Grapevine is an informal way to communicate in an organization. It is a type of informal communication. It works in external and internal channels, thus helping an organization grow.
The name grapevine comes from the fact that it spreads through the firm in all possible directions. This is true irrespective of levels of authority. Examples of situations activating a grapevine – while bringing in new technology, promotions, takeovers, layoffs, etc.
Hearing something through the grapevine means hearing of something in an informal way. This information forms rumors and is unofficial.
Patterns or Types of Grapevine Communication
1. Single Strand Chain
This happens when information moves through a single line of people. It eventually goes to the final recipient. In the diagram below, A tells B. Then, B tells C. C then goes and tells D. This line keeps going on. After a while, the information has been given to most of the people involved.
2. Gossip Chain
In this type of grapevine chain, one person passes on the information to everyone. To understand this chain, picture a wheel. The person giving out the information is at the center. The information is given to people at the rim of the wheel.
In the diagram, A is at the center of the wheel. A then channels information to others at the rim of the wheel.
3. Probability Chain
In this process, information passes randomly. Probability determines who receives the information. Information is passed on in this way. It may be termed as a “random process”.
4. Cluster Chain
In this process, an individual passes on information to a few people. These people then pass the information to a few more people. This is the most common type of chain.
Why Grapevine Communication Exists in Organization
1. Employees’ Emotions
- All organizations face some problems.
- Examples – the downplaying of the importance of subordinates by seniors, lack of certainty for promotion, insecurity of service, etc.
- These can make staff emotional or excite them.
- The informal channel allows venting and prevents bottling up of emotions.
2. Presence of Peer and Informal Groups
- Grapevines are symbolic. They show that peer groups exist in a firm informally.
- Discussions about organizational and personal things take place. Information is passed on to people through these groups.
3. Relay of Atypical Information
- Exceptional information or events can be many things. It can be providing special facilities to a particular employee, investment in the new field, making new products, etc.
- This information should be passed on throughout the firm.
- Employees rely on the grapevine if this information isn’t revealed to them.
4. The Environment of the Organization
- Many firms allow their staff to speak with each other these days. This encourages an open culture.
- However, this builds an environment in which grapevines are easily formed.
5. Job Role
- Some people in certain positions or jobs have important information. These positions are that of a driver, personal secretary, personal assistant, etc.
- They pass on a lot of information via the grapevine.
Advantage of Grapevine or Informal Communication
Information is given at a management level if the system is formal. However, staff can ask for information informally. This is important for getting work done.
2. Grievances are presented
In this system, staffs reveal what they want to seniors. They express their emotions openly.
3. Alternative system
Sometimes, the management can’t pass on information formally. The grapevine takes care of this gap.
4. Makes firm more efficient
Staff is free to discuss their issues. They can find solutions more easily. As a result, work is done well. It makes workers more efficient.
5. Recommendations are passed on
In this system, the staff lets the seniors know what they want. They discuss their issues and how things can be implemented. This gives workers a chance to pass on recommendations to seniors.
6. Speedy communication
In this system, information flows quickly. Rumors and incorrect information pass on quickly.
Disadvantages of Grapevine or Informal Communication
1. Twists meaning
Most of the time, the subject matter and meaning of the information are changed by the grapevine.
2. The rapid spread of rumors
Rumors spread quickly through the grapevine. The actual information may be changed and become incorrect.
3. Leads to Misunderstanding
The staff doesn’t follow the formal chain of command in the grapevine system. This can cause misunderstandings.
4. The Information doesn’t stay secret
In this system, most discussions take place openly. Things don’t stay secret.
5. Hard to Control
Ground rules don’t exist in the informal system. Controlling the information spread becomes hard.
6. Ignites Non-cooperation
This system, at times, creates a culture of non-cooperation and unhealthy competition among staff. They can end up hurting each other in open discussions. They might not want to work with each other. The firm might become inefficient.
Trust in the office is reduced
If the information passed on is always inconsistent, then the staff begins to mistrust management and the firm. Employees should trust each other. This allows a firm to work well and grow. Lack trust damages this. Many firms are thus trying to stop grapevine communication because of this very reason.
Ways to Deal with Grapevine Communication
1. The staff should always be well-informed.
2. Employees will gain trust if correct channels are used.
3. There shouldn’t be an overload of information in the office.
4. Two-way discussions can be encouraged among workers on a daily basis.
5. Internal influencers should be identified.
6. Technology for communicating should be selected carefully.
7. If there is a crisis, important information should be passed on to the staff correctly.
8. Communications with staff should be personalized. Monthly newsletters that go out to everybody should not be the only source of information.