In a dispersed team, a good email setup and healthy mail habits are critical to success. In today’s installment of our getting-started guide for dispersed teams, I talk about the importance of capturing all team email into a searchable archive. I also list some disciplines which, once internalized by your team, will ensure that knowledge is not lost or fragmented.
No message left behind
Just as it’s a good idea to capture all team chats in a single tool that supports a searchable log, it’s also important to capture all emails related to the project in a common place. Avoid the temptation to handle all team mail by simply CCing everyone on the team. Instead, set up a Basecamp project and use it to mediate all of your email interactions.
Basecamp enables you to continue using your regular mail program, but it will capture all of the emails as threaded discussions associated with a project. This way, when you add a new member to the team, or when you come back to the project six months down the road, you have a single place to look for all project-related mail.
Not all email is related to a specific project. But that doesn’t make it any less important to capture. Set up an “Internal” project in Basecamp to use as a catch-all for any non project-specific communications.
Now that you have a “trusted system” (to use David Allen’s terminology) to capture team email conversations, the next step is to develop good habits around that system. Here are some examples:
Use the tools
Getting Basecamp set up does you no good if you don’t use it consistently. Start every team-wide email conversation with a Basecamp email. If you notice someone emailing all the team members individually, gently remind them to use the Basecamp address.
Prefer whole-team emails
In part two of this series I talked about the importance of using a single chat channel to avoid knowledge fragmentation. The same goes for email. Even if you are sure that your message is only of interest to three out of six team members, use the whole-team mailing system rather than emailing them individually. By following this discipline:
- You avoid accidentally leaving interested team members out of the loop.
- You ensure that the knowledge is captured in a central, searchable place.
- You make the knowledge available to future team members.
Basecamp has the ability to “tag” certain team members to receive an email message, while still making the thread visible to un-tagged team members. You may want to use this feature if team members feel they are
getting too many irrelevant emails.
Capture external conversations
If you have a phone call with a client, take five minutes afterwards to summarize what was discussed for the rest of the team, and send it into Basecamp. Likewise if you have a meeting, whether the whole team attends or not, you may want to deputize someone to jot down some brief meeting minutes and send them in to Basecamp. The distributed model affords fewer opportunities for getting onto the same page with your coworkers; so it behooves you to explicitly capture any external conversations that occur.
If I could I would even record Skype chats and upload them to Basecamp. Having all communications be centralized and visible to the whole team is tremendously important for maintaining group cohesion.