The Importance of Upward Communication and How to Implement It on Your Team

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Hearing from the members of your team is increasingly crucial to success. Learn more about integrating this type of communication into your management style.

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Information is crucial to a business’s success. At many companies, information traditionally flows from the top down, with leaders sharing significant developments or updates as needed. However, information isn’t unidirectional, and it can benefit companies to receive feedback from employees regularly. 

Upward communication is the process in which employees provide feedback to their managers and company leadership. Hearing from employees can help managers avoid losing key talent and achieve better results by restructuring processes. It can also help companies cultivate a more inclusive workplace. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what upward communication looks like on a team and in a larger company setting and how to begin implementing upward communication.   

What is upward communication? 

In business, effective communication tends to take place in four directions: downward, upward, horizontally, and diagonally. Upward (or bottom-up) communication has become increasingly popular as more companies seek to improve their workplace culture. 

Upward communication refers to the movement of information from employees to those in a position of leadership, such as managers, vice presidents, and CEOs. It can be used company-wide or on teams. Let’s go over what each scenario might look like. 

Learn more: Why Is Workplace Communication Important? And How to Improve It

Upward communication at companies 

A growing number of companies see the value of encouraging feedback from employees. These efforts can lead to lower turnover and better alignment with larger business goals. This type of communication can take a few different forms:

  • Company meetings: In whatever cadence your company offers company-wide meetings (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually), setting aside time to take questions from employees can be an excellent way to make space for upward communication. Employees can submit questions in advance or ask in the moment. 

  • Employee surveys: Annual employee surveys make sure that your greater efforts and processes align with your business goals and that you’re building a culture in line with your company’s mission.

  • Suggestion box or forum: Providing an ongoing digital (or physical) space where employees can make suggestions anonymously can help you understand common workplace trends, employees’ pressing concerns, and more. 

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Upward communication on teams

Managers who continually receive input or feedback from their employees can better manage the individual personalities who make up their team, revise processes to develop stronger outcomes, and retain talent, among other things. 

Ways you can encourage upward communication on your team:

  • Performance review: Your team’s performance reviews are a chance for you to provide feedback as their manager, but you can also set aside time to invite their input, though it should be clear that their performance is not tied to this feedback. 

  • Individual meetings: Individual weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings with your employees—often called 1:1s in the tech industry—can be an excellent opportunity to foster dialogue about what’s going well and what may need to be improved, such as processes or workload. 

  • Team meetings: Larger team meetings can be a great space to encourage conversation about current projects, deadlines, workload or workflow, or other aspects of work relating to your team. In this case, it can help to dedicate a set portion of the meeting to questions and feedback. 

  • Forums: Sometimes, employees may not feel comfortable speaking up in a team meeting or during a 1:1 with you. In that case, developing an anonymous forum, such as a Google poll or form, can be a great way to capture anonymous questions and comments you can address. 

When you manage a team, upward communication can be an excellent way to learn more about your employees’ preferences. While you can’t always accommodate every single one, understanding more about your employees’ needs, goals, and personalities can help you develop a stronger overall team. For example, learning how your employees prefer receiving your feedback can go a long way. Some employees prefer a formal report, while others prefer to hear it during their informal check-ins with you. 

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4 benefits of upward communication 

Several benefits come with encouraging upward communication on teams and at companies: 

1. Inclusivity 

Inclusivity has become an increasingly important aspect of workplace culture, and upward communication can help you create a more inclusive workplace for your employees. Employees can flag potential problems or visibly champion ongoing efforts, making them feel heard and part of the company’s mission. 

Learn more: What We’ve Learned About Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

2. Trust and rapport

Creating relationship dynamics where your employees feel comfortable stating their needs or sharing any difficulties they’re facing at work is crucial to ensuring your team’s success. If you know what’s going on, you’ll be able to better adjust things, such as deadlines or communication methods,  or respond to a problem in real time rather than finding out about it much later. 

3. Improved processes 

What processes or approaches previously worked to accomplish business goals may not always be the case as your company’s business evolves, which is why iterating processes is key to success. Hearing from employees who directly participate in daily processes can help you revise how your team completes its work, leading to better functionality. 

4. Lower turnover 

Retaining your employees is imperative for the continued success of your team—and company. In a survey of employees who left their previous company, 52 percent said their manager could have done something to make them stay [1].

Losing talent can impact your company financially—and even strategically. According to Gallup, replacing them can cost up to twice your former employee’s salary [1]. It’s also important to consider the time cost, which involves conducting a search, finding a replacement, and training them. Strategically, losing key team members can impact your team’s quality of work, productivity, and more. 

5 ways to implement upward communication on your team

Learn more about how to begin using upward communication on the team you manage with the tips below. 

1. Build a team policy. 

Whether managing an established team or moving into a managerial role for the first time, make it a team policy that employees can—and should—be vocal about their excitement, concerns, and more. As much as possible, outline where this communication should occur, such as in team meetings. 

2. Ask for feedback. 

It’s helpful when your team understands your general policy for upward communication, but you should build in opportunities to ask for feedback specifically. For example, if your team knows that you prefer input during meetings, carve out a specific time so they can deliver it. Perhaps that entails setting aside the last five minutes of every team meeting to answer questions or address concerns. 

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3. Be approachable.

A policy about upward communication won’t automatically lead your employees to provide feedback. Because of the hierarchical politics involved in a lower-level employee highlighting a problem to a senior member of the company, it can take a great deal of courage to speak up. 

While upward communication builds trust in a team over time, it’s important that you develop a rapport with your direct reports so they know they can come to you with important information that could affect your team’s performance, the project you’re working on, or something else.  

4. Listen.

When someone on your team comes to you with a concern or problem or to offer general feedback about the way work is being done, it’s important that you listen. While it can be uncomfortable to receive criticism, your employee may simply be trying to improve how things are done. Listen to what they have to say as openly as possible. 

5. Respond.

It’s vital that your employees know their feedback can be used constructively. Upward communication isn’t about venting—it’s about providing valuable information that can be used to improve some aspect of the work being done. Work with your direct report to identify the next steps so things don’t end at their feedback but build into a constructive solution. 

Next steps

Learn more about fostering communication with Johns Hopkins University’s course Principles of Management or the University of Michigan’s specialization Leading People and Teams. Or improve your communications skills with courses from the University of Pennsylvania’s esteemed Wharton School. Learn at your own pace and master essential workplace skills. 

Article sources

1 Gallup. “This Fixable Problem Costs U.S. Businesses $1 Trillion, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/247391/fixable-problem-costs-businesses-trillion.” Accessed September 14, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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