Stop emailing when you should have a meeting

Stop Emailing When You Should Have a Meeting

Have a meeting for more bandwidth and speed.

Recently we were delivering a leadership development program when Annia, a senior leader in the firm, raised her hand and addressed the room: “I’ve noticed that many of us quickly send an email rather than picking up the phone or when we could have a meeting in person. I know I’ve done it too – you just want to get the issue off your list. Maybe I’m old-school here, but it seems to me that we can’t build relationships or solve problems as quickly by email.”

Some younger leaders in the room smiled sheepishly and admitted that they were very comfortable communicating by text, voice message, and email, but that they felt awkward on the phone. Others pointed out the efficiency or need for written communication. As they talked, Annia asked us for our insights about when to have a meeting or use other forms of communication.

The Communications Matrix

Your goal is to choose the form of communication that is most effective and efficient for the content you need to convey or discuss. The communications matrix can help you choose the format that will work best for your needs.

There are two variables to modern communication: time and location. People can communicate at the same time or at different times. Communication can happen at the same location or at different locations.

Let’s take a quick look at the different types of communication that happen based on time and location:

Same Time—Same Place: Traditional face-to-face meeting.

Same Time—Different Places: This includes phone calls and video conferences.

Different time—Different Places: Email, text messages, podcasts, group chats, and recorded videos.

Different time—Same Place:  Posters, signs, and kiosks.

leaders communication matrix

None of these forms of communication is always good or better than others. For example, it would be foolish to hold a meeting reminding everyone to remove their personal items from the refrigerator by Friday afternoon so it can be cleaned. A sign on the refrigerator door is adequate.

To choose the best form of communication, you’ve got to pay attention to content.

The Best Communication to Get the Job Done

When you’re deciding whether to have a meeting, make a call, or send an email—think about the emotions involved, what’s at stake, and the speed with which you need to act. Emotion, speed, and importance require bandwidth (the amount of information that given and received in an amount of time).

As you start in the upper right with posters and kiosks, those are very low-bandwidth forms of communication. It will take a while before everyone sees it (and some never will).

Move down to emails and text messages and the bandwidth increases. Everyone is likely to see the message and (if you’ve established team norms) and take action. Email is best for short amounts of information that don’t require discussion and have little emotion.

Now, move over to the lower left where phone calls and video conferences increase the bandwidth. You can pick up meaning and emotion text doesn’t allow and make decisions more rapidly.

Finally, as you move to the upper left quadrant with face-to-face meetings, you have the maximum bandwidth. The full spectrum of non-verbals, tone, inflection, and human connection allows you to decide more quickly, engage in higher-emotion conversations, and build relationships.

When to Have a Meeting

Effective leaders choose the best form of communication for their purpose. Like Annia recommended, when you want to build a relationship or talk about a difficult subject, use the highest bandwidth form of communication you can. Face-to-face if possible. If that’s not an option, then video chat, and then a phone call. For a quick meeting recap, background information, or question, email is often perfect.

Leaders who haven’t mastered the communication matrix send emails when they should have a meeting and call a meeting when an email would have sufficed. That wastes everyone’s time and frustrates your people.

Look at your content and purpose, then choose the lowest bandwidth form of communication that will get the job done.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share your best suggestion for when to have a meeting vs sending an email.

You might also like:

Three Simple Secrets to Remarkable Meetings

How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meeting

Meetings that Get Results and People Want to Attend (podcast)

Should You Have a Meeting or Send an Email (podcast)



Have a meeting or send an email

Should You Have a Meeting or Send an Email?


Have you ever attended a meeting that should have been a quick email? In this episode, get the criteria you need to choose the right format to move your team forward, make sure you’re not wasting time with meetings that would be better with a quick email, and make every meeting the most productive use of everyone’s time. If you’re new to the show, we invite you to check out Lead Meetings that Get Results and People Want to Attend.

Email as a Reflective Practice: Thoughtful Writing to Spark Conversation

Having a Reflective Practice means finding a deliberate way to stop and think. It’s a ritual you do regularly to pause, consider, and learn. So, can email be a good medium on which to build a reflective practice? Stop laughing.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
~ Peter Drucker

Now of course, I hate most email as much as the next guy. But after years of having large and geographically dispersed teams, I have found that email can be transformed into a useful tool for reflection and creating deeper connection with my team.

A Few Examples

Weekly Reflections

One tool I often used is a weekly reflection email. I ask the team to reflect on a few key questions..and send me a note each Friday. I always start with these 3, and then sometimes mix in an extra bonus question depending on what is happening in the business.

I am most proud of…

I am concerned about…

I need your help with…

To be frank… not everyone loves this (and I make it optional). But usually the people who resist it the most are the ones who reap the most benefit. I have used this technique for years, across some very diverse contexts and people. Of course, this is not a substitute for regular face to face connection, but can offer a nice supplement.

For some, this is a way to share some good news without seeming boastful. Others seem to feel safer putting something in writing, rather than surfacing tough issues in person or on the phone. I have been surprised about how some heavy professional and personal concerns have come up in these emails throughout the years. When they do, I always write back and ask if we can talk live. The answer has always been yes… and the conversation is rich.

 Mid Year, End of Year Letters

As part of the mid year appraisal and check in process, in addition to the normal fare, I ask each member of my team to write me a letter as if it were the end of the year.

Yikes… this has been the best year of my career…

I am so proud that…

My team accomplished…

I learned so much about…

I will never do ___ again.

I find people typically bring a good bit of humor to this exercise, and also dream BIG about their accomplishments (many mention a promotion). I also find that they include personal dreams and aspirations as well. The humor creates a fun and light opening to the meeting that follows. But after we laugh, we talk about how it’s not really that crazy, and talk about how they can accomplish those big goals.

Of course, I bring the letter out again in the end of year discussion (earlier as appropriate), and it is great to see how much they have accomplished. If their vision has not been fully accomplished, we build it into the plans again for the next year.