Write the email that will avoid a meeting

Keeping everyone in the same page by writing that page

When you are in a conversation with a colleague about calling a meeting, it is worth to try and see if it could be substituted by an email. My post from a few weeks ago mentioned two scenarios when I think a team meeting is necessary: problem-solving and information-sharing. I made the caveat that the information had to be complex, nuanced, or sensitive.

If it’s important but simple information to share, there is no need for a meeting, just an email. This email has the goal of having everyone on the same page regarding a particular topic. To achieve this, it helps to divide the text into four blocks:

  • Declare your goal

  • Give the necessary context so all can understand the information

  • Share the information itself

  • Explain how the information should be interpreted and the consequences

Declare your goal

People receive all sorts of email all day: from people inside and outside the company, people starting conversations, people replying to conversations, notifications from products you use, marketing messages from products you don't use, newsletters from strangers, and, now, well-written emails that are trying to avoid an unnecessary meeting.

So be clear that's what you are doing in the first line. A simple sentence is enough.

"I am sending this email so everyone can be on the same page about the next big projects in our squad's roadmap, and we can avoid one more meeting."

Give context

New information does not exist in a vacuum. It is derived from lots of old information that may or may not be familiar to your readers. You should try to think of everyone copied on the email and exercise empathy on what sort of context each of them needs.

It should act both as a reminder for people who are familiar with the context and as an explanation for people who, for whatever reason, are not familiar. It should be a single, not too long paragraph. Failing to do that will compromise readability, as people familiar with the context could find time-wasting to keep reading old information that they already knew. They would probably quit before reading the new part and later they will ask for a meeting.

If more a more extended context-giving introduction is really needed, it can be a signal that the topic is more complicated than you thought. It might indeed need a meeting. So work hard in exercising conciseness and write a short, objective paragraph.

"Last few weeks, we were debating what our squad would work next. The options were: integrating with the new referral program partner's platform, creating a new version of our video player, or building the MVP for a live-streaming product."

Share the new information

That's the most important part, and it should be clear and unambiguous. The context, in the beginning, can have a paragraph. The interpretation that comes next can have even two. The new information deserves to be written as a single-sentence paragraph.

Resist the temptation to add reasoning, ponderations, or demonstrate that you are aware of nuances and reactions. This part is best written bluntly.

"We decided to build the MVP for the live-streaming product."

Explain the consequences

Now you can start with the ponderations and exercise empathy with the readers. You just shared something new, that might be even unexpected for some people. It is good to show empathy and try to anticipate doubts and reactions. In particular, if you expect the new information to affect negatively any of the involved.

It is ok to go a little bit longer in this part because the most critical part of the email is done. People that decide to stop reading at this point won't miss anything crucial. Still, people that are more affected — or have more time — will gladly read more about the meaning of the new information.

"The decision was discussed and aligned with the leaders of all interested teams (Product, Engineering, Marketing, and Sales), and the VP. It means that we will start working closer with Alice and Bob of the product team that are the ones leading the live-streaming effort.

This is a big project, so it also means the other options will be paused for the next months, at least. The new video player still needs more research time from the UX team and its business impact is unclear. The referral program data transfer will continue to be done manually, as it was understood that this was not the bottleneck of the process. Still, we have some bandwidth to help with improving the scripts used on the manual transfer, so we will continue to work with the Sales team on that."