I’m sitting in an airport lounge waiting for my delayed flight – the pilot for my flight is on another flight that was already delayed… go figure – going through emails from the past couple of days. I just hit a 15 email conversation between three people but including a group of about 20.
I was able to cruise through those emails fairly quickly (open, glance, delete, open, glance, delete… repeat) but I can only imagine what kind of impact this string of emails may have had on people who pay much closer attention to their emails during the day, or perhaps hadn’t figured out how to turn off the new email notification on Microsoft Outlook.
Mulling that disturbing thought over, my mind chose to remind me about stand up meetings. A main premises of a stand up meeting is to avoid wasting everyone’s time. One way to do this is identify topics that require more than a couple of minutes to discuss and defer discussion about them until after the meeting so that the people that care, and only the people that care, can be subjected to the discussion. Everyone else that doesn’t really have any impact on the topic, or could care less, are free to get back to working on stuff that is relevant for them.
Email can and should be treated the same way, take the conversation “offline”. If there is a general message sent out to a large number of people (say notes from a discussion or a general communication) that sparks a conversation between a few folks, take one, or more, of the following actions:
- Declare the “rule of three”: if more than three messages appear in an email thread, hold a conversation. (And don’t spend a bunch of emails trying to arrange the phone call.)
- If you find yourself getting involved in the discussion, break the string by removing all the uninterested bystanders – clear out the cc and only respond to the person with whom you are conversing.
- Provide a place where the questions can be discussed that is a pull instead of a push. Don’t fill up the entire team’s mailboxes with a discussion trying to reach a conclusion but only with the resolution. Hold the discussion on a shared space where those interested can see how the decision was reached if they want. This maintains transparency but doesn’t inflict the discussion on everyone.
If you don’t happen to be directly involved in the extended conversation, but find yourself cc’d in on one of these conversations, call (do not add to the clutter by emailing the offenders) one of those involved in the conversation and suggest one of the actions above. Your fellow innocent bystanders will appreciate it.