Strategies

Project Team CollaborationProject Team Communication:Team members working on a project communicate horizontally to share updates, ideas, and progress. This communication facilitates collaboration, coordination, and problem-solving among team members.Enhanced teamwork and collaboration.Efficient project execution and successful outcomes.
Cross-Functional Task ForcesCross-Functional Communication:Cross-functional teams, consisting of members from different departments, engage in horizontal communication to align on objectives, share expertise, and work together to achieve specific goals or solve complex problems.Improved interdepartmental collaboration.Innovative solutions and streamlined processes.
Knowledge Sharing PlatformsKnowledge Sharing:Organizations establish knowledge-sharing platforms or intranets where employees across departments can contribute, access, and exchange information, expertise, and best practices horizontally, enhancing organizational learning and efficiency.Enhanced organizational learning and innovation.Increased knowledge retention and process improvement.
Employee-Led InitiativesEmployee-Led Communication:Employees from various departments may initiate and lead projects or initiatives. They engage in horizontal communication to collaborate, gain support, and share progress updates among peers to achieve project goals and drive change within the organization.Empowered employees and grassroots innovation.Successful employee-led initiatives and cultural change.
Quality Improvement TeamsQuality Improvement Communication:Quality improvement teams within an organization engage in horizontal communication to identify issues, analyze data, and implement solutions collaboratively. This horizontal communication fosters a culture of continuous improvement and problem-solving.Increased quality standards and process efficiency.Improved product or service quality and customer satisfaction.
Internal Task Forces for Crisis ManagementCrisis Management Communication:During a crisis or emergency, organizations form internal task forces that consist of representatives from different departments. These teams engage in horizontal communication to address the crisis, make decisions, and coordinate response efforts.Crisis response efficiency and coordination.Minimized crisis impact and reputation preservation.
Departmental Committees for Policy DevelopmentPolicy Development Communication:In organizations, departmental committees may form to develop or review policies and procedures. Members engage in horizontal communication to ensure that policies align with various departmental needs, goals, and compliance requirements.Comprehensive policy development and alignment.Clear policies, regulatory compliance, and reduced risks.
Interdepartmental Training ProgramsInterdepartmental Training:To enhance employee skills, organizations conduct interdepartmental training programs where employees from different departments participate in horizontal communication to share knowledge, learn new skills, and promote cross-functional understanding.Cross-functional skill development and cooperation.Increased employee capabilities and collaboration.
Cross-Functional Brainstorming SessionsCross-Functional Brainstorming:Cross-functional teams gather for brainstorming sessions, engaging in horizontal communication to generate creative ideas, solve complex problems, and foster innovation by leveraging diverse perspectives and expertise from various departments.Innovative solutions and problem-solving.Enhanced product or service development and competitiveness.
Employee-Led Diversity and Inclusion InitiativesDiversity and Inclusion Communication:Employees passionate about diversity and inclusion may initiate grassroots initiatives. These initiatives involve horizontal communication to raise awareness, build support, and drive change in the workplace culture to promote diversity and inclusion.Inclusive workplace culture and employee engagement.Diverse and inclusive workforce and improved company reputation.
Cross-Departmental Process Improvement WorkshopsProcess Improvement Communication:Organizations conduct cross-departmental process improvement workshops where employees collaborate horizontally to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement, leading to streamlined processes and better workflow coordination.Enhanced process efficiency and productivity.Reduced operational costs and improved customer service.
Employee-Led Wellness ProgramsEmployee Wellness Communication:Employees from various departments may lead wellness programs or initiatives. These programs encourage horizontal communication to promote health and well-being, share tips, and create a supportive environment for employees to lead healthier lifestyles.Improved employee well-being and morale.Reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.
Cross-Functional Sales and Marketing CollaborationSales and Marketing Communication:Sales and marketing teams collaborate horizontally to align on messaging, campaigns, and customer insights. This horizontal communication ensures consistent branding and effective customer engagement across departments, ultimately driving sales.Aligned sales and marketing efforts and strategies.Increased sales revenue and market share.
Employee-Generated Feedback ChannelsEmployee Feedback Communication:Organizations establish feedback channels where employees from different departments can provide suggestions, feedback, and ideas. This horizontal communication fosters an open feedback culture, allowing employees to contribute to organizational improvement and innovation.Improved employee engagement and job satisfaction.Organizational improvements and innovation initiatives.

Read Next: Lasswell Communication Model, Linear Model Of Communication.

Connected Communication Models

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Communication Cycle

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Berlo’s SMCR Model

Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Helical Model of Communication

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Lasswell Communication Model

The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, and transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Modus Tollens

Modus tollens is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference used to make conclusions of arguments and sets of arguments.  Modus tollens argues that if P is true then Q is also true. However, P is false. Therefore Q is also false. Modus tollens as an inference rule dates back to late antiquity where it was taught as part of Aristotelian logic. The first person to describe the rule in detail was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

Five Cannons of Rhetoric

The five canons of rhetoric were first organized by Roman philosopher Cicero in his treatise De Inventione in around 84 BC. Some 150 years later, Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored each of the five canons in more depth as part of his 12-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria. The work helped the five canons become a major component of rhetorical education well into the medieval period. The five canons of rhetoric comprise a system for understanding powerful and effective communication.

Communication Strategy

A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.

Noise if Communication

Noise is any factor that interferes with or impedes effective communication between a sender and receiver. When noise disrupts the communication process or prevents the transmission of information, it is said to be communication noise.

7 Cs of Communication

The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, and courteous.

Transactional Model of Communication

The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication, often referred to as lateral communication, is communication that occurs between people at the same organizational level. In this context, communication describes any information that is transmitted between individuals, teams, departments, divisions, or units.

Communication Apprehension

Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone feels in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.

Closed-Loop Communication

Closed-loop communication is a simple but effective technique used to avoid misunderstandings during the communication process. Here, the person receiving information repeats it back to the sender to ensure they have understood the message correctly. 

Grapevine In Communication

Grapevine communication describes informal, unstructured, workplace dialogue between employees and superiors. It was first described in the early 1800s after someone observed that the appearance of telegraph wires strung between transmission poles resembled a grapevine.

ASE Model

The ASE model posits that human behavior can be predicted if one studies the intention behind the behavior. It was created by health communication expert Hein de Vries in 1988. The ASE model believes intention and behavior are determined by cognitive variables such as attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. The model also believes that intention predicts behavior such that one’s attitude toward a behavior is influenced by the consequences of that behavior. Three cognitive variables are the primary determinants of whether the intention to perform a new behavior was sustained: attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. Various external variables also influence these factors.

Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach used by businesses to coordinate and brand their communication strategies. Integrated marketing communication takes separate marketing functions and combines them into one, interconnected approach with a core brand message that is consistent across various channels. These encompass owned, earned, and paid media. Integrated marketing communication has been used to great effect by companies such as Snapchat, Snickers, and Domino’s.

Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory was developed by fellow psychologists Dalmas Taylor and Irwin Altman in their 1973 article Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. Social penetration theory (SPT) posits that as a relationship develops, shallow and non-intimate communication evolves and becomes deeper and more intimate.

Hypodermic Needle

The hypodermic needle theory was first proposed by communication theorist Harold Lasswell in his 1927 book Propaganda Technique in the World War. The hypodermic needle theory is a communication model suggesting media messages are inserted into the brains of passive audiences.

7-38-55 Rule

The 7-38-55 rule was created by University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and mentioned in his book Silent Messages.  The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions, claiming that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

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