You’ve probably already heard about vertical and lateral communication. But the fascinating world of business communication doesn’t stop there — there is another type of communication that combines the two, making information flow freely around corporate hierarchies and boosting the efficiency of teams.
In this article, we’ll learn what diagonal communication is, what its benefits and barriers are, as well as how to improve diagonal communication in the workplace.
Table of Contents
Diagonal or crosswise communication is a type of communication that crosses all organizational units and hierarchical levels. Such communication involves staff members of different departments interacting with each other, regardless of their reporting relationship. This type of communication is not affected by any lines of authority.
Examples of diagonal communication in business are:
- The Sales team asking one of the managers of the developing team when the upcoming feature will be available.
- The HR team and the VP of Customer Support making a list of requirements and qualifications for a new position opening in the Customer Support team.
- Content writers asking heads of different departments for up-to-date information or their opinion or experience on certain topics, so they can include them in the article they’re writing.
Crosswise communication is the most common in organizations with a structure that’s either:
- Flattened (it has few — if any — hierarchical levels; there is no middle management),
- Matrix (there are two chains of command — employees report to two bosses/managers),
- Product-based (employees and teams are grouped based on the product they’re working on, instead of their function).
Diagonal communication can also take place in organizations with a more rigid structure in case of an emergency or a crisis. When that’s not the case, the most prominent types of communication in classic organizations are vertical and lateral communication. Now, in which ways do they differ from crosswise communication?
Communication between managers and lower-level employees is called vertical communication, while lateral communication occurs among employees on the same hierarchical level.
Those two types of communication are unidirectional, whereas crosswise communication is multi-directional — it involves lateral, upward (lower-level employees communicating with managers), and downward communication (managers communicating with lower-level employees).
Let’s go over the main differences between vertical, lateral, and diagonal communication in the table below:
|Purpose||– To give orders and directions (downward communication)|
– To give feedback or suggestions (upward communication)
|– To coordinate activities within a team/department||– To exchange different types of information|
|Information flow||– Managers — lower-level employees||– Employees at the same hierarchical level||– All departments, functions, and hierarchical levels|
|Main advantage||– Effective decision-making||– Efficient collaboration||– Fast flow of information|
|Main disadvantage||– Possible loss or distortion of information||– Possible rivaling attitudes and conflicts||– Possible leakage of information|
If you want to get into more details of crosswise communication advantages and disadvantages, keep reading.
Before you decide if diagonal communication is right for your organization, it’s a good idea to learn about its main advantages and disadvantages.
Diagonal communication has a number of advantages: from increased effectiveness and strengthened relationships to faster information sharing.
Let’s get into detail of each one.
If you have a question, it’s best to directly ask someone who has that information under their belt. For example, the most efficient way for the Marketing team to learn about the software they have to advertise is to ask the developers of said software. After a meeting or two, they’ll probably have a good idea of how the software works, so they can start brainstorming campaign ideas together on a whiteboard tool.
Now, imagine you work in a company where you can’t communicate across departments. Doing your job gets so much more complicated, right?
As there are no artificial structural barriers, crosswise communication allows information to flow faster and more freely. All the data you need to get your work done is easily available — which brings us to our next point.
Fast, frequent communication across the organization significantly improves team effectiveness — both employees’ individual effectiveness and the effectiveness of the organization as a whole.
According to research, “the productivity of an employee who is well notified shall be increased by approximately thirty percent in relation to an average worker.”
This point is strongly connected to the previous one — as you don’t have to play the broken telephone game, you communicate faster and more effectively, which leaves you with more time to focus on your job. As a result, your productivity increases.
This is the main thing crosswise communication owes its increasing popularity to.
The more layers a message passes through, the higher the chance it will be misinterpreted. As we mentioned above, diagonal communication is direct — unlike vertical communication, it doesn’t go through additional filters. That means that distortion of information is less likely to happen, and it’s highly probable that you’ll get the message in its original form.
However, it’s important to note that all of that is true only if employees use the same communication tools, e.g. emails or team messaging apps. If some people mostly use email, some communicate exclusively via phone, and others prefer video calls, the message will probably get lost in translation. Every organization should have at least one communication tool that all employees check regularly.
Teams that communicate well, work well, and teams that communicate well with other teams work even better. Good, regular communication is a key to success — it results in better coordination among employees and teams, consequently bringing better results.
But not only that — such communication also builds trust and strengthens relationships between employees. It contributes to creating a healthy organizational culture and a better work environment.
Some of the main disadvantages of crosswise communication include possible leakage of information and increased competitiveness. It can also leave someone with too much information or, contrastingly, with no information at all.
Keep reading to learn more about each one.
Since people from all around the company communicate with each other, it’s possible for leakage of information to occur.
Information exchange within the organization may seem quite harmless, but that’s not always the case. Some teams work with confidential information such as business plans and strategies, customers’ information, payroll and personnel records, and so on. In such cases, it’s crucial to take all precautionary measures to keep leakage of information from happening.
Crosswise communication (much like horizontal communication) depends on good relationships between employees. It doesn’t function well in negative work environments — if there’s rivalry, hostility, and/or competitiveness, information can be distorted or concealed.
If that’s the case, the collaboration among employees will be practically non-existent and the whole organization will suffer.
When everyone has access to you, you might become a victim of infoglut (a.k.a. information overload).
This is more likely to happen to someone who’s higher up in the hierarchy, but it can happen to anyone. Emails coming in all the time, your coworkers constantly updating you on what’s happening, getting messages from people all around the company… Always being bombarded with new information can be a lot to handle — and it ruins your focus and lowers your performance.
If you don’t want to put yourself in that position, choose a designated time for checking emails and messages. Outside of those time frames, turn off notifications and focus on your main task for the day.
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On the flip side, crosswise communication can leave someone with no information, if you’re not careful. Since there is no established chain of command and some projects involve many team members and stakeholders, it can happen that you leave someone out of the loop.
They can feel left out, less engaged, and unsure of what their tasks are.
That can also be caused by rivalry, in which case a person is not accidentally left out, but someone purposely withheld information from them.
Crosswise communication can be tricky — there are many different people involved and there is no rigid structure you can lean on. But, it doesn’t have to be complicated and scary — we prepared a few tips to make a transition to diagonal communication as smooth as possible.
People from different departments have a different way of communicating — they have their jargon, inside jokes, and unwritten rules. They likely don’t have the same education or background as you do.
Keep that in mind when you’re communicating with them. Be as clear and as transparent as possible to avoid misunderstandings and confusion. Don’t use highly technical terms or industry jargon if it’s not absolutely necessary (being too lazy to think of another word doesn’t make it absolutely necessary).
Similarly, if someone uses a word or an expression you don’t understand, don’t assume what it means — ask.
Choose 2 or 3 communication channels all employees have to check regularly, so you can avoid overlooked information and lost messages. Find out what works best for your organization — you can opt for:
- audio calls,
- video calls,
- team messaging app, or
- face-to-face meetings.
Keep in mind that meetings in person can be held only if everyone works on-site — if there are remote workers in your team, it’s better to choose something else.
To avoid chaos and leaked information, it’s a good idea to define key communication protocols. Some of the points those guides should include are:
- What communication tools to use?
- What information is confidential?
- Who should you contact in each different scenario (e.g. when you finish your task or when you have to leave early)?
- Who should be informed first if a problem occurs?
- Who is responsible for what, so you know who to ask if you have a question?
Go into as much detail as you can and update them frequently.
Additionally, analyzing the most common communication models present in the modern workplace can help you get more clarity on how your workplace communication unfolds. This will, ultimately, help you avoid misunderstandings and further improve diagonal communication in your organization.
Big decisions (or any decision that affects someone you work with) and grapevine communication shouldn’t go hand in hand. Everyone should have access to important information — preferably a written record, which is good both for transparency and the ability to access it whenever needed.
If your organization uses a team communication app, you can make a channel specifically for sharing valuable information and important news, either company-wide or regarding a certain project. That way, everybody will be included and kept in the loop.
Conclusion: Diagonal communication is a great choice for workplaces with a positive work environment
Crosswise communication is a great option for organizations that foster good communication and collaboration. If relationships between employees are positive, information will flow fast and freely, boosting overall productivity and efficiency. Additionally, teamwork will improve and people from all over the organization will be able to strengthen their relationships.
However, for work environments that are not as healthy, diagonal communication can do more harm than good. In such cases, it creates fertile soil for competitiveness and withheld information — or, on the flip side — leaked information.