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Meetings can play a valuable role

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meeting reminderSenior executives typically spend about four-fifths of their time in meetings. Conventional wisdom dictates that sitting in conference rooms squanders a huge chunk of a leader’s workday.

But all those back-to-back meetings may actually serve a productive purpose. If executives relied solely on written reports and one-on-one conversations with managers, they would gain access to useful but limited information.

Here’s the problem: Managers sometimes present data in an incomplete or biased manner in order to influence a leader’s thinking. And that’s particularly easy to do in a memo or one-on-one chat.

In small-group meetings, however, CEOs and other senior officials are more apt to see through the spin and arrive at more accurate conclusions. The interplay among participants can reveal what team members truly think.

In meetings, leaders can collect in­­for­­mation that they cannot gather in an email or a spreadsheet. Insight often rises to the surface only when employees interact with each other in the same room.

For example, groups may bounce around an idea without discussing how they’d implement it. A savvy leader can interrupt a meeting and say, “Can you show me how you’d put this idea into practice?”

Similarly, a CEO can sense a team’s reluctance to grapple with a sensitive issue when they’re hashing it out in a meeting. A written report may address the same issue in a clinical tone and include a numbered list of proposals. But in a meeting, the leader might realize employees’ underlying anxieties or concerns.  

— Adapted from The Org, Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan, Twelve.

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