Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior; exchange of information” (The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). In other words, communication is the passing on of ideas and information. In business one needs good, clear communication. The contact may be between people, organizations or places and can be in a number of forms such as speech, writing, actions and gestures. Organizations need to be structured in such a way as to maximize the benefits of communication processes.
Communication may be formal or informal. It is generally known that formal communications are those that involve the officially recognized communication channels within an organization. Informal communication, at the same time, involves other forms of interactions between organizational members.
Good communication is an important person-to-person skill. Employees are most likely to be well motivated and to work hard for organizations where there are well organized multi-directional communication flows.
Communication flows in a number of directions:
1) Downward communication involves the passing of commands from higher levels in a hierarchy to lower levels (top-down communication).
2) Upward communication involves the feedback of ideas from lower down in the organization to higher levels. This sort of communication flow is important in the consultation of employees, and enables managers to draw on good ideas from those working at grassroots levels in an organization.
3) Sideways communication involves the exchange of ideas and information between those at the same level in an organization e.g. between the various functions.
4) Multi-channel communication involves a range of flows of information. Information and Communications technology and the resultant networking systems enable effective multi-channel communication.
Up until the 1980’s many large firms in the USA and Western Europe were characterized by top-down communications systems:
Senior management – Junior management – Supervisor – Line employee
Communication flowed down the line, i.e. instructions were passed down the line. Individuals at the bottom end of the system had little scope for decision making.
However, modern communication systems stress the importance of empowerment. Large organizations recognize the importance of multi-channel communications and have therefore created team working structures. Teams are organized into multi-disciplinary groups in order to draw on a range of expertise. The teams are encouraged to make decisions rather than to wait for commands from above. There are all sorts of ways of organizing effective communications between members of an organization:
Team briefings – enable team leaders and managers to communicate and consult with their staff. Team briefings may take place on a daily basis or less frequently.
Formal meetings – enable a more formalized approach to communication.
Face-to-face communications enable a free and frank exchange of ideas.
There are many other ways of communicating such as e-mail, electronic noticeboards, physical noticeboards, newsletters, phone, fax, videoconferencing etc. The type of communication channel used needs to be appropriate to the message being conveyed. For example, if an exchange of ideas is required some sort of face-to-face meeting will be most appropriate. The communication of information can be done by newsletter, or noticeboard. Team working encourages a range of different types of communication and can be to high levels of motivation.