Formal and informal communication are needed in every organization.
Formal communication is an intentional message conveyed in an intentional setting by speech, publication or electronic transmission.
Informal communication is a random message conveyed in a relational setting, usually in conversation but possibly by a written note or e-mail.
Here is a visual way to understand the difference:
Both forms are present in every organization, but each seems to have a preferred tendency often connected to the preferred style of the organization’s leaders. It is wise for those leaders to understand that both are present, both are needed and both are useful to foster teamwork and desired results.
A key to harnessing both is to blur the lines of informal and formal communication. Please do not misunderstand this as blurring the message. Rather, it is to make formal and informal communication less distinct from each other and thereby communicate more effectively.
Rather than relying exclusively on a formal speech-driven message, leaders can circulate and share the message individually and in small groups. While doing so adds time to getting the message out, leaders should remember that there is a corresponding reduction in the time needed for the feedback loop.
Formal printed messages can be produced in such a way that they beg to be passed along. Use of cartoons, coupons, helpful content, wisdom, and questions for discussion can make passing content along even more desirable. Even the visual appeal can make a difference.
Informal settings can be used to gain insight, especially prior to making key decisions at the leadership level. The right use of provocative questions during coffee breaks and parking lot conversations can help those looking for perspective and response find it in a non-threatening way.
One other word of advice. Publicly acknowledging that both styles of communication are important and will be put to use is a wise course of action. Blurring communication styles as an act of slyness is to withhold communication and undermines the very result you seek.
-mark l vincent