Formal Communication Networks vs. the Grapevine: Definition & Contrast

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  • 0:05 Communication Problems
  • 1:01 Formal Communications Network
  • 3:17 Informal Networks
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Lombardo
Formal communication networks consist of centralized and decentralized channels, while the grapevine is an informal network. In this lesson, you'll learn how most organizational communication happens using an informal network due to friends, usage and efficiency.

Communication Problems

Spiffy Cowboy Clothes Corporation was having a successful year. Employee morale was at an all-time high. Tex was an employee at Spiffy who had been problematic to the company in the past. He was reprimanded this week for inappropriate business behavior at a meeting. Tex was furious that he was 'singled-out' and started a very negative campaign within the organization. He started rumors and innuendo about employees, managers and the company through the corporate grapevine. A grapevine is an informal communication network of an organization. The company's morale started a precipitous decline due to the rumors. The human resource manager started an investigation to see how they could combat this huge issue that Tex started through the formal communication networks, or official, corporate-endorsed communication channels.

Formal Communication Networks

Traditionally, companies utilize formal communication networks to communicate with an organization. Formal networks depend upon the location of the workers, rules of communication and status hierarchy of the employees. Many companies pursue communication flow through an organigram, also known as organogram, which is a diagram of a company's hierarchy that reflects formal lines of communication. For example, it would be inappropriate for Tex, who is a lower level manager, to email the CEO directly with a question or complaint. Tex should contact his direct superior with any issue. Centralized and decentralized are two types of formal communication networks.

A centralized network usually disperses information in a status hierarchy manner. To combat Tex's negative rumors and innuendos, the human resource manager had the CEO send out an explicit email addressing each issue. In the email, the CEO mentioned each rumor and explained why it was false. He also complimented his employees on their stellar performance and great morale. Companies need to address any negative grapevine issues, or the rumors can start to become fact in the minds of employees.

A decentralized network is when information is usually communicated by any point on the hierarchy scale that can be accessed by numerous employees. The human resource manager considered using a decentralized network to fix the issues, but felt that the CEO had the authoritative power to easily disperse the rumors versus an immediate manager. When the CEO emailed the company about an upcoming change in leadership, many of the managers took it upon themselves to share what they knew about the situation with each other. This would be an example of decentralized communication. The managers met every morning around the water cooler to discuss corporate news and information.

Most employees will trust formal communication channels within an organization if the messages are truthful. Employee questions must have responses within an adequate time through the channel as well.

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