Streamlining information: A guide to diagonal communication

Discover the world of diagonal communication through this guide, gaining insights into its definition, importance, challenges, and effective strategies to streamline information flow and enhance cross-functional collaboration within organizations.

Inês Pinto

Streamlining information: A guide to diagonal communication

Table of contents

What is diagonal communication?

Diagonal communication refers to communication that cuts across different levels, functions, departments, and branches of an organization. It facilitates direct interaction between employees across hierarchical levels and functional areas. 

what is diagonal communication

In contrast to vertical communication, which follows the chain of command between superiors and subordinates, diagonal communication provides a lateral link between people at different levels. It also differs from horizontal communication, which occurs among people within the same department, level, or workgroup.

Diagonal communication connects individuals across organizational silos and boundaries. It enables communication between a manager and employees outside their department, or between staff in different regional offices. This allows for collaboration, idea sharing, and problem solving across diverse groups.

Within organizational communication, diagonal communication serves several key functions:

  • It allows quicker transmission of information, bypassing rigid vertical hierarchies. This enhances organizational agility and responsiveness.
  • It enables coordination between different units, which may have interdependent roles and tasks. 
  • It fosters innovation and creativity by allowing cross-pollination of ideas across teams. People can gain exposure to diverse viewpoints.
  • It facilitates expertise sharing between different specialists across the organization. Individuals can consult peers in other departments.

Overall, diagonal communication supplements vertical and horizontal flows of communication in an organization. While formal vertical structures remain, diagonal communication promotes organic interaction and exchange of information across boundaries. This creates a more interconnected, collaborative work environment.


Why is diagonal communication important?

Diagonal communication plays an important role in enhancing collaboration, innovation, and overall organizational performance.

Facilitates cross-functional collaboration

Diagonal communication facilitates cross-functional collaboration by enabling direct interaction between different teams, departments, and units. Rather than relying solely on vertical communication through hierarchical reporting structures, diagonal communication creates opportunities for lateral exchange of information, ideas, and perspectives. This allows for more holistic and integrated decision-making and problem-solving.  

Improves the flow of information

By promoting communication across departmental silos and boundaries, diagonal communication improves the flow of information in the organization. Knowledge sharing is enhanced when insights and expertise can be directly accessed from relevant stakeholders, regardless of where they sit within the organizational chart. This mitigates the risks of critical information getting lost or diluted as it travels vertically up and down hierarchies.

Boosts innovation

Diagonal communication also boosts innovation by bringing together diverse viewpoints, skill sets, and experiences. The cross-pollination of ideas that stems from lateral collaboration across functions generates more creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. It also expedites prototyping, testing, and implementation of new solutions and processes.

Overall, the informal and reciprocal nature of diagonal communication complements formal vertical structures. It creates a matrix of connections that enhance organizational learning, nimbleness, and problem-solving capabilities. The resulting benefits range from improved employee engagement to faster adaptation to market changes.

Diagonal communication examples

Diagonal communication facilitates collaboration and information sharing across different departments and teams in an organization. Some examples include:

💡 Marketing and product development teams coordinating on launching a new product. The marketing team can provide insights into customer demand and messaging, while the product team shares technical capabilities and roadmaps. 

💡 The human resources department consulting with various business units on designing training programs. HR can gain an understanding of each unit's skill requirements and challenges.

💡 A software engineer reaching out to the customer support team to get feedback on how customers are using a particular feature. This helps the engineer understand pain points and opportunities for improvement.

💡 Leaders from different business divisions coming together to brainstorm ideas for a new strategic initiative. Their diverse perspectives and experiences lead to more creative solutions.

💡 An employee from the finance department being invited to share their analytics expertise with the sales team to help optimize operations.

💡 Team members seeking advice or best practices from colleagues in other functions who have relevant experience. This helps them get unstuck and avoid reinventing the wheel.

The key benefit of diagonal communication is tapping into specialized knowledge across the organization to enhance collaboration, innovation, and productivity. By looking beyond siloed work units, information can be shared more fluidly across the organizational network.

Advantages of diagonal communication

Diagonal communication offers several key advantages that can benefit organizations:

advantages of diagonal communication

✅ Breaks down silos

One of the most significant benefits of diagonal communication is that it helps break down communication silos within an organization. Silos occur when teams or departments don't interact and share information effectively across functional boundaries. This can inhibit collaboration, innovation, and overall performance.

Diagonal communication facilitates connection and coordination across different units, allowing ideas, insights, and knowledge to be more freely exchanged. This prevents siloed thinking and helps align activities between departments.

✅ Encourages diverse perspectives 

Diagonal communication also opens up opportunities for diverse perspectives between different teams and specialists. Rather than only interacting within immediate teams, diagonal communication allows people to tap into expertise and viewpoints from a wider range of colleagues.

This diversity of thought and experience often sparks new ideas and insights. Bringing cross-functional knowledge together is more likely to yield innovative solutions than restricting communication within narrow channels.

✅ Increases organizational agility

With stronger diagonal linkages, organizations can respond and adapt more quickly to changing conditions. Important information is able to flow rapidly to points where it is most needed. Similarly, mobilizing cross-departmental coordination for new initiatives or priorities becomes more seamless.

This agility allows the organization to pivot and reconfigure itself for maximum effectiveness. Diagonal communication supports the responsiveness and dexterity that is essential for organizational agility.

3 Main challenges of diagonal communication

Diagonal communication can present some challenges that organizations should be aware of:

Potential for miscommunication or misunderstandings

With communication happening across different departments and levels, there is greater risk for crossed wires. Important details can get lost as information passes through multiple people.

This can lead to unclear objectives, duplicated work, or wasted time and resources. Proper planning and coordination is essential.

Navigating organizational hierarchies and protocols

Diagonal communication does not follow the traditional vertical chain of command. This can create confusion around the appropriate channels and sign-offs required.

Employees may be unsure who to contact or how formal communications need to be so organizations should provide clear guidelines to smooth diagonal communications.

Maintaining clear lines of authority and accountability

With lateral collaboration, there is potential for blurred responsibilities. Employees need to understand who has decision-making authority and who is ultimately accountable for results. Leaders need to define roles and empower teams without sacrificing accountability.

How to enable diagonal communication in the workplace

Organizations can take several steps to enable effective diagonal communication:

1. Foster a culture of open communication

✔️ Leaders should encourage employees to collaborate and communicate across departments and teams. This starts with modeling openness themselves.

✔️ Provide opportunities for employees to network and build connections outside their immediate teams through events, mentorship programs, job rotations, etc.

✔️ Promote a "One Company" mindset and break down silos between departments. Reward cross-functional collaboration.

✔️ Allow some flexibility in rigid hierarchies and protocols to enable diagonal information flows.


2. Provide opportunities for cross-functional interactions

✔️ Host skip-level meetings where employees can interact directly with leadership.

✔️ Implement cross-functional projects and committees with diverse team members.

✔️ Conduct regular touchpoints between interdependent teams to facilitate coordination.

✔️ Enable job shadowing and short-term rotations for exposure outside one's daily role.

3. Implement collaborative tools and platforms

✔️ Digital workplace platforms (like Oneteam 😉) allow quick communication across the organization.

✔️ Project management software helps teams collaborate despite location and role differences.

✔️ Social tools and internal networks open additional channels for diagonal communication.

✔️ Knowledge sharing databases give all employees access to organizational know-how.

Best practices for effective diagonal communication

Diagonal communication works best when certain best practices are followed:

Maintain clarity and transparency

Be clear in your messaging and intent when communicating diagonally across teams. Avoid confusion by being as transparent as possible about the purpose and goals of the communication.

Build cross-team trust and rapport

Take time to build relationships and understanding between teams. This provides a foundation of trust and rapport that facilitates open diagonal communication. Actively listen and seek to understand different team perspectives.

Respect organizational structures and processes

While diagonal communication can bridge silos, it's important to still respect the formal organizational structures and protocols that are in place. Ensure diagonal communications align with lines of authority and accountability.


Additionally, you may want to consider the following best practices:

  • Being concise in diagonal communications
  • Following up to check for understanding
  • Leveraging collaborative tools and platforms

The keys are maintaining openness, transparency, and mutual understanding when communicating diagonally across organizational boundaries.

Leadership's role in diagonal communication

An organization's leadership plays a pivotal role in enabling effective diagonal communication. Leaders set the tone for openness and transparency that makes diagonal communication possible.

Here are some practical strategies leaders can implement:

✅ Model diagonal communication

When senior management regularly engages in cross-functional interactions, solicits diverse perspectives, and breaks down silos, it signals diagonal communication as an organizational norm and priority. 

✅ Actively encourage collaboration

Leaders can provide resources and opportunities for employees to connect diagonally, such as through cross-departmental projects, informal gatherings, job rotations, and more. 

✅ Set up policies, procedures, and messaging

For instance, leaders can highlight examples of successful diagonal communication in company newsletters. Or establish rewards and incentives for cross-functional cooperation.

How to measure the impact of diagonal communication

Diagonal communication can have a significant impact on an organization's performance and culture. Leaders should implement metrics and processes to measure and evaluate this impact.

📊 Assess organizational performance metrics: Track productivity, efficiency, quality, innovation, and other metrics across departments and teams. Measure whether diagonal communication enhances outcomes in these areas.

🗣️ Evaluate employee engagement and satisfaction: Use surveys, interviews, and feedback to determine if diagonal communication improves employee morale, collaboration, and sense of purpose. Assess whether it makes employees feel more connected and aligned with organizational goals.

💡 Monitor innovation and problem-solving outcomes: Document improvements in developing creative solutions, overcoming challenges, and fostering new ideas. Track if diagonal communication leads to more innovation through cross-functional brainstorming.

Leaders should analyze these metrics over time to quantify the benefits of diagonal communication. The results can help demonstrate the value of breaking down silos and enabling collaboration across the organization. Insights gained can also guide efforts to continually improve diagonal communication practices.


The future of diagonal communication

Diagonal communication will continue to evolve as organizations adapt to emerging trends and technologies. The growth of remote and hybrid work models has significant implications for diagonal communication practices. 

With more employees working remotely, there is greater reliance on digital tools for collaboration across teams and functions. Organizations will need to provide training and support to help employees effectively use platforms like employee experience apps to enable diagonal communication in distributed work environments.

Artificial intelligence and new communication technologies may also facilitate more automated cross-functional interactions. For example, AI-enabled enterprise search and knowledge management systems can help surface expertise and information across departments.

As organizational structures become more dynamic, with increased use of cross-functional teams and less rigid hierarchies, the practice of diagonal communication will likely need to adapt as well. Navigating more fluid reporting lines and matrices may require a shift from strictly vertical communication flows.

Leaders will need to model effective diagonal communication and set clear guidelines for cross-functional engagement as part of wider change management efforts. This will help maintain alignment and coordination even as organizational designs evolve.

With careful planning and adaptation, diagonal communication can continue to provide critical connectivity and value in the future of work. Organizations that leverage emerging technologies while staying focused on core communication needs will reap the benefits.

Inês Pinto

Inês Pinto

Inês is the Head of Content at Oneteam. She mainly writes about employee experience and other HR topics. Fun fact about Inês: she is originally from Portugal, grew up in Canada and the US, and now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and 3 daughters!

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