Making meetings more effective

“Khun Kriengsak, I think I can run more effective meetings,” Lek tells me. “I want you to observe how I chair a meeting. After that, please give me some feedback on how should I improve.”

“Khun Lek, how many meetings do you want me to observe?”

“Three: an executive committee meeting, a management committee meeting and a succession committee meeting.”

A month later, I meet Lek again to debrief her on my findings from those three meetings.

“Khun Lek, I’m going to offer you feedback in two segments,” I tell her. “The first part is about you and the other part is about the meeting participants. For each I’ll give both strengths and weaknesses, then we’ll discuss the next steps.”

“Coach, go ahead.”

“Khun Lek, the way you lead the meeting is quite professional. I would say it’s above standard. But obviously you’re not great at it yet. There are some areas for improvement. Your team is also slightly better than the standard. They all have a great can-do attitude. But I’d have to say that some of them are quite young for such senior positions. Hence, their maturity and judgement may not be up to the professional level.

“Let me start with your key strengths. You are well prepared, articulate well and listen well. Your weakness is you ask too many questions.

“I classify the other members into three categories: about 30% are active, 50% are reactive and 20% are the silent ones.

“The active ones are well prepared and fully engage in the discussion. They are mature and articulate sound and logical judgements.

“On the other hand, the reactive and silent ones are not well prepared. They don’t respond well with questions. Their judgement and maturity do not live up to your standard.”

“Thank you Coach. What should I do next?”

“It depends on your goal. What specific area do you want to improve?”

“I want to start with me. I have a tendency to micro-manage. My weakness is in the details. Whenever I’m not clear on something, I tend to dig more by asking a lot of ‘Why’ questions.”

“Khun Lek, what makes you ask ‘Why’ so much?”

“I think I do it unconsciously. But since you asked me, I recall it started 15 years ago when I was a quality control supervisor in a hard disk drive company.

“At the time, I was influenced by what I’d learned about problem-solving concepts from Toyota. At Toyota, employees are taught to think ‘Why’ consecutively five times. This is an adaptation of cause-and-effect thinking. It worked for me on an assembly line.”

“How effectively is this ‘5-Why’ theory applicable to your current situation as a CEO?”

“I don’t think it’s effective any more. First, my business today is a knowledge business. We provide IT consulting services. Our core competency is intellectual capital, not productivity in production.

“Second, my teams have diverse gaps in expertise, background and judgement. Hence, the ‘5-Why’ approach is not relevant for me any more.”

I nod in acknowledgement.

“Coach, how do I avoid being a micro-manager then?” Lek asks.

I offer her an interesting insight I’d learned by reading The Corner Office by Adam Bryant. He writes about an interview with Tachi Yamada, the president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Programme.

Mr Yamada said: “I don’t micro-manage, but I have a micro interest. I do know the details. I do care about the details. I feel like I have intimate knowledge of what’s going on, but I don’t tell people what to do.”

A leader must possess micro-interest: the ability to look at the big picture and be able to spot two or three things that matter. Then, probe for further details on each point and come back to the broader “helicopter view” again.

“Coach, it’s very hard for me to let go the details,” says Lek.

“What holds you back?”

“I am uncomfortable if I don’t have all the details.”

“How long have you felt this way?”

Khun Lek is quiet for a reflection. After a few seconds she says: “I remember it happened when I was in university. In my last term, I planned to achieve A grades in all my subjects. I was unable to manage because I got a B in one subject. I told myself if I really studied hard and understood all the details of every subject, I should get all A’s.”

“That’s a good belief that has helped you to succeed in your life. But do you think it’s a must to have all the details in every aspect of your life?”

“No, it’s not realistic.”

“What will you do with this insight?”

“I have to let go.”

“What would be a trigger to remind you?”

“I’ll ask my secretary to warn me.”

“That’s great.”

I ask her to spend five minutes to recap the insights from today’s discussion and plan to follow through with her new plan in her work.