10 Signs Your Team’s Email Culture is Dysfunctional

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a control freak about my time. I like to set my own priorities for what needs to be done in a day, who I’m going to meet with, and how I’m going to cram it all in. But I don’t think I’m alone, especially when it comes to people working in the corporate world.

Email is one of the only places in our daily workflows where someone else’s bad habits can directly impact executive productivity. If, for example, your colleague sends a barrage of emails at 3 a.m., they’re likely to disrupt and distract you as you start your day.

There’s a reason why becoming an email ninja is on Bill Trenchard’s top 8 list of CEO skills. But even more important is making sure that you’re surrounded by a team of email ninjas to help you follow communication and time management best practices.

Not convinced that this applies to you? Here are 10 signs it might be time to give a formal email culture a try at your company.

1 People keep dropping by your desk to ask if you “saw my message.”

If your colleagues are doing this, you’ve likely got a trust problem on your hands. Either your team doesn’t trust you to be responsive to their needs, or there’s been no expectation set on how long you’ll each take to respond to one another.

2 The number of emails from your team exceeds the number of emails from external partners or internal clients.

If you’re not sure about this, use an app like Gmail Meter to figure out where your emails are coming from. It can’t be the case that your internal team is using email as its primary method of communication with one another. There are several alternative methods—chat, text, meetings, etc.—that would make more sense for a lot of conversations.

3 You have to do a daily cleanse of reply-all emails from your inbox.

Intra-office reply-alls can turn into the bane of your existence. First you got copied on someone asking someone else to do something, and then copied in again to all the thank yous. What a waste of time!

4 One of your colleagues only sends emails in ALL CAPS.

This is not just annoying. It can lead to misunderstandings between teammates if someone’s perceived to be a “yeller.” It’s time to create a shared value system around email etiquette.

5 Intra-team emails typically have one-word subjects.

Your inbox is a horrible prioritization tool, anyway. Why are your colleagues adding to the confusion (and making it impossible to do a search for their emails) by writing cryptic subject lines?

6 Buried emails are an acceptable excuse for missing deadlines at team meetings.

Couple this with #2 above, and you’ll realize exactly why yours is not “an effective team.”

7 Every email is addressed “To:” at least 2 colleagues.

So who is supposed to take responsibility for responding to the email or doing the action described there?

8 Emails and attachments are bouncing back from your teammates.

This is symptomatic of all sorts of issues—overflowing inboxes, lack of communication about what’s coming down the pike, and the need for a decent file management system, for starters.

9 More than 1/3 of your emails have “FYI” in the subject line.

Email is a communication tool. It’s primary purpose is not to CYA or manage your to-do list.

10 You send emails to remind yourself to do things.

This might be okay every so often, but to chronically use your inbox as a to-do list is to ensure that things will fall through the cracks. That’s especially true if your inbox is already full of emails from everyone else on your team.

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