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Informal and Formal Communication



Informal communication can be defined as passing information outside the official channels.  It’s a system established by the employees themselves, thus meaning informal communication uses the workers own channels of communication (e.g grapevine). 


It can dictate what happens particularly if the formal system has been broken down.  Can support or undermine the formal structure.  There is a danger of confusing informal with oral communication. This is incorrect as you can communicate written messages to the “wrong” person just as easily as oral ones.



This takes place within the official channels, i.e. the lines of communication approved by senior management.  An example would be a marketing manager talking to the marketing director: his or her immediate boss. Within that channel any form of communication is regarded as formal.


Communication channels, are established by the organisation and is accepted and recognised by employees and managers.  Formal Network is split into two different areas which are:


Centralised Networks

In this network information must pass through a central position.  This is good for simple problems which are quick and have a few errors.  There is a problem that the centralised position can become overloaded.  Centralised networks can be put into three categories which are: the Y, the wheel and the chain.



The Y chain is an example of formal communication within a hierarchy such as in the police force or civil force



The chain is where one person passes information to the others, who then pass it on.  This approach tends to be the formal approach adopted hierarchical organisations, such as the Civil Service.  The main advantage is that there is a leader at the top of the hierarchy who can oversee communications downwards and upwards to different areas of the business.


One problem may be the isolation felt by those at the bottom of the network. Their motivation may be less than others if they feel at the periphery.




In the wheel pattern there is a person, group or department that occupies a central position.  This network is particularly good at solving problems. If, for example, the North West region of an insurance company had been asked to increase sales by central office, then the North West regional manager would be at the centre of policy initiative communicating with local managers about the best way forward.  The leader in this network is the regional manager.  An example is a head office communicating with a salespeople operating in regions.



Decentralised Networks

The information that is generally passed around to all party members.  They are used in complex problems (quicker and fewer mistakes and a more satisfied group).  Decentralised networks can be put into two categories which are; the circle and all channels.



In a circle, sections, departments etc. Can communicate with any two others as shown in the diagram.  This type of communication may occur between middle managers from different departments at the same level of the organisation.  The main problem with this type of network is that decision making can be slow or poor because of a lack of co-ordination.




The “all channel” communication system might be used in small group workings.

It provides the best solution to complex problems due to its participatory style, and more open communication system.  This type of network may be used when the department decides to “brainstorm”.


Its disadvantages are that it is slow and it tends to disintegrate under time pressure to get results when operated in a group.






E-mail Steve Margetts