A communication network is composed of a specific body of individuals who are interconnected as links in the communication flow. These networks structure both the flow and the content of communication and support the organizational structure, institutional culture, beliefs and value systems that help tie institution to function effectively.
Several patterns of interpersonal communication in a small group emerge as the work of the group proceeds. These are observed to be as follows:
1. A Wheel Network:
It is a pattern in which information flows between the person at the end of each spoke and the person in the middle. Those on the ends of the spokes do not directly communicate with each other.
The communication in a wheel network can be diagrammatically represented as follows:
The wheel network is a feature of the typical work group, where the primary communication occurs between the members and the group manager i.e., the head of the institution.
2. A Chain Network:
Here, each member of communicates with the person above and below, except for the individuals on each end, who communicate with only one person. This is shown in the following diagram:
The chain network is a typical communication pattern in a vertical hierarchy, in which most communication travels up and down the chain of command.
3. Circle Network:
Each person in a circle network communicates with the people on both sides but not with anyone else. This is shown in the following diagram:
This is often found in task forces and committees. The morale of subordinates tends to be significantly higher in this network. For complex problems, it is faster and more effective than other networks.
4. A ‘Y’ Network:
This network combines the features of both wheel and chain networks. It is as shown in the following diagram:
This type of network partakes of the nature of the wheel network in its upper portion and of the chain network in its lower portion.
5. An All-channel Network:
In an all-channel network, all the members communicate with all other members as shown in the following diagrams:
This pattern of network is often found in informal groups that have no formal structure, leader or task to accomplish.
Communication may be more easily distorted by noise when more information is being communicated or when the communication travels a long distance. A person in the central position has an opportunity to communicate with all the other members and therefore he/she can control the information flow.
Communication networks form spontaneously and mutually as interactions among teachers in an institution continue. They are rarely permanent, since they change along with the changes in tasks, interactions and memberships.
The patterns and characteristics of small-group communication networks are determined by the following factors:
This includes, decision-making, sharing the same work, being on the same committee for a task etc.
This includes the type of room, placement of chairs and tables in the staff-room, geographical distance between colleagues etc.
(c) Personal Characteristics:
These include command over the subject-matter and expertise, openness, ability to speak fluently and with clarity, degree of familiarity among group members etc.
(d) Group Performance Factors:
These comprise of the composition of the group in terms of religion, caste or mother-tongue, size of the group, norms and cohesiveness.
Institutional Communication Networks
An educational institution can be effective only if there is a free flow of information not only from the top down – from the management/trustees of the institution to the teachers but upwards from teachers to the management. The key to the continuing effectiveness of an institution is improved internal communication.
The three major channels of institutional communication network are described in the following paragraphs.
(1) Upward Communication:
Management theorists Katz and Kahn have identified four kinds of job-related information that subordinates may volunteer or be required to communicate upwards:
(a) Performance and problems of assigned job.
(b) Fellow teachers and their problems.
(c) Procedures and policies of the institution.
(d) Tasks to be performed.
Here, the first type of information includes information regarding the performance of the institution, the teacher himself/hen elf and the performance and problems of students.
A congenial, open and desirable climate of the institution plays a very important role in increasing the upward communication flow as it encourages employee input and poses no threat or deterrents to participation.
It would encourage a two-way dialogue. The upward flow of information is much more prone to breakdown as compared to the downward flow. Maintaining a steady and reliable flow of upward communication depends on leadership behaviour to a great extent. There is also a likelihood of information distortion in the upward flow.
2. Downward Communication:
Downward communication is necessary in all institutions. However, the nature of content of the information being sent downwards should facilitate the work >f the teachers in the form of more feedback, praise, required changes or corrections, institutional mission and goals. Downward communication should not include only directives and unilateral decisions.
Downward-directed messages are usually directives from the principal and are accepted at face value. On the other hand, upward-directed messages consist of information from teachers sometimes aimed at maximizing their own gains. The success of an upward communication flow will be partly dependent on the nature and success of downward communications.
From a teacher’s point of view, the climate of the institution expresses itself in the form of downward communication. The manner in which a message is delivered from the top, the content of the message and the degree to which teachers’ participation is encouraged will have a direct bearing on the amount and the quality of upward communication. The more trust a subordinate has in his/her principal, the greater the openness of the downwards communication between the two.
3. Lateral Communication:
Communications between people on the same institutional level (e.g., teachers) are known as lateral or horizontal communications. Its purpose is to co-ordinate institutional, departmental and individual work efforts so that they become compatible and contribute to institutional effectiveness.
A good lateral communication will also prevent duplication of efforts, will help to identify problems in the system and keep colleagues informed regarding the locale of specialized expertise. It can provide decision-makers with the necessary information upon which to base their decisions.
For making timely decisions, a principal cannot solely depend upon the vertical communication system to provide all the information required when it is needed.
Recent research has shown that employees who communicate regularly in a network may share feelings about the institution and thus influence one another’s intentions to stay or quit.
On the other hand, communication networks in institutions provide the much needed integration and co-ordination to the activities of many teachers teaching specialized subjects. Thus, communication networks may have both positive and negative consequences.