Most managers are doing far too little to mitigate the destructive and wasteful effects of e-mail misuse. Like a B-movie, the e-mail monster keeps growing larger and consuming more time and resources (“E-zilla: The Insatiable Beast”). Some of the more common abuses I hear about in my workshops are:

  • CC-ing the World” – far too many people are copied on far too many messages that are either of remote or some interest or a classic case of CYA (cover your bum).
  • Hiding Behind E-mail – difficult news or tough feedback is cowardly delivered through this impersonal channel.
  • Flaming E-mails – insensitive, inflammatory, or negative comments are fired off with an aggressive or hostile tone that wouldn’t be used in a personal conversation – like some mild-mannered people who become aggressive drivers behind the wheels of their big honking SUVs.
  • Over Reliance on One Message/Channel – important decisions, “discussions,” or directions are fired out and everyone is expected to give this one e-mail the immediate attention and urgency the sender feels it needs.
  • Stringing the Pieces Together – recipients are expected to follow a long and convoluted discussion in reverse chronological order.
  • With the huge amount of time being sucked down the e-mail sinkhole each day, teams can get a fast and large return on their time investment by getting together – in person – to establish e-mail protocols. Here are a few ideas your team might consider:

  • Get an idea of how much time everyone is currently spending each day on internal versus external e-mails.
  • Set a target for the number of e-mails you would like everyone to have to deal with each day.
  • Have everyone do an analysis of their inbox for the next few weeks and categorize the e-mails as to type, importance, relevance, etc. Aggregate those individual logs to see the overall trends.
  • Agree on the criteria for when e-mails are not appropriate. This might include whenever an issue is sensitive or difficult, has potential for conflict or misunderstanding, needs discussion, calls for collective brainstorming, personal feedback, etc.
  • Agree on the criteria for categorizing e-mails by level of urgency, information only, decision needed, who should be copied, etc.
  • Learn (or review) how to lead and participate in effective meetings with agendas showing the purpose (information giving, decision required, problem-solving, input needed, etc.), desired outcomes/objectives, decision-making process to be used (command, consultative, consensus), and time allocated for each agenda item.
  • Periodically review your team’s e-mail usage by asking everyone what you all should keep doing, stop doing, and start doing to ensure e-mail is an enabling, rather than enslaving, tool.

    I have just scratched the surface. Please send me ( your pet peeves, protocol suggestions, and experience with taming the e-mail beast.