BL&T No. 131: Practicing Email Communication as a Team

Ways of Working

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“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw


3-2-1 Growth is a monthly, team-wide workshop centered around personal growth and collaboration topics. The focus for the last two 3-2-1 Growth sessions I ran with the team was writing effective communication. As a distributed team, I've seen how poor communication can negatively impact the team, clients, and projects.

In preparation for the exercise, I wrote a poor email example that needed major editing. Doing this was way more challenging than I thought, but I had fun once I got going. I chose to take the thinking-out-loud, over-sharing approach. Here's what I came up with:

Hi team,

Thanks for jumping on Zoom today to discuss and align on the approach for the client’s request to develop a new landing page for their upcoming campaign. I’m so glad we were able to make the time with everyone’s schedule packed after the long weekend. Anyway, I took notes from our discussion and put together a draft of the SOW for the client to review later this week. Before I send the scope to the client, I’d like to get your input to make sure it looks good before I send it out to them on Thursday. Once I have your confirmation, I’ll send it over to the client for them to review and sign off. Hopefully, they sign quickly and we can start soon. The one area we didn’t align on is whether or not we want to include multiple design options in the scope. Let me know if you think we should do one direction or multiple. I can update the scope to reflect whatever we decide, just let me know.


Account Lead

The objective of our session was to get the team to edit this email for clarity. In a typical 3-2-1 Growth fashion, I hypothesized that everyone would learn more by doing vs. me presenting a deck on writing effective emails.

The Session

I started the session by highlighting the challenges of poor communication, specifically in writing.

"Think about a time when someone sent you a message that was so daunting to read and understand, you put it off.

Maybe this created a bottleneck for the team or a delay in responding to a client. Either way, being a clear communicator helps us all be more effective together."

Before we got to work, we spent a few minutes brainstorming ways to communicate more clearly in our writing. Then, I broke the team into breakout rooms of 2-3 people to work together on the edit.

After the exercise, we spent a few minutes discussing the editing experience. Most teams talked about how long it took to understand the purpose of the email. Some broke each sentence on a separate line to make sense of it. Everyone sent me their edited emails when our session concluded.


Following our monthly schedule, we met four weeks later to review the edited emails and discuss the takeaways. Each team presented their email then we all weighed on what was working and not working.

Here is a rewrite of my original email, combining takeaways from the team submissions:

Subject Line: SOW LP Review Needed by Wed, 2/22

Hi team,

Please find an SOW draft for the CLIENT landing page project we discussed today here.

We didn’t determine whether or not to do design directions, but given how the client values design, I think they are worth including.

Before I send the SOW to the client on Thursday, I am looking for the following input from each of you:

  • @Christine: Do we have enough time allocated for the design revisions?

  • @James: Please confirm that all requirements are correct.

  • @Chris: Are you comfortable with the focus and cadence of our sprints?

  • @Wes: Please confirm the timeline for QA.

Can you provide input with any other feedback by 10 am tomorrow, 2/22? Please confirm receipt of this email and let me know.


Account Lead

These were the key takeaways:

  1. Use the subject line to call out key information. For urgent requests, include a deadline.
  2. Make the email easy to skim and get information at a glance.
  3. Come with a perspective that others can weigh in on vs. sharing an open question (e.g. including design directions).
  4. Use bold text to emphasize deadlines or other key information.
  5. Only share what is necessary. Ask: what "fluff" can I remove to highlight my point? Aim for brevity.
  6. Be explicit about what you're looking for, from who, and by when. Are you requesting input? Delegating a task?
  7. Leverage bullets for key points. Consider titles, if relevant (e.g. request, question)
  8. Use hyperlinks for document review. Consider higher placement in the email for reference while reading.
  9. Provide a cushion between internal and client deadlines for any additional discussion.
  10. Ask recipients to confirm receipt, especially if the request is urgent.


I started 3-2-1 Growth in March 2021. With continued input from the team, the format has changed quite a bit since. It's been great to see everyone weighing in and engaged.

However, the one piece of (anonymous) feedback we continue to get is how to turn these sessions into actionable insights for the team. This time, the employee remarked on the cost of getting everyone from the company together for 30 minutes.

The mission for 3-2-1 Growth is to give everyone space to practice real-life agency team situations in a safe setting to be more prepared when they encounter them. While there are takeaways, how and when they get applied will differ for everyone. I like to think of these exercises as similar to going to the gym for a workout or rehearsing for a big performance.

That said, I see an opportunity to better capture succinct takeaways after each 3-2-1 growth session (in addition to the live FigJam notes we take at the end of every session). Gathering these notes in our team Notion can be a helpful resource for attendees to reference and valuable for future onboarding. I met with our team experience coordinator, Allison, today to begin building this system. I'm excited to get this started and refine it over time.


More 3-2-1 Growth

Here are some past posts on 3-2-1 Growth:

Thought Starter

What opportunities are there to refine our communication as a team?


The E-Commerce Corner

Microsoft Clarity has been a great alternative to Hotjar for generating insights and recommendations via website heatmaps and user behavior recordings. Not to mention, the low impact on website performance (vs. competitors) and free price tag.

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