To become better at communicating and deal with the over-use of e-mail as communication tool, organizations need not only create a collaborative environment and provide a collaboration platform with a diversity of easy-to-use, easy-to-access and reliable collaboration tools that fit the work styles of the employees. They must also encourage their employees to question and change their own habits, mindsets and ways of working.
As an employee it is easy to blame inefficient communication and collaboration on, say, bad management, lack of tools and the existence of a non-collaborative culture (management not trusting employees, a command-and-control culture, lack of job rotation, excessive fear of making mistakes, and so on). It is easy to make fun of all those inefficient meetings taking place in every corner of the organization, to complain about over-flooded inboxes, and to curse that we need to wait for someone to answer a certain e-mail in order to continue doing what we are supposed to do. But maybe we shouldn't blame that guy in the other end?
We cannot neglect the fact that a change needs to start somewhere. A spark needs to be ignited. It won't happen by itself.
As employees we are members of an organization and (well, maybe not formally but definitely morally) responsible for its results. Therefore we are all also responsible for making necessary changes happen. We also need to take initiatives to make improvements on an individual level. We need to take a look at ourselves and how we think and behave. Maybe we are following the same attitudes and behaviors that we are condemning others for? Probably we are.
Changing how we think and behave as individuals can be as easy as asking ourselves a few question before we choose how to communicate with others. Wait a minute...which options do I have? Besides e-mail or picking up the phone? Which option is the most efficient for what I want to achieve? If we spend a minute of thought before starting a communication process then we will for sure gain that time many times over later on than if we don't think before we act. Why such a hurry? This should be pretty obvious, but probably it so obvious that we do not care to occupy our stressed out minds with it.
Maybe things will go faster if we call someone than if we send an e-mail? Maybe we can hook up on IM and interact more spontaneously with each other and thereby avoid leaving voice messages since we know when the other person is present or not? Maybe we can reduce lead-times and make better decisions if we choose a means of communication which enables frequent but shorter interactions than the weekly meetings which are scheduled but not particularly structured and definitely not on-demand? Think about it. A lot of scheduled meetings will suddenly disappear from our calendars.
I personally think it would be great with less scheduled meetings with a standing agenda but sometimes no content and thus no meaning. To satisfy our social needs, we could meet by the coffee station instead if we just stop feeling guilty because our chat is not taking place under cover of a "work" meeting.
My point is that if we all as employees can help to spread a mindset and build a culture from grass-root level where we all constantly reflect on and question our own ways of thinking and working, such as how we communicate with others, then we could for sure identify and implement so many micro-improvements in our daily work environments that they will by far outnumber any big corporate improvement efforts in terms of increases in efficiency, productivity and quality, and ultimately increased profit. Don't you think?
Now it is time to get off the exercise bike...