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Horizontal communication is a business workplace term that describes the communication that occurs between peers, as opposed to vertical communication, which often refers to communication that occurs between management and those whom they manage. It should be noted that communication breakdowns can occur in a variety of ways and can only be diagnosed by looking at the specific situation of your workplace. However, following some of these simple steps can result in improved communication practices among peer groups in your workplace.
Make a plan for generating feedback and dialogue. Depending on your project, you may need to put a cap or limit on the amount of time spent planning and communicating between different departments. It may also be helpful to schedule regular check-ins or meetings where ideas, advancements and problems can be discussed. Additionally, you may choose to use an interdepartmental survey to acquire feedback regarding the quality and quantity of horizontal communication within your organization. As part of your feedback plan, set the example for those you supervise as a manager by asking for feedback on your own communication style and ability. Set the expectation that each department head will also solicit feedback on their own communication to their peers.
Utilize a flow chart detailing the organization's structure among different department members and department heads. Other useful features may include times and frequency of contact between different departments and project meetings. This will show management the frequency and basis for formal horizontal communication which, in turn, should lead to informal communication between members of each department. Depending on your organization, it may benefit the horizontal communication patterns if a member of the management team is present during department or interdepartmental meetings to ensure the accuracy of information communicated.
Implement a message board detailing the most important communication items or agendas for your project or for a specific time period when changes in policies, practices, and procedures are occurring. A message board may also serve as a cue for communicating messages between shifts regarding accidents or other daily concerns within the workplace.
Perform a workplace culture survey. Some of the workplace culture issues that commonly prevent effective horizontal communication include competitive behaviors among peers who are striving to stand out for their own performance rather than ensuring the well-being and overall performance of the team or organization. By reducing the incentive for competition in the workplace and instilling a reward-based system for group performance vs. an individual's performance, you may be able to improve horizontal communication.
- Joining Together Group Theory and Group Skills: Johnson and Johnson: 2005
- Work 911: Improving Communication: Tips for Managers
- Business Communication: Process and Product; Guffy, Rogin and Rhodes; 2010
- Chartered Quality Institute: Communication
- Management Skills Advisor: Importance of Communication
- People Communicating: Horizontal Communication in the Workplace
- Mind Tools: Communication Skills
- Medicine Net: Office Conflict Resolution: 11 Communication Tips for a Healthy Workplace
- Harvard Business School: Seven Ways to Better Communicate in Today's Diverse Workplace; Ribbink; 2003
David McGuffin is a writer from Asheville, N.C. and began writing professionally in 2009. He has Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and Montreat College in history and music, and a Bachelor of Science in outdoor education. McGuffin is recognized as an Undergraduate Research Scholar for publishing original research on postmodern music theory and analysis.