In organizations, communication frequently takes place among many individuals and groups. Many tasks require a variety of inputs from a variety of people and hence managers must link up with these resources of inputs for the purpose of coordination of tasks.
A “communication network” represents a pattern of information flow among group members. The importance of communication networks lies in their potential influences on effectiveness, task efficiency, group leadership, member satisfaction, and other variables that affect organizational effectiveness.
In the literature on communication networks, five different types of networks have been defined. Even though, there can be many people in a given network as desired, let us assume, for the sake of simplicity, that there are five members in the group.
Three of the five networks shown here reflect the centralized process in which information must flow through a central or a pivotal person. In contrast, in a decentralized network, each member has an equal opportunity to participate in the communication process.
The centralized networks are known as the “chain”, the “wheel” and the “Y” types. These networks are shown below in which each circle represents a member of the group and an X within a circle represents the pivotal person.
The “Chain” is a typical network formation in a classical type of organization where the information flows only up or down in a hierarchical chain of command. No horizontal communication is provided.
The figure shown can be considered as five levels in the organizational hierarchy, from the president down to plant supervisor and X in the circle marks the position of the general manager.
A “Wheel” network, also known as a “star” network represents a supervisor in the centre with four subordinates. The subordinates do not communicate with each other. All communication is channeled through the supervisor.
The “Y” shape network is a four level hierarchy, where two subordinates through the hierarchical chain report to the manager X who has two levels above him to whom he reports.
The two communication networks that are decentralized are the “circle” and the “all-channel” network. These are shown as follows:
In a “circle” network, members of the group interact with adjoining members and no more. The group may have a formal leader or the supervisor, but the interaction is primarily lateral among members. Finally, in the “all channel” or “completely connected” network, each of the members can communicate freely with the other four.
Typically, there is no leader and the communication can be initiated by anyone, even though one member, either formally or informally, can become the dominant member, but without any dominating privileges.
Each one of these networks has some significant effect on the task performance. When the group task is relatively simple and routine, centralized networks tend to perform with greatest efficiency. The dominant leader facilitates performance by coordinating the flow of information.
However, when the tasks are complex requiring sharing of information and coordinated efforts by groups, then decentralized networks are more advantageous. In general, members of decentralized networks report greater satisfaction than members of centralized networks.
The formal communication networks play a significant role in several aspects of organizational operations and an understanding is necessary as to which type of network is most useful in the areas of information flow, decision making as well as commitment of group members.