A Short Note on Long Email Communication

Have you ever taken time out to consider the burden on your business from the sheer volume of internal email communication?

Much has been written about the impact on business and staff through excessive email and just as much written proposing ways to streamline these communications. While these techniques may be useful, it’s worth considering that they may actually be symptoms of some potentially more impactful underlying causes. These causes, given the right attention, could dramatically improve the success of your business, and help reduce employee frustration.

Common causes of long emails:

1.  Strategy is too complex and open to interpretation
Good strategy and the ability to execute it across the entire organisation, is essential to the sustainable success of any business. Unless a strategy is described in the simplest and most articulate terms (and everyone is aligned to it) it remains open to broad interpretation across the entire organisation, resulting in strategic drift and lots of discussion and debate, often over email.

2.  Systems and processes haven’t kept pace with growth
The processes that worked for the business when it started and everyone was in one office, rarely stand the test of time as a business grows. As new employees come on board, they bring different experiences and points of reference.

The issues that were previously discussed and sorted out over coffee, or at best – committed to email, are either long forgotten or new staff didn’t have the opportunity to go over it during their induction (if they had one). The absence of appropriately robust systems and processes often results in ambiguity, misinterpretations and errors; all of which add to email traffic.

3.  Lack of cohesive team
Building a cohesive team is perhaps one of the most important elements of a successful business. High growth businesses are subject to constant change – new people join, founding staff members delegate tasks and responsibilities they once owned, and strategies and systems evolve and strain under the constant barrage of new issues and opportunities.

In this environment, teams often don’t get the chance to align and understand how they work best together. The legacy of past experiences leads to sensitivities and protection mechanisms being established. This lack of clarity, or simplicity, usually means that each team member is never really sure if their colleagues know all the details they are privy to; so they feel compelled to communicate in explicit detail through lengthy email threads.

Each of these causes, collectively and in their own right, results in lengthy and cumbersome email communication. One team member feels the need to explain their issue in detail; they send it to a colleague and copy the whole team. This is usually followed by a lengthy retort from the recipient, determined to highlight their own understanding and grasp on the situation and perhaps make a few subtle corrections. Another team member chimes in with their perspective. A week later the issue is still unresolved or forgotten under a raft of new issues. If it were later re-tested, it’s likely the majority of the team would have a different recall of what the issue was and how to handle it next time.

The good news is that solving the symptoms can be as simple as attending to the causes. The real benefit is that reviewing and articulating strategy, improving systems and processes, and creating a more cohesive team are things that every business should focus on.

In practice I have witnessed many times the groans of staff and business owners when referring to the time and effort they need to commit, to keeping up with the daily onslaught of email.

A follow up after completing a review and re-articulation of strategy, improvement of systems and processes, and various team related activities that have ultimately led to a vast improvement in the business’s fortune, usually reveals the groans have diminished and communication flows more smoothly.

Maybe it’s time to perform a quick and insightful health check on your business. Are you and your staff drowning under the weight of your own internal email communication? If the answer is yes, perhaps it’s time to get some help with the causes.

Our guest blogger David Cattell is an experienced CEO and Interim Executive. 

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