Horizontal communication, also called lateral communication, involves the flow of messages between individuals and groups on the same level of an organization. Horizontal communication does not involve relaying information up or down across levels. Sharing information, solving problems, and collaborating horizontally is often more timely, direct, and efficient than up or down communication. Horizontal communication can produce a higher quality of information exchange since it occurs directly between people working in the same environment. Communication within a team is an example of horizontal communication; members coordinate tasks, work together, and resolve conflicts. Horizontal communication occurs formally in meetings, presentations, and formal electronic communication, and informally in other, more casual exchanges within the office.
Challenges of Horizontal Communication
Some barriers to horizontal communication are differences in style, personality, or roles amongst co-workers. According to Professor Michael Papa, horizontal communication problems can occur because of territoriality, rivalry, specialization, and simple lack of motivation. Territoriality occurs when members of an organization regard other people's involvement in their area as inappropriate or unwelcome. Rivalry between individuals or teams can lead to reluctance to cooperate and share information. Specialization is a problem that occurs when there is a lack of uniform knowledge or vocabulary within or between departments. Finally, horizontal communication often fails simply because organization members are unwilling to expend the additional effort to reach out beyond their immediate team to others at the same level.
An organization that has relied on rigid, formal styles of communication in the past may find it difficult to switch to more employee-directed, horizontal communication. Lingering expectations from the old system can significantly inhibit the implementation of horizontal communication. For example, employees may be reluctant to initiate communications if they are used to conversations being started only by management. Finally, corporations that operate in different geographic locations, particularly internationally, may struggle with horizontal communication across time zones as the confront the barriers of local idioms, customs, and languages.