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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

A Bad Rap

Meetings are an essential tool of communication within an organization. They enable managers to receive and give the information that goes into making important decisions and addressing the concerns of the organization's members. However, a manager must ensure that each meeting has a purpose. An agenda and a defined period of time must be laid out at the start.

The wise manager also must strike the proper balance between steering the discussion and giving everyone else a chance to speak. Otherwise, he or she could discourage the give-and-take among employees that is a key ingredient of any successful meeting. Managers who believe in empowering their employees must make certain the workers truly feel free to offer their opinions whenever the team gathers around a conference table.

In my experience, there are essentially two kinds of meetings. One is the town-hall type of gathering, where the leader is concerned less about the structure of the meeting than about letting people voice their views. This is when a leader's main concern is communicating on a more human level with the employees, perhaps imparting information that helps ease their anxieties over the direction of the organization.

The other kind of meeting is one with a strict outline because a goal must be achieved in an allotted period of time. The goal might be to work out an agreement on a business deal or to plan a strategy for a marketing campaign. Each type of meeting requires a different type of skill on the part of the manager leading the discussion.

Can a leader ever be meeting-free? I've never encountered one who was. I know of leaders who rely too heavily on e-mail and phone calls, and they do so at the risk of becoming aloof and disconnected from their employees. The sense of leadership is lost, and the workers are invariably left with questions and doubts. Despite the bad rap that meetings get -- and understandably so, in many cases -- face-to-face discussions among managers and employees can be extremely helpful in keeping an organization focused, energized, and optimistic.

By Yash Gupta

 |  October 6, 2009; 3:32 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The $2,000 Meeting | Next: No Telepresence Substitute

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It sure feels different on days when [the supervisor] is here versus when she is remotely via Google Talk, E-mail, and phone.

I even suggested audio and video chat with Google Talk but I think that was overruled because it eats bandwidth. Federal clients usually use the telephone instead.

I keep a microphone and a mini-camera that functions as a Web cam, just in case we change our minds, especially with clients.


Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | October 8, 2009 1:26 PM
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There are a couple of good observations here.

I absolutely agree that attending meetings is necessary as a "management" function, in the sense that it avoids the perception of aloofness on the part of managers.

On the other hand, I work regularly with several consultants and peer institutions that consider meetings a forum for discussion rather than decision-making (well, we make decisions but it takes an inordinate amount of time.) As chair of a monthly meeting, this is very frustrating.

However, this keys into the comment about not "over-steering" the meeting and allowing give and take. Sometimes I am forced to drive the agenda, which I do not like, but it is needed to make any substantive progress.

Alas, this no doubt alienates some of my more timid associates who prefer to discuss issues to perfection rather than empirically try things and correct course as needed. But business isn't about discussing an obvious course of action for three months while philosophizing about obscure potential scenarios. Business is about results and maximizing opportunity.

I suppose even meetings with a "bus driver" are at least useful if they generate concrete actions.

Posted by: xSamplex | October 8, 2009 9:51 AM
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