Almost all of us receive far too many e-mails on a regular basis. Some people believe that this is a problem that is here to stay. Same as other phenomena of the 21st century, including information overload, shorter attention span, and endless technology generated distractions. They view this as one of those force majeure that you cannot control nor influence.
If you, and others in your company, are getting way too many e-mails, which you feel you should not be receiving, it might be a symptom. In fact, it’s one of these symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore. Not just because of the colossal waste of time it creates.
In my experience, e-mail flooding is caused by several issues that if not addressed promptly can adversely affect the entire company. We can divide these issues into three main categories: organizational, leadership, and corporate culture.
A complex organization structure. When your company structure is complex, there is a chance of overlapping or unclear responsibilities. This creates confusion with regards to who’s doing what, and who’s responsible for what. As a result, instead of one person receiving an e-mail about a certain issue, several people get the same e-mail. This is just so the sender can be sure it reaches the right person. The solution: create a clear and simple organizational structure.
Lack of Trust. This is both an organizational issue and a company culture issue. When there is a lack of trust, people tend to copy their managers as well as yours, just to cover their backs. Lack of trust is sometimes a result of a bad organization structure that creates conflicts, competition, and overlapping responsibilities. The solution: Fix the org structure as above, and then deal directly with any trust issue that still exists.
Lack of clarity about roles and responsibility. This seems the same as the above, however, it’s not. In this case, the organization structure is good. And yet, the definitions of roles and responsibilities are not clear. Thus, people in the group tend to send their e-mails to multiple recipients to ensure that eventually, the right person will get the message. The solution: As a leader, make sure each person on your team has a clear role and well-defined responsibilities. Also, make sure this is communicated well to the entire team and organization.
Centralized management style (or micromanagement). When you as a leader have all the authority and make all the decisions, your just “reward” is getting all the e-mails. None of your people want to take any responsibility or action without your say or approval. The solution: Delegate. I believe decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. So that they are made promptly, and by the people closest to the issue at hand.
Dysfunctional relationships, corporate politics. When corporate politics get out of hand, bad behaviors ensue. These include lack of trust, hidden agendas, and lack of cooperation. All of which generate additional unnecessary e-mails. The solution: set the right corporate values, if possible facilitate talks and confrontations to repair damaged relationships. If all else fails, promptly remove the bad apples from your team.
Much like physical health-related symptoms; You should not ignore excess e-mails. Rather, you should do a thorough root cause analysis and address the core issues promptly. Neglecting to do so may have adverse effects on your organization.