Meetings normally invite cynicism, yawns and sometimes curse. I have been no exception to my own cynicism and dreadful boredom.

In my long career, I attended scores of meetings convened by my superiors. Some meetings were informative, some others were entertaining, and many were, to use a soft term, utterly boring and served no purpose. I often wondered if there was a way to make meetings purposeful, where everyone would have a stake.

While architecting and implementing a new vision for Bank of Baroda in 2005-08 as its Chairman and Managing Director, I introduced the system of Morning Meetings as a vehicle of constructively engaging the Top management team in setting the tone for vigorously pursuing the mammoth transformation agenda, we had on our plate. These meetings were organized with a strict discipline of starting sharp at 9.30 am and closing exactly at 10.30 am. These were designated as Agenda-less meetings and mainly focused on discussing drivers of business. The focus was always on issues that create numbers rather than on numbers, per se. The membership was confined to my Mumbai based team of about 20 General Managers, my key advisor, Executive Director and my Executive secretary. These meetings were serious events. The attendance and participation was mandatory.

  • My main intent in these meetings was to bring our GMs out from their functional silos, experiment and experience collaborative working, infuse speed in decision making, hands on problem solving, perspective building and making the top management accountable.

  • The discussion would be around the live problems received from customers or employees which signaled delays, obfuscation at any level or simply lack of response.
    For example, during my customer meet at various places, I was always told about the delays in sanction of Credit proposals. I was aware that this was a perennial problem in the bank and our Credit growth in2004-05 was 0.72% against 25% of peer banks. It was in the morning meeting that we discussed about this issue and took several decisions including reducing the layers of decision making , set new timelines for decision making and many other connected operational issues. With these steps, in the very first year, our Credit growth was at 41%, highest in the Banking industry

  • Whenever I returned from a town hall meeting, next day in the morning meeting, I discussed the suggestions give by the staff members. For example, At one town-hall meeting in Jaipur, one young girl rather wondered as to why the bank is slow on its Car Loan policy. She observed that our existing customers, if they were to take a car loan from some aggressive private bank, the chances are that the entire account may be enticed away by that bank. Due to interest war, we were rather not active to build car loan portfolio. When I discussed this in next day’s morning meeting, we could see the meaning into this insightful observation by the young employee and quickly revised our car loan policy.

  • It was in the morning meetings that, we decided to make Speed as our competitive advantage and set up an ambitious first 100 days agenda, after I took over. In spite of our hierarchies, internal bureaucracy, and interdepartmental co-ordination problems, we could achieve following Landmarks in the first 100 days:

    • Signing a 250 million dollar Technology project
    • Rebranding of the bank including Logo change and brand ambassador
    • Setting up of 500 new ATMs, including the launch of 200 new ATMs on a single day
    • Setting up of about 550 8 am to 8 pm branches
    • Repositioning the credit portfolio by restructuring of the function

Our morning meetings became Forum of collective thinking, problem solving, promoting strategic thinking and a forum for fast paced execution. It was a daily exercise on the Leadership treadmill where people learnt from live problems, collaborated, challenged themselves, set deadlines, and raised their level of thinking and doing. It was in this school of learning which delivered ten future Chairmen and five Executive Directors, the highest for the PSBs from any single bank in the last decade. One such Executive Director in an Email:

‘In my elevated assignment as Executive Director of the Bank, I have immensely drawn on the Learnings that I have had in those morning meetings… I have learnt my Management Lessons in Bank of Baroda, what probably I would not have, even by joining a regular MBA course…these morning meetings have also helped me to transform myself into a better person/ business Manager’

Personally for me, morning meetings were sessions of exploration, discovery, coaching, guiding and persuading everyone to raise his aspirations. I truly feel that much of our achievements in transforming the bank can be attributed to our engaged sessions in the morning meetings. To me, truly, morning meetings were my wisdom circle.

Thus, in spite of my initial cynicism about meetings, our morning meetings became the main instrumentality of Learning around Live problems of the organization. I feel that learning around the live problems using wisdom of every person, and finding collective solutions and speedy execution is the essence of building Leadership.

Ten ways in which morning meetings can be made effective:

  1. It is about owning up the issues and finding collective solutions
  2. It is about Listening to the problems and not getting obsessed with achieving numbers
  3. It is about discussing new ideas, finding creative solutions and readying organizations for the future
  4. It is about building perspectives
  5. It is about helping people to achieve and not about putting them on the mat
  6. It is about removing bottlenecks, providing support
  7. It is about discussing both performance + health issues of organizations
  8. It is about creating Future Leaders
  9. It is about building the architecture of intangibles like Human resource, Leadership bench strength, branding, technology, speed, governance, Corporate integrity and reputation
  10. It is about laying a foundation for a sustainable organization

This post is based on the Chapter “Rowing Together” in Dare to Lead (Sage) by Dr Anil K. Khandelwal.