Horizontal communication is also called lateral communication. In his book “Organizational Communication,” Michael J. Papa defines horizontal communication as “the flow of messages across functional areas at a given level of an organization." With horizontal communication, people at the same level “communicate directly without going through several levels of organization." Given these connections, members within an organization have an easier time with “problem solving, information sharing across different work groups" and horizontal communication “can also enhance morale and afford a means for resolving conflicts."
According to research done by John E. Spillan, Mary Mino, and M. Susan Rowles, “lateral communication involves not only the movement of information from the upper levels to the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy but also is defined primarily as the quality of information sharing among peers at similar levels. Specifically, lateral communication occurs among coworkers, during staff meetings and informational presentations, throughout shift changes, and among employees regardless of peer types. In short, lateral communication’s purpose is to keep organizational personnel informed of all current practices, policies, and procedures." Figure 1
Although this system of communication can be effective, problems can often ensue within organizations. According to Papa’s book “Organizational Communication,” “horizontal communication problems occur because of territoriality, rivalry, specialization, and simple lack of motivation.” In addition to these problems and in general, “organizations that traditionally have functioned under rigid authority structures with fixed lines of communication may find that the values and expectations that members have acquired under such systems inhibit attempts at horizontal communication.” Other problems with this form of communication can happen between multinational corporations. “Horizontal communication between subsidiaries of the same multinational corporation (MNC) is a problem faced by staff as the demands for communicating across borders are pushed downwards in the organizational hierarchy.”