Change Management

Communication Models

In our last blog, Ruth discussed communication plans critical for stakeholder engagement and successful implementations of change. Although many of us working in IT projects are unaware, the plans we adopt and the methods we use for communication are chosen due to a number of different factors.  Whichever methods we use, these are based on Communication Models which is the subject of this blog.


Although there are many models available, traditionally speaking there are three standard categories of models in the communication process:  Linear, Interactive, and Transactional, and each offers a slightly different perspective on the communication process and it is these which I would like to focus on.

  • Linear
  • Interactive
  • Transactional

For the purpose of this blog, we will stick with these traditional categories and try and make sense of how these are used, often unknowingly, in IT Projects.

Linear Communication Model

The linear model’s behaviour is where a sender encodes a message via a channel and the message is decoded by the receiver, often differently from person to person which is where confusion, misinterpretation and even misinformation can result.  It is straight-line communication found typically in mass communication; think television, radio, newspapers, etc.  According to this model, there is no means for immediate feedback.

Shannon and Weaver were the first to present the Linear Model of Communication in 1949′s The Mathematical Theory of Communication.  Suffice to say that this theory has become less relevant in inverse proportion to the advances of communication technology, specifically non-linear forms of electronic communication where it’s not always clear who is the sender and who is the receiver.

How many of us now receive Emails from ‘no reply’ Email addresses and yet, on receiving them we interpret the information in our own way but would like to reply, provide feedback or even have some sort of online discussion on the content to clarify, to confirm, to even dispute the information.  It amazes me that companies adopt such practices which I assume are down to cost reduction in managing Email communications rather than thinking about the recipient, often the customer.

As for IT projects, this model type of communication can be used to send general information out en masse – an overview of the project, timing, team players.  My preference is always to provide a contact, often generic, in case feedback is required.

Interactive Communication Mode

Simply put, the Interactive Model takes the Linear Model and multiplies it times two with a quick flip of the return message. It now allows for a feedback element because after a message is encoded and sent to the decoding receiver, the roles then reverse and the receiver encodes and sends a response to the original sender who has now turned receiver.  It sounds more confusing than it is.  Envision an exchange of text messages whereby your friend sends you a message and you respond to it.  The same thing happens during a telephone call, or even an email exchange.  A message is sent and received, then the roles reverse.  That is the Interactive Model.

In project work this is used in simple face to face meetings, Email exchanges, Social Media and webinars.  Using these methods, relationships are often developed between IT and Business.

Transactional Communication Model

The Transactional Model becomes more sophisticated. This model depicts face-to-face interaction, or “trans-action” as a dynamic and changeable process that is not limited to simple definition.  In the Transactional Model, receiver and sender can play the same roles simultaneously, as sometimes happens, as messages can be sent back and forth simultaneously.  It appears chaotic and ineffective, but sometimes communication is just that.  Throw in some noise, and it would be a wonder whether any message is conveyed successfully in this environment.

In project work this is used in multiple user face to face meetings, webinars, chat rooms in social media, video conferences and training courses.  Using these methods, relationships are often developed to the extent where working relationships are formed between IT and Business.

In our last blog Ruth listed the channels we use to communicate in project life.  See if you can guess which category of model each channel falls into, but be aware many of them can fall into more than one category as we will interpret them differently due to our own personal experiences and the way we interact.   My answers are shown below.  Let’s see how we differ.

  • Face to face
  • Meetings
  • Paper Handouts
  • Paper Posters and Newsletters
  • Email
  • Video 
  • Internal social media 
  • Training
  • Intranet
  • Webinars and Seminars

Models in Practice

A few examples of practical uses of models have been already mentioned above, but if I try to summarise project communication requirements, here are the main ones.

  • If I take a typical project I would use Webinars to communicate key messages to my stakeholders. Dependent on the numbers in the audience, feedback can be possible, or even questions at the end to allow for a more seamless delivery.
  • I would use group face to face meetings and videos with key stakeholders to have discussions on the changes to be implemented and the possible impact to teams. Feedback on changes is critical for me to build and develop a change impact analysis.
  • I would use simple face to face meetings to understand the impact on key stakeholder groups. This is important to me as discussions focus on them only without influence from other key stakeholders.  Every stakeholder group needs to be heard.
  • I would use Intranet Pages and Newsletters, Posters and Social Media to update audiences on progress of the project on a regular basis.
  • I would use training to teach others about a new system, ways of working, key strokes.
  • I would use handouts in training to explain key concepts, business processes and procedures, and step by step instructions on new IT systems.
  • I would use Email to reach out to individuals and groups for updates, engagement and online discussions.

As you can see all models are used throughout an IT project.


As Change Managers we are often unaware that we are using one model versus another.  However, what we do know is that we use a mix depending on what the expected outcomes are and how we reach out to the intended audiences.  One of the key differences is the ability to provide feedback which was covered in one of our recent blogs used in training.

If you are responsible for communication, a mix of channels and models is often required to ensure messages get through, are understood and changes are applied in a working environment.  Communication is critical and should never be underestimated for success to happen.

At Evolution Culture we offer a number of courses where communication is covered in detail.  If you need to know more why not contact us.

Here are my answers to the quiz.

  • Face to face – INTERACTIVE
  • Paper Handouts– LINEAR
  • Paper Posters and Newsletters – LINEAR and INTERACTIVE
  • Internal social media – INTERACTIVE and TRANSACTIONAL
  • Training – TRANSACTIONAL
  • Intranet – LINEAR and INTERACTIVE
  • Webinars and Seminars – LINEAR and INTERACTIVE

Feel free to leave a comment if you would like to discuss any of these and if yours differ.

10 August 2020

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