Informal relationships refer to engagements or interactions among people outside the established structure of any organization. Unlike formal relationships which have a set of rules and regulations that define relationships between people and tasks, informal relationships do not follow any rules but are formed by people who have certain things in common.
Informal relationships are loose and keep on changing depending on work environment and the goals of the group members.
There are no established channels of communication in informal relationship. The most common form of conveying information is through the grapevine or gossip. The information is often passed by word of mouth spreads fast, often with distortions but nevertheless getting to the recipients much faster than the official channel.
Informal relationships thrive well where there is a formal structure. Since information in a formal setting is often filtered, people devise ways of getting the information in a way that is satisfying and convenient. Informal relationships have advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that it provides an alternative channel of communication (grapevine). The group members are kept up to date on any new development in the organization. In some cases the management may use grapevine to convey important information about the organization.
The other advantage of informal relationships is that it helps in the development of cultural and social values. Since group members have common interests, it becomes easy to accomplish goals that they set. Informal relationships offer a sense of belonging, social status and satisfaction unlike in a formal set up where the relationships are purely work oriented.
There are disadvantages that are linked the informal interactions. One of the negative aspects is rumor mongering where the information being passed on is unverified or distorted. This can create tension, bad attitude and violence. Informal groups eventually develop a culture that can adopt a life of its own and it becomes difficult to change their way of doing things something that may affect the performance of the organization.
Informal relationships benefit formal structures in a number of ways. They help the management handle work related stress by giving avenues of airing grievances, they also offer a system of checks and balances and therefore the management always has the welfare of staff members in mind whenever they are making any decisions . The management is also relieved off the task of handling the emotional aspect of life for the workers as this is taken care through the informal relationships.
There is need to harness the positive attributes of informal relationships while at the same avoiding the negative influences that can derail the objectives of the organization