Group Communication Network

Group Communication Network

Definition of Group Communication Network

Communication channels are patterns of organizational communication flow representing established conduits through which managers and other organization members can send and receive information. Communication networks are the linking structures of communication.

Meaning of Group Communication Network

Group communication networks are the connecting links between group members. The communication network is the pattern of information flow among task group members.

This directional communication pattern within small groups is called the network of communication. Such networks may originate either externally (formally) or internally (informally).

Regardless of their origin, these networks constitute the building blocks of the organization through which information flows.

In an informal group, determining the exact network can be challenging. The network is emergent and rather imprecise. In contrast, the formal communication network is much easier to plot for a group.

Types of Communication Networks

Types of Communication Networks

Communication networks within a group are far more complex than interpersonal communication channels. Information flows in various ways within a group and may be fragmented by subgroups. The types of communication networks that have received the greatest theoretical and research attention are as follows (Wofford, Gerloff, and Cummins, 1977:271).

The lines in the diagrams represent the flow of information between two positions, while the arrows indicate a unidirectional flow of information. However, individuals can choose any pattern, even though the network permits following a particular one.

5 Properties of Communication Networks

Communication networks possess essential properties that can be used to compare positions within a group or networks between two groups. Wofford, Gerloff, and Cummins (1977:271-274) have identified the following properties of communication networks:


Distance refers to the amount of separation between two positions within a group. By counting the number of intermediary positions between a sender and an ultimate receiver, we can measure the distance. It indicates the nature of the network existing within the group.

Relative Centrality

Relative centrality indicates the location of positions, determining whether a position is at the center or the periphery of the communication flow. A position with high relative centrality serves as the hub of communications. For instance, the leader of a group typically has high relative centrality.


Saturation measures the density of communication activity for a specific position. It tells us how active a position is within a group and how much communication flows through that position. Saturation is directly related to the relative centrality of the position.

In groups where there is a high level of information flow, central positions may experience excessive saturation or communication overload. Communication overload occurs when a group member can no longer effectively process the volume of communication they receive.


Independence refers to the degree of freedom a group member has in choosing a communication channel (Shaw, 1964).

More available communication channels result in greater independence for individuals. In the circle network (see diagram), each group member has an equal but limited degree of independence, with each person able to send or receive a message from two others.

In the all-channel network, every person can communicate with every other member, offering the maximum degree of independence. Greater independence requires more discretion and enhances the flexibility and adaptability of the group structure to changing demands.


Dispersion represents the sum of distances for all positions within a group. It serves as a measure for comparing the flow of communication in one network with that in a different network. Increased dispersion heightens the possibility of distortions and errors in communication.

6 Managerial Implications of Communication Networks

The examination of communication networks can tell us much about the nature of the group and the organization itself. The type of networks involved in a given situation tends to influence many group process variables.

Knowledge of the information network can reveal a great deal about leadership, status, efficiency, member relationships, and member satisfaction within the group.

The communication network is the basic determinant of the group’s structure, showing how members of the group are linked together. Consistent patterns of group relationships, authority, and status structure are closely tied to the group’s communication network.

It provides the following insights to the management.

Emergence of Group Leadership

Communication networks have a strong impact on the emergence of leadership within the group. If a person in the group holds a key communication-link position, their potential for influence is high, increasing the likelihood of them becoming a leader.

For example, in the wheel network, the central person has a much higher centrality measure than peripheral group members, making them more likely to become the group’s leader.

Group Problem Solving

Understanding the network helps with group problem solving. The type of problem determines the type of network effective for solving it.

Simple tasks, like identifying a symbol, letter, number, or color, benefit from centralized networks such as circles and all-channels. More complex problems, such as discussion and human relations issues, require decentralized networks.

Effects of Formal Networks on Informal Networks

Informal networks of communication tend to develop within the constraints of formally prescribed frameworks. Therefore, informal networks often conform to the formal pattern of networks.

Influence of Informal Networks on Problem Solving

The influence of the formal network on problem solving tends to diminish when the group has time and opportunity to develop an efficient informal network structure within the constraints of the imposed formal network.

This can be beneficial to managers since the emergent informal network may compensate for shortcomings in the formal network’s design.

Informal Networks and Communication Links

Efficient informal network structures minimize the number of links among group members because each additional link increases the probability of semantic distortion and other communication problems. Thus, the most efficient groups are those that organize their informal network structure to minimize the number of links in the system (Guetzkow and Dill, 1957).

Effects of Networks on Group Morale

Groups with decentralized networks tend to have higher morale compared to centralized networks. Individuals in peripheral group positions generally have lower satisfaction levels compared to those in central positions (Leavitt, 1951).

The higher degree of independence in central positions satisfies the need for autonomy, resulting in higher satisfaction. The order of networks from lowest to highest in group satisfaction is as follows: wheel, chain, Y, circle, and all-channel (Leavitt, 1951; Cohen, 1962).

Clearly, managers must understand the intricacies of these networks to effectively utilize them in the managerial process.

8 Factors Determining the Nature of Communication Networks

The essentiality of communication networks dictates that managers need to be aware of the factors that determine the network’s existence. It will help them establish the most effective networks for their groups. There are five determining factors, which are discussed below:

Tasks and Functions

The choice of communication network varies based on the nature of tasks and functions of a group in an organization.

For groups primarily involved in exchanging information and decision-making, an all-channel network is appropriate. If a person receives more or less information than the role requires for effective and efficient functioning, a network adjustment can remove the imbalance.

Conventions and Norms

The set of conventions and norms of behavior within the organization establishes the pattern of the communication network. Conventions and norms are recurring practices that guide group members on what to do and shape the pattern of communicative relationships.

Environmental Settings

This includes personal space, interaction distance, and seating arrangements. Personal space refers to the area surrounding one’s body, considered private. Intrusion into this space by another person can evoke emotions ranging from mild discomfort to retaliatory action.

Seating arrangements also play a role; a circular arrangement promotes friendly communication, while an opposite setup may create distance and unfamiliarity.

Personal Attributes

Interpersonal factors such as perception, motivation, emotion, and interpersonal roles determine the type of communication networks appropriate for the group.

Group Identity

Group identity comprises defined situations and characteristics that set the group apart as an entity. It encompasses membership, space, values, and expectations of the group and its members. Group identity influences the choice of a communication network to be implemented within the group.

Status System

Status refers to the social position a person holds compared to other members of their group. Communication variables like “how often,” “to whom,” and “what” are influenced by status. Thus, the status system significantly impacts the group’s communication network. High-status individuals often prefer a centralized network.


Group cohesiveness measures the degree to which members desire to remain in the group. Highly cohesive groups are close-knit, satisfied, and attractive to their members. In such cases, an all-channel network would be appropriate. The degree of cohesiveness determines the suitable network for the group.


The goals of the group also serve as a determinant of the communication network.