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Shared Inboxes 1

It’s often challenging enough to maintain one’s own inbox, but many of us also need to deal with a shared inbox which adds another level of complexity. Whether you are in a close knit team of two secretaries administrating the department’s virtual front desk or a diverse IT support group of 15 professionals taking in myriad of requests ranging in complexity, the same problem comes up: Who deals with what, when?

Even then it’s not clear. You’ve heard these comments before I bet: “Did you read this email already?” “Has a task been made?” “How far along is this?” “Who’s on top of that?” Emails end up pending at the bottom of the pile because it’s unclear who is on it (or should be on it), creating backlog and eventual missed deadlines. Less important than the techniques used to manage the inbox is that everyone is on the same page on managing it. If one person practices zero-inbox email and another does not, you quickly get friction in the team as the organizational workload becomes lopsided. So it is imperative that the people who manage the shared inbox meet to discuss one thing: not about the actual work they do, but how they manage the communication of their work. This type of meeting needs to be scheduled at regular intervals; weekly, monthly, quarterly depending on how fast your team’s environment changes. This is what you should be discussing:

  • How do we show ownership of an issue once it’s taken on?
  • How fast are responses expected?
  • How do we measure/report completion?
  • How do we cascade information?
  • What methodologies have been successful since the previous meeting?
  • What is not working for us and how can we improve it?

Now this is harder than is sounds because when running such a meeting it’s hard to stay on the topic of metawork without talking about the actual work. People will use examples that can quickly degrade into solving the example rather than using the example to illustrate the working method. To avoid this it is imperative that you do NOT deviate from the agenda. That’s right, there should be an agenda. The agenda can be used to set the length of the meeting. Meetings are often dismissed as time wasters but if managed correctly they are a valuable asset to team interactions. The first meeting may take a bit longer as you establish the ‘how’ (maybe 30 minutes). The team leader should make sure they or another already have ideas to present to the group on “how” before the meeting starts. Don’t use valuable meeting time to try and invent the wheel there and then. The meeting should discuss the aspects of the wheel and come to a decision on it. The ‘what’ questions may take as little as 5 minutes (assuming you are using good meeting techniques). As your system improves and assuming the environment remains stable, your meetings can become shorter and less frequent, or ad hoc. Should a big change happen in the environment, ramp it up to adapt.