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Why long emails should be avoided as a Dev Lead

I keep failing to a avoid a common mistake as a leader. Sending long emails. It seems so easy. For whatever reason, as the dev lead, I cannot talk to a person face-to-face so I write a long email.

I could spend time talking about why email is bad, or I could show you how emails make people feel by showing you an email dialogue.

Why long emails should be avoided:

Dev Lead: I’m being a good mentor. Write a nice long email that will help the team grow on a subject A, that includes tons of info on Subject A, including its 5 benefits. I send this email to Dev1 and CC the other two members of my team.
Feels good about his leadership.

Dev 1: What the dev thinks: Uh, oh. The dev lead is having a hissy fit again. Looks like he is pissed at something I did. What a jerk.
Feels angry.

Dev 2: Oh no. I have no idea what they talking about. Do I know my stuff. Googles and tries to learn what the dev lead is talking about.
Feels shamed.

Dev 3: Ugh! Why is he trying to teach me crap I already know.
Feels patronized.

Manager: Hey, the team didn’t appreciate that email.

Dev Lead: Feels like a poor leader.

Manager: Feels like he is losing his team.

 

Why it would have happened better face-to-face:

Dev Lead: Hey devs. I want to discuss subject A. What do you know about it already?

Dev 1: I’ve used it before

Dev 2: Stays silent.

Dev 3: I know all about Subject A.

Dev Lead: OK, Dev 3, tell us about subject A.

Dev 3: Gives four excellent points about subject A. One of them the dev lead didn’t know.

Dev Lead: Adds two points about subject A that Dev 3 didn’t know. Changes his list from 5 to 6 adding the one item Dev 3 didn’t know.
Feels impressed by Dev 3.

Dev 1: Feels growth.

Dev 2: Feels good to be introduced to a new subject.

Dev 3: Impressed that the dev lead let him educate the team.
Feels more respect for dev lead. Also notes that the Dev Lead knew things he didn’t and thinks he should listen more.

Manager: Feels good about the team.

 

It is all about the feelings, and there is something about face-to-face team interaction that leads to good feelings and something about long emails that always leads to bad feelings.

So, if you look at the face-to-face interaction, you can see that it all started with a short question. You could simulate this in a short email:

Dev Lead: Who can give me all the benefits of Subject A using only the knowledge in your head. No browser search allowed until after you respond.

Dev 1: Responds with the single most common benefit if subject A.

Dev 2: Doesn’t respond.

Dev 3: Responds with four items, one that the dev lead didn’t now about.

Dev Lead: Interesting. Here are the items that the team responded with. I added two more benefits for a total of 6. Should we use subject A to get those 6 benefits in our project?

 

Now imaging the response was crickets.

Dev Lead: Who can give me all the benefits of Subject A.

Dev 1: Doesn’t respond.

Dev 2: Doesn’t respond.

Dev 3: Responds with one item.

Dev Lead: Subject A is interesting and important to our project. I am going to create a quick training on it.

Dev Lead: Writes a doc on it and sends it to the team.

Team: Feels good to learn something new.

Manager: Feels like the team is running itself.

Tips

  1. Keep emails short.
  2. Use many short emails.
  3. Ask questions, preferable one-liners:
    1. Start by asking your team what they already know first.
    2. Ask follow-up questions second
  4. Compile responses into a bulleted list
    1. Add to the list if you can
    2. Ask questions about the list
  5. Thank the team

I am going to put these tips into practice next time I feel like sending a long email.

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