Team Basics

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Sunday 10th October 2010
In this article
  • Understanding the new "team work" environment.
  • How to best use e-mail.
  • How to best use voice mail.
  • How to avoid looking like a bonehead.

These days it seems like wherever you work, whatever you do, you’re often asked to share the responsibility of your task with a team of co-workers and managers. This can be good news ("It was his fault!") and bad ("That was my idea!"). How does today’s SharpMan learn to make the most of this Brave New World? How do you ensure that, while you maintain the requisite team spirit, proper credit is given to your contribution? SharpWork asked management consultant and "team work expert" Kristin J. Arnold for tips on how to maximize on today’s team-oriented working environments. The answer, predictably, is to get into it — but certain practices and tools can help you stand out from the herd. Check out this first installment on the ins and outs of succeeding in the team environment in SharpMan’s Team Basics Series:

Rule One: Stay Connected (and Professional) with Electronic/Voice Mail

Many SharpMen forget that with every blessing comes a burden. While e-mail and voice mail free us from having to walk over to several colleagues’ desks to relay information, it also has the potential of making us look really, really, bad. So, while the new team environment demands that we use both to properly communicate with our co-workers, the SharpMan must make every effort to compose, draft and use e-mail and voice mail in the same professional manner that he would use to communicate thoughts and ideas in any written medium. After all, e-mail and voice mail are permanent records. If you sound like a goofball, chances are it will come back to haunt you. On the other hand, if you learn to use these tools, particularly e-mail, to document required communications, they could easily be used as the ace in your pocket.

In the team environment, these tools become more critical. Are you sharing information with all of your team members? Do you routinely pass along important discussions you have had, things you learned, or intelligence you gathered?

If you are like most, you’ll tell the people you are close to, or wait until the next meeting before you share your information.

But today’s time budgets often can’t wait, thereby making the success of the team’s endeavor — and schedule — highly dependent on the sharing of information between all team members — not just the ones you happen to like or work next to.

Enter e-mail and voice mail and the following tips on making them work to your advantage, and your supervising co-worker’s approval:

Set Up a Group List. This enables you to write or record one message and send it to all team members at once. Be careful, however, if one of your team members or someone who needs to know is not "in the loop."

Agree on the Team Ground Rules. Decide how your team will use e-mail and voice mail. Agree on how often each member is expected to check mailboxes, how quickly they must respond, and the format of the standard outgoing voice mail message. This is particularly important when co-workers spend time outside of the office or on several concurrent projects. Most teams agree to check their mail at least daily and to respond within one working day.


Sending E-mail. Address your e-mail "to" the people who need to take action, and "copy to" (cc) those who only need to know. On the subject line, clearly state the purpose of the message (status of xyz project, my discussion with abc, new information on 123). Use group lists appropriately; be selective and don’t "overcopy."

Write Action Items First. If you’re sending e-mail where actions are required on behalf of the recipient(s), write the specific action, who is required to complete the task, and the date by which it should be completed at the beginning of the message. Then write the detail of the message.

Be E-Courteous. DON’T SHOUT IN CAPITAL LETTERS – it’s tough to read. Keep your message short and simple. Use bullets instead of prose paragraphs. A good rule of thumb to consider: If it takes you longer than a screen to write, you should probably go see or call the person directly.

Respond Selectively. Add "FYI – no reply needed" if no response is needed. You are not expected to respond to a "FYI" or "copy to/cc" message. Reply only to the sender; be careful of the "Reply to All" default option in e-mail programs. Also, no need to respond with "ok!" or "thanks!"

Finally, Think Before You Send. Ensure the information is clear and the tone is correct. E-mails should not be a stream of consciousness or jumble of fragmented thoughts. Edit functions in e-mail make this easy.


When using voice mail, use the same care and consideration as you do with e-mail. Set up a group list and agree on ground rules.

Think First. Think about what you want to say and note a few important points you want to cover. If you believe you will require more than two minutes of recorded time to fully convey your message, as with long e-mails, consider seeing or speaking to that person directly.

Send Your Voice Mail. When you record your team message, tell them who the message is being sent to (all team members), the purpose of the message, any actions that need to be taken and by when. Then you can go into the detail of the message, making sure you cover the important points. The key is to speak clearly and concisely. Do not babble or repeat yourself. Don’t be afraid to make use of the "re-record" function when appropriate.

Access. If you can, always provide the method by which you may be reached, when you will return to the office, or the ability to access a "live body." Some people just don’t like voice mail, and you need to be aware of their preference — especially if it’s a client. When leaving a voice mail, always conclude with your contact phone number or extension. Whatever your message, conclude by giving your contact number — even if your colleague (or client) has it — leaving it on the message ensures convenience and a prompt reply.

Call Back. Always return others’ voice mail promptly. If your voice mail doesn’t require a response, clearly say so in your message.

Got it? After all, when used correctly, e-mail and voice mail can make you look as professional as you need to look for that up-coming promotion, in addition to saving you the precious team meeting time that would otherwise be spent on bringing everyone up to speed.

This article last updated on Sunday 10th October 2010
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