Email has turned out to be the greatest tool of communication in many team efforts that I know of. At the same time, most managers and leaders find that there are a number of hacks that new team members need to know in order to help the team. This hack is designed to keep us from making each other crazy with inbox dread. Everyone on the teams I have the privilege to lead has probably heard me say, “I can say anything, but when I email it, that is when it becomes real.” What I mean by that is I simply won’t try to make any serious decisions without an e-paper trail. I know my memory, and I know there is no way I will recall all the commitments I make without a bread crumb trail back home.
Because we have probably all experienced both inbox anxiety and its evil twin e-exhaustion, we need some team rules as to the use of email. This hack is to lay a foundation to our e-communication. Every team should take some time to form some basic policies and a script or short hand that will help the team communicate more smoothly. Here are rules I ask my students and team mates to utilize.
Rule #1: If the team sends you a communication, it is for one of three reasons: We have a question that you can address (Q); we have a request for you to attempt to fulfill (REQ); or we have information you will require (FYI or INF). These should be in the subject line of the email, such as: “INF Time and place of Friday staff mtg.” Please send out emails that reflect in the subject line what you expect of the team member.
Rule #2: Sometimes you will want to cc or bcc team members. If you do, the subject line cannot reflect what you want for each person on the cc list. In that case, put at the bottom of the email, after offering your information a list of those you cc’d and what you expect from each of us as follows:
“Staff meeting is at RJ Gators at noon this Friday. The team leader for each department is required to attend.
Cc: Matt REQ: Please have new budget reports copied for distribution.
Cc: Aaron REQ: Please have pics of last trip ready for selection for website.
Cc: Dave REQ: Please have list of calls made this week and responses.”
Rule #3: Email is not IM (instant messaging), but neither is it delivery by slow moving lame camels. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, we all know you aren’t managing your time properly. Generally, we will communicate the time schedule for any REQ we make from you. If you know you can’t get to the issue on the email, send a quick e and tell the team that you anticipate being tied up until __ . Everyone will know that you got the communication and are putting it into the schedule of “future you”.
Rule #4: Keep it as short and sweet as possible. Short means using numbered points (in that way responses can follow the same format without rewriting the Qs). Sweet means, “Be careful of the tone.” Please is a normal word we use to ask for something. Email is a curt communication, but we try very hard to be civil and project how much we appreciate being on the team with each other.