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The Waterfall Effect

The way I see it, information within an organisation can be likened to a waterfall.

It tends to flow easily from its source at the top i.e. the senior leadership team, down to the employees.

In fact, ‘flow’ is perhaps not the most accurate description of how this information travels. More often than not, directives, new policies, product launches and other formal information gush down upon the heads of the organisation’s workforce.

The problem is, water doesn’t flow uphill.

The value of an open exchange of communication, which flows both ways i.e. not only ‘downward’ but also ‘upward’ from employees to management, cannot be overemphasized. A poor upward flow can be detrimental to an organisation. It can cause employee grievances to fester, resulting in deflated morale and productivity.

Also, the quality of decision making by the senior leadership team suffers, because they have ceased to gain the ‘full picture’.

Great ideas go by the wayside, because valuable insights which can only be gained by those who work at the front line of the business have been missed.

Poor leadership behaviour goes unchecked, because there is no mechanism to channel information about less helpful leadership practices.

Although there are organisational practices which facilitate upwards communication, you do not need to wait for these to be instigated to improve the flow.

As a leader, your own behaviour can powerfully model this principle, and will send a ripple effect to the rest of the company.

What can you do to turn this waterfall of information in your organisation, into more of a rhythmic tide, where there is constant ebb and flow of information – inwards towards the leadership team and out again towards the organisation?

1.  Make it easy.  Create multiple mediums for the communication to flow upwards.

2.  Ensure your meetings include the chance for team members to voice their opinion with respect to business developments, company affairs and ideas.

3.  Most importantly, make it a habit to ask lots of open questions.  For example:

  • What are some of the things you like most about working here?
  • What frustrates you the most about your job?
  • If we could do one thing differently or better, what would it be?
  • What, as your boss, do you want me to do more of?  Less of?  Stop doing?

4.  Make it easy for your team to challenge you. Don’t act defensively when they do.

5.  Encourage people to speak up if they disagree (but insist they come with a possible idea or alternative solution as well).

6.  Talk less. Listen more.

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  1. […] OK to ask questions. Where challenge is accepted. And there is a two-way flow of information. See here to find out how to create […]

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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