Monday, July 16, 2012

Can An Email Destroy A Team?

Christine had a dilemma - as team lead, it was her responsibility to ensure her team of 25 performed their tasks in line with customer requirements.  There were, however, one or two who weren't doing what they should.  She didn't know what else to do to get her point across, and one day, after a particularly frustrating conversation with her biggest customer, she decided it was time to take action.

Angry, Christine fired off an email and in that moment, she destroyed her team.

The email went like this:  "I can't believe this issue is coming up again.  I've told you over and over again that the customer wants things done in a certain way and you're either too stupid to get it or are willingly ignoring their requests.  I can't believe we have to go over this again.  Seriously, the next time this comes up, everyone is going to be fired.  Now ... get it together and get it done right!"

Yeah.  This isn't an exaggeration; it's actually what she said, with the customer details taken out.  But admit it - you've sent out an email like this.  We've all had those moments where we've fired off an angry email only to regret it the instant we hit "send."  Once it's out there, though, it's impossible to get it back.

Each new employee who comes into a company represents a huge outlay of capital before the employee even starts the job.  Once on board, it's important to try everything possible to keep that employee and build individuals into teams tied to the manager and the company.  Employees will stay at companies where they feel respected and where they're treated as adults, as valuable members of the whole.  One angry email can tear that all to pieces.

Here are some of the things to consider before sending out an email, especially an angry one.  Asking yourself questions before you hit "send" can help avoid it or at least reduce the impact of an angry email:

  • Is this email necessary?  Obviously, in cases like this, some sort of correction is needed, but it probably could have been handled off line, not as a group email.
  • Is it helpful?  An angry email is never helpful. Taking a step back, sending the email to yourself or putting it in "draft" will give you the opportunity to rethink it, dissipate the anger and reframe it in a way that would be helpful.
  • Does everyone addressed need to receive the email?  In this case, only those who made the mistake needed the correction.  Sending an email like this to a whole group, the majority of whom are doing things correctly, only makes you look like a fool.  It tears down the morale of those doing right and can allow a space for doubt in the minds of the good employees.
  • Could it be done on the phone?  So often, we lean on email as a means of communication and forget a phone call can be more efficient and get things straight without miscommunication.
By walking away, thinking before you fire off an angry email and asking yourself these four questions, you'll go a long way toward not only rescuing your team, but building it into a stronger group.