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I recently wrote about the 11 Behaviors most disliked by IT Leaders, and #9 in that list was:
Email-itis – in other words, staff using emails rather than interacting with each other in person. The added hatred was the use of blind copy and the overuse of copy to a wide audience
What is so annoying about email-itis is when we have to follow a thread back through the conversation to find anything relevant. And if you print the thread out to digest it then we end up wasting tons of paper as the thread becomes more and more indented…
Chris Mahan in his response to my last post (see http://chrismahan.blogspot.com/2008/07/response-to-11-behaviors-most-disliked.html) commented that this is fuelled by fear, and I agree that this is often the case. I think in the contemporary business climate, the use of email has allowed the avoidance of conflict. We are breeding weak workers and leaders because of this. Conflict, in the business sense, builds character and strength, and learning to be strong enables leaders to be more effective. The ability to withstand conflict allows leaders to create an environment that supports challenge, negotiation, and the opportunity to say No. The world is not a perfect place, so Win:Lose arguments are commonplace. Leaders must ensure that effectiveness and ‘doing the right thing’ win out above ineffective, pointless pursuit.
So Leaders shouldn’t allow Email Tennis and Email-itis to prevail.
- Leaders can do this by effectively stamping it out, by spotting these threads when they happen and then (whatever the subject) encouraging participants to get around a table to discuss the subject (or a conference phone if appropriate.)
- Leaders can lead by example and not engaging in this activity themselves
- Leaders can use value-driven statements and mandates when addressing the team by describing this behavior as counter-cultural
- Employees can be encouraged by email-usage policies to avoid this behavior
The crux of this is that it is a leadership responsibility. Employees won’t resolve this themselves whilst it plays to their comfort zone.