Asked by Sarah-Jane from Manchester
The term ‘lateral communication’ can actually mean (at least) two different things.
In the natural world, lateral communication occurs whenever a group of animals appear to exhibit a collective intelligence. For example, when a flock of birds turns at the exact same time, remaining in perfect formation, this is lateral communication. Other examples include shoals of fish acting in perfect synch, or the movements of ant colonies.
In the business world, however, the term ‘lateral communication’ denotes something else entirely. In modern business, lateral communication is all to do with hierarchy. An example of lateral communication occurs when two workers on the same level discuss ideas (e.g. a manager talking to a manager). Its opposite term, ‘diagonal communication’, occurs when communication is initiated between different levels of hierarchy (e.g. talking to your boss’ boss, or your boss talking to you).
“The term lateral communication can be used interchangeably as horizontal communication. In his text entitled “Organizational Communication,” Michael J. Papa defines horizontal communication as “the flow of messages across functional areas at a given level of an organization” (Papa and Daniels 55). With this system people at the same level are permitted “to communicate directly without going through several levels of organization” (Papa and Daniels 55). Given this elasticity, members within an organization have an easier time with “problem solving, information sharing across different work groups, and task coordination between departments or project teams” (Papa and Daniels 56). The use of lateral or horizontal communication in the workplace “can also enhance morale and afford a means for resolving conflicts (Koehler et al., 1981) (Papa and Daniels 56).”
The pawns, on the other hand, can only converse one space at a time and only in one direction. Oh wait; I’m getting confused again!
I hope that helps you, Sarah-Jane. I am unsure as to which definition you were looking for, so I focussed on both. If you have any follow-up questions, drop me a line the usual way and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.