When looking at the flow of information inside an organisation, attention typically focuses on downward communication. However, recent developments have shone a light on the importance of two-way communication, the critical but all too rare dialogue between people leaders and employee that turns information into meaning.

The effectiveness of these conversations, can be heavily influenced by a little known phenomenon called the “Pelz Effect”. Donald Pelz was an American psychologist and social researcher who undertook a study in the 1950s to establish precisely which leadership style generated the highest levels of employee satisfaction.

Surprisingly, Pelz found the style of leadership used — collaborative, consultative, directive — had less impact than the level of upward influence held by the team leader. If team members believed that their team leader wielded significant power and influence within the organisational system, they were much more likely to communicate with them. Conversely, team leaders who had limited influence, especially with their immediate manager, were more likely to find themselves ignored by their team.

We can draw two important insights from this research. First, we need to create systems and structures that put line managers at the centre of communication flows. They need unfettered access to information and direct input into decision-making. Second, we need to educate team leaders about the importance of building a network of senior supporters and sponsors. Their “influence” network should include, but not be limited to, their immediate manager.

Taking these steps will increase your team leaders’ and team members’ satisfaction levels, which in turn will feed into their overall sense of engagement and commitment. A win/win outcome.

Donald C. Pelz: Influence: A Key to Effective Leadership in the First-Line Supervisor. Personnel (1952)