Valuing the time of your team members: Emails ~ by Thomas Zurbuchen

This piece was inspired by a workshop I attended with the people of D1-Solutions, a company located in Switzerland. D1 Solutions seeks to provide insights to customers into data, which is often the success factor for businesses in the information age. D1 Solutions sees itself as the Champions League of consulting firms active in this space.

Working in teams and especially when we lead teams, we are not only responsible for our time but we need to ask ourselves - 2 important questions, if we are being trampled by ants, and my suggestions - offering quality solutions,  but we affect the time of others or even control their time. I consider this one of the most difficult parts of my job and an aspect where I think that many of us have alot to learn.

Valuing the time of team members is of critical importance for a host of reasons. The most important one is that of respect. Teams can only work well if we respect each other, no matter how we relate to each other work-wise. It is very discouraging to work with somebody who makes us waste time.

In my experience, interactions don’t have to be perfect, but if interactions do not reflect mutual respect, we will hurt our team and also our work. A disrespected member of our team will stop thinking for the team and will isolate himself. He will perform tasks in an uninspired fashion and without much thought and passion. He will worry about details that are never an issue with a motivated team. Instead of talking about goals and dreams, we are now talking about five minutes of overtime and about office-space inequalities. And, most importantly, we are now wasting money.

Startup companies without mutual respect have a much tougher time surviving than those who have that magic ingredient to their culture. Similarly, change-projects in big organizations, intrapreneurship, have a very rocky around ahead of them if people are not feeling respected. That includes all people: the task-leads, the assistants and even the cleaning personnel. If I can help it, I never work with anybody who treats their staff like they are dirt stuck to his shoe.

Disrespect for each other’s time will create useless work, destroy collaboration and create negativity. I therefore I believe respect is an absolutely critical part of success of any team. I want to share some experiences and observations relative to emails, my next blog will address some broader issues.

I am a strong believer that the less a team relies on email, the better the team communication can become. I don’t think there are many aspects of our life that are more annoying than email, and I think effective teams need to focus on improving emails or they will lose much time. Email as a communication device in teams is both frustrating and ineffective. I have often played with the idea to basically stop answering emails unilaterally. I have not had the courage to do that because I have not found an alternative. But, I think it is a goal of effective teams to reduce or cut emails as a key communication device among them. There are a number of reasons for that.

First, there is a tremendous chance for miscommunication. Email can and should not be used to resolve personal problems – absent seeing body-language, it is almost impossible to guess how a critical email was actually intended to be read.

I recently received an email from a professor that made my blood boil. He critiqued me for not being responsive to a request he had sent. Going back to his email, I could not figure out how I would have possibly been able to guess what he wanted. I thought many things about him I will not write. I then typed a blistering email that had the appropriate dose of correcting information, sarcasm and anger. It made me feel better typing this email, that’s for sure. But, I read through it one more time and asked myself: is that making things better? I decided that I already benefited from the therapeutic impact of writing things down and erased the email. I sent a friendly email back and apologized to him for misunderstanding and corrected what he thought I screwed up. His answer made me smile “Perfect, thank you so much.” I was so glad I did not send the first email.

Second, I think emails are just not a very good communication tool. I believe that only bad teams sit next to each other sending each other emails trying to solve problems that would take a grand-total of 30 seconds of face to face communications. I really, really don’t like to be in email exchanges about a topic. Let’s rely on older technology (i.e., phone, a meeting) or a newer technology (i.e., text message, Skype, etc.) to address the question at hand.

Third, we need to read our emails, while thinking of the recipient. For example, emails should not be letters. I don’t know anybody younger than 45 who likes reading long emails. Like so many, I cannot handle emails that have more than 1-2 key points because I get well over 200 per day. Emails should have a title that suggests whether an action is required, a problem exists, or whether the email is just informational. Emails should then get to the point and keep the text lean – most emails are not read on big monitors, but on mobile devices. You send a long email, the likelihood of the email being completely read is almost zero, except if the recipient either loves, needs or fears you.

Fourth, the most important aspect of email: It does not count as a valid communication. A question like, “did you tell your customers about this important new product?” is often answered with “yes, I sent them an email.” It’s ok if an effective customer communication starts with email, but that is not where it should end. Having sent an email is not equivalent of having communicated. If there is data proving the opposite, the likelihood that your email was read is near zero. This is particularly true when emails are sent to people younger than 20 years old, a group of people who has basically given up entirely on email.

Fifth: no, we do not need to cc everybody on every single email! We should only cc people who need to know. The default is not to cc anybody.

In summary, I believe that valuing each other’s time is a critical characteristic of a great and impactful team. Despite its proven usefulness for so many aspects, I do not believe that email should be the preferred communication of good teams for a whole bunch of reasons mentioned here.

How does your team handle email as a communication tool? What are the lessons you learned that could help others?

Comments (5)
  • Becca

    March 6, 2012

    I think respect is one of the key to have a solid and undivided team. Email is not appropriate way of communication especially if there are many things to settle and talk about.

  • Baixando Filmes

    March 7, 2012

    Very good keep it up … thank you

  • JT Truvo

    March 8, 2012

    Thanks for the insight.

    One should ALWAYS appreciate the efforts of their team members, and more importantly, let them know of that appreciation.

    This builds cohesion among the group.

  • Jaxer

    March 9, 2012

    I couldn’t agree more with this paragraph

    /First, there is a tremendous chance for miscommunication. Email can and should not be used to resolve personal problems – absent seeing body-language, it is almost impossible to guess how a critical email was actually intended to be read./

    Just listening to my girlfriend read the emails I send to her out loud gives them a whole different meaning.

  • Airport Transportation in pa areas

    April 3, 2012

    Very useful and infromative article.I also do not think and agree with the idea of making emails as a communication tool as there is a great chance of miscommunication.It can not be an effective medium of communication.Thank you so much for sharing such a great information.

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