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Beware the ‘Group Ask’

Group-ask emails are typically harbingers of screwups and disappointment. Here are some tips for eliminating them.

Cops have a lot to teach us when it comes to asking for help. The next time you’re at a traffic intersection directed by a police officer, you’ll see what I mean. If they want you to do something, they point at you while making eye contact; often resulting in feelings of mild discomfort from being singled out. There’s no doubt about what you’re supposed to do and who the communication is directed at. Meanwhile, in the civilian world, we send each other group emails asking for volunteers, requesting editorial input, approvals, and other vague communications supposedly aimed at getting multiple people rowing in the same direction. These “group-ask” emails are usually harbingers of screwups, disappointment, and passive-aggressive blame assignments around why something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to.

Group asking a question
Getty Images

Consider the following group-ask example in your business: Where does your [email protected] address go? Whether it’s going to a single person or multiple folks on the same team, if you don’t have a clear system about who has the ball, you run the risk of dropping balls left and right. Our [email protected] address dumps into our customer relationship management (CRM) system where there’s a process detailing who’s responsible for claiming the inbound requests 24/7. Before we had this system, customer service was a nightmare. Unhappy customers and employees meant we needed a drastic change from our previous group-ask workflow.

Fast forward to today and I still see people I work with group-asking. I know they mean well, but as the old proverb says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” If we’re not willing to point at someone the way the crossing guard does or don’t have a system for groups of people to effectively farm group-ask repositories, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.

Also by Henry Clifford: Getting Into A “Day 1” Mindset

Why do we group ask to begin with? Some of us understand the perils innately and we’re not happy until someone acknowledges the ball we have handed off. Some of us need more prescription around these behaviors. To some extent, asking a person directly for something is a form of confrontation or conflict. (Remember how it felt when Officer Krupke pointed at you during carpool?) Many of us are conflict- or confrontation-averse. We’re all different and that’s okay. What isn’t different, however, is our clients’ expectations that we respond to inbound issues quickly and efficiently. They don’t care about excuses and will happily move on to your competitor across town.

Consider the following easy next steps to stamp out group-asking in your organization:

  1. Insist that group emails with requests are directed at a specific person and the requester does not move on until acknowledgment has been received that the other person has the ball.
  2. Connect all your publicly available inbound email addresses to your company (such as [email protected] or [email protected]) to a CRM solution such as Salesforce or Zoho so you can track all pending requests.
  3. Call out and coach any group-asking behaviors you see in the organization privately (versus throwing shade via reply all) so the group-asker can learn and change his or her ways.

Do you have any group asking going on in your world? What will you do to stop it?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.