Horizontal Communication in the Workplace

Horizontal communication at work is the coordination glue that brings people and processes together to produce amazing results. Unless it's broken.

Peer to peer communication is the exchange of information that flows between peers, within a department or across departments, formally and informally. The main purpose of this type of exchange is coordination.

In formal communication, co-workers are expected to work together because of an ongoing assignment or a project, and they are expected to follow formal rules of engagement. They are expected to share information, escalate problems, show respect for each other, support each other, and in general, play nice.

In informal communication, peers talk to peers in their own terms. They chose who they talk and socialize with, and how they go about it.

Horizontal Communication

When peer to peer communication is working

• The team works in cooperation to produce results that are beyond the ordinary work product of single individuals, enriched by the diverse experience and knowledge of the various team members.

• The team is cohesive. When people work together for a common goal, they may become close business friends and help each other succeed in whatever assignment they're are working on. A negative side effect of this cohesion is that peers may avoid escalating problems in an attempt to protect the team from problems.

• The information flow increases. When a vacuum of downward communication exists, employees will exchange information that they are privy to, increasing the overall level of knowledge and awareness of the team.

Peer to peer communication problems may arise when peers deviate from expectations and unspoken rules of behavior.

When peer to peer communication is broken

• Team engages in unhealthy competition, causing employees to withhold information from each other in hopes of using it to their own advantage.

• Peers have a perception of favoritism which may lead employees to shun the one being seen as favored by the boss.

• Employees experience jealousy of another employee success which may lead to employees gossiping or back stabbing in an attempt to bring the successful peer down.

• Employees engage in increased rumor spreading which may damage people's careers and reputations.

When managed correctly, horizontal communication in the workplace can make all the difference between a team (or department) at war and one where extraordinary results are produced on a consistent basis.

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