Brian Kazungu, 12/05/2023
Lines of communication define the actual ways and methods by which information is being relayed across the organisation.
These lines show how people from within and among different departments are exchanging information in their course of duty irrespective of the organisational structure.
Lines of communication are the ways of interaction that usually emerge as people start to get familiar with each other. With time, people in an organisation end up informally devising quicker, less bureaucratic ways of interaction and methods to address issues as they arise.
There is a notable difference between lines of communication and an organisational structure, even though they both determine the movement of information in an enterprise.
Lines of communication show how people interact formally and informally in passing information from one person to the other for a given reason while a structure determines communication on the basis of authority and responsibility.
Please take note of the fact that you do not set or put in place these lines of communication, but they just emerge with the passage of time and as such they must be identified and be reviewed to see their impact on the operations of the business as whole.
The nature of your business, the design of the premises and office layout as well as the interaction between departments have a bearing on the lines of communication that emerge in the business environment.
Such a setup as described above, determines much of the communication in an enterprise.
Lines of communication play an important role in determining or undermining the quality and accuracy of information and therefore they must be monitored and where necessary be regulated.
This is because the movement of information is of critical importance in any institution regardless of its size since it determines the speed at which you respond to business opportunities and threats as they unfold.
The quantity, quality and medium of information determines the quality of decisions that are made under any given circumstances.
When these decisions are made, they must then be communicated to the relevant individuals for execution.
In the process of or after execution of a given task, feedback must be given on the progress and challenges being encountered in the course of duty in order to make sure management is always proactive in steering the business through various circumstances.
This interaction in a business unit does not always follow the path defined by the organizational structure since people can productively interact across the departments without following the hierarchy.
The intensity, gravity and importance of the piece of information to be conveyed determines whether the organisational structure is important or not in the communication process at that particular time.
Lines of communication which people use in their interaction can end up being established as the normal business phenomenon that have a notable impact on the mood in the workplace.
When not monitored, lines of communication have a tendency of creating a shadowy organisational structure which might be more powerful than the formal organisational structure itself.
Clearly identifiable lines of communication would however ensure that information is moving from one individual or department to the other efficiently and for the common good of the company and not for sabotage and demise of others.
Although the issue of lines of communication might look so simple, the effects thereof might be so devastating especially when some of the employees develop selfish interests that they need to fulfil.
Most organisational structures that are set before the actual operations begin are very assumptive of reality and thus might not be practically responsive to the communication needs of the company.
Under such an environment, people would find it better to re-define communication on their own if the structure seem to interfere with their effectiveness.
It is important to study how people in the company are interacting towards the fulfilment of their duties in order to review the effectiveness of your organisational structure as well.
Unfortunately some entrepreneurs autocratically reinforce an ineffective structure because of blind adherence to policies without doing an impact analysis of the organizational system.
An organizational system shows the interaction between a mission statement, company policy, and organizational structure as well as the duties and responsibilities of the people in an institution towards the fulfilment of the set objectives.
When attention is paid to the communication models that naturally or randomly emerge in the company, it can help in making adjustments to the organizational structure and hence promoting efficiency.
Once you analyse your organisational activities and identify interpersonal interactions that are necessary for the attainment of the set goals, it is critical to set the necessary guidelines in order to promote employee effectiveness.
This helps to make sure that lines of communication are coupled with a responsibility mechanism before they are high jacked by unscrupulous individuals.
Corrupt activities in most organisations and societies take advantage of a jumbled communication mechanism since, in this way, negative developments take long to get noticed and to be subsequently addressed.
If and when not monitored these avenues of interaction can be high-jacked and be adopted by unscrupulous individuals at the expense of the whole business unit.
An organizational structure and the job description can determine the type and quality of lines of communication that emerge and thus it must always be reviewed to ensure that it does not result in an interaction that interferes with productivity.
The defining of responsibilities and duties in an organisation must also be clearly analysed to make sure that it does not create or result in tangled lines of communication.
A person’s job description determines the people that he or she will interact with since they are immediate stakeholders to the fulfilment of his or her set goals within that institution.
It is equally important to also make sure that these lines of communication should uphold and respect the set organisational structure or otherwise conflicts would emerge as superiors might be side-lined as some critical information can by bypass them.
In instances where communication in an enterprise is done in an undefined mechanism, the information which is used to run an enterprise is likely to emerge and to be administered through informal channels.
Such informal channels include the grape vine (hearsay) which makes it difficult to trace the source and route of the problem in the event of a crisis.
Grapevine refers to the gossip that is spread by spoken communication.
Unfortunately, information which is passed through informal means like the grapevine is likely to be diluted and to be contaminated in its way from the source to the end user and thus negatively affects the end results.
When grapevine sets foot in a company, it brings along some tension which diverts human capital from progressive execution of duties to a non-productive defensive mode.
This is because people will now be interested in subtly justifying and defending their actions and personalities at the expensive of productivity and customer service.
Regardless of the path taken, caution must be exercised in the communication process in order to avoid unnecessary anxiety in the workforce since any element of information exchange has a direct or indirect impact in every given environment.
This anxiety arises when people feel like they are being side-lined in the process of communication or when there is an assumption that a given individual is deliberately crossing another’s paths and yet there is no formal communication to address the issue.
Unfortunately these assumptions are usually generated by an undefined communication mechanism that happens behind the scenes and yet have a publicly observable impact.
This can happen when the entrepreneur sometimes by-passes the relevant immediate superior or abandons protocol in his or her interaction with employees in the organization and thus creating anxiety and insecurity among those that are seemingly side-lined.
This practice is likely to cause or create tension in the company between subordinates and their immediate supervisors.
Some entrepreneurs tend to ignore or are ignorant of the importance of lines of communication either when setting up the organisation or when engaging in the act of communication itself.
Company owners and management should make use of formal communication platforms such as meetings to communicate and to review the effect of the lines of communication in the day to day running of business.
The effects of the grapevine and other informal ways of communication can bring frustration, confusion and anxiety among staff members.
When not properly handled this can even result in losing valuable professional and experienced employees when they believe they cannot endure the confusion associated with tangled lines of communication.
In this case, they find it worthwhile to take their brains and expertise somewhere else.
Corrupt, non-competent and mischievous staff members would use or take advantage of poor lines of communication to try and gain relevance and cover up for their incompetence and evil deeds in an organisation.
Under such a scenario people would use unorthodox means in a battle for relevance of which in most circumstances is done at the expense of the company, because individuals would not seek to complement the effort of others in their quest for recognition.
Let us use the following scenario to demonstrate that lines of communication and the organisational structure do not always go hand in hand since a structure is mostly an interactive apparatus for the management and lines of communication are for the whole institution.
For example, some companies use a single email address for their correspondence with all their stakeholders i.e. [email protected] and these emails will then be printed and given to the respective responsible individuals.
In this context, one person, usually the secretary, receives the emails and must therefore distribute them to the respective departments for them to take action.
The secretary in this case cannot be said to be directly reporting to every departmental head even though there is an effective direct communication between and among them.
This development confirms the independence of lines of communication from the organisational structure.
Unless there is a clear and enforceable policy on how emails are to be handled, the given scenario will create some loopholes when some people claim not to have received an email that was supposed to have been acted upon.
You can therefore see that such lines of communication needs their own separate rules and regulations to govern them i.e. to have an email register where a person who is handed over a printed email can sign to confirm receipt thereof.
Lines of communication are defined by the various interactions that happen between and amongst the departments in relation to the different stakeholders that a company interacts with.
Adapted from The SME HANDBOOK written by Brian Kazungu
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Author Profile: https://www.amazon.com/author/briankazungu