Electronic Meeting

Electronic meeting: A type of nominal group technique in which participants are linked by computer.

How can electronic meetings enhance group decision making?

The most recent approach to group decision making blends the nominal group technique with sophisticated computer technology. It is called the electronic meeting.

Once the technology for the meeting is in place, the concept is simple. Numerous people sit around a horseshoe-shaped table that is empty except for a series of computer terminals. Issues are presented to the participants who type their responses onto their computer screens. Individual comments, as well as aggregate votes, are displayed on a projection screen in the room.
The major advantages of electronic meetings are anonymity honesty, and speed. Participants can anonymously type any message they want and it will flash on the screen for all to see with a key stroke. It allows people to be brutally honest with no penalty. And it is fast chit chat is eliminated, discussions do not digress, and many participants can talk at once without interrupting the others.

Electronic meetings are significantly faster and much cheaper than traditional face to face meetings. Nestle for instance continues to use the approach for many of its meetings, especially globally focused meetings. However, as with all other forms of group activities electronic meetings do experience some drawbacks. Those who type quickly can outshine those who may be verbally eloquent but lousy typists; those with the best ideas don’t get credit for them; and the process lacks the informational richness of face to face oral communication. However as this technology continues to expand, the future of group decision making is likely to include extensive usage of electronic meetings.

A variation of the electronic meeting is the video conference. Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai use Video conferencing to enable their consultants to provide second opinions to eye care professionals throughout India. Tele-ophthalmic units are used to transmit images of eyes of patients in remote areas to consultants at Sankara Nethralaya. On line discussions are possible through video conferencing. This process is quicker than bringing all patients physically to the consultants and is clearly more cost effective for the organization. By linking together media from different locations, people can have face to face meetings even when they are thousands of miles apart. This capability has enhanced feedback among the members saved countless hours of business travel, and ultimately allowed organizations like Sankara Nethralaya not only to save tens of thousands of rupees every month, but also to handle 1,200 to 1,500 patients and 90 surgical procedures everyday out of its Chennai centers. As a result, they are more effective in their domain and have increased the efficiency with which decisions are made.

National Culture and Decision making practices:

Research shows that, to some extent, decision making practices differ for country to country. The way decisions are made – whether by group, by team members, participatively or autocratically by an individual manager and the degree of risk a decision maker is willing to take are just two examples of decision variables that reflect a country’s cultural environment. For example, in India power distance and uncertainty avoidance are high. There, only very senior level managers make decisions and they are likely to make safe decisions. In contrast, in Sweden power distance and uncertainty avoidance are low. Swedish managers are not afraid to make risky decisions. Senior managers in Sweden also push decisions down in the ranks. They encourage lower level managers and employees to take part in decisions that affect them. In countries such as Egypt, where time pressures are low, managers make decisions at a lower and more deliberate pace than managers do in the US. And in Italy, where history and traditions are valued, managers tend to rely on tried and proven alternatives to resolve problems.

Ringisei: Japanese consensus forming group decisions

Decision making in Japan is much more group oriented than in the United States. The Japanese value conformity and cooperation. Before decisions, Japanese CEOs collect a large amount of information, which is then used in consensus forming group decisions called ringisei. Because employees in Japanese organizations have high job security managerial decisions take a long term perspective rather that focusing on short term profits as is often the practice in the United States.