I’ve been enjoying a wonderful holiday in Bangkok, Thailand, with my family. We have been here for about a week so far, ticking items off our must see and do list. I wanted to do a Thai cooking class while we are here, and so this was our afternoon activity today. It was amazing.
We cooked authentic Thai with our wonderful instructor, Song. Along with 4 other people we met during the class, we cooked 4 traditional Thai dishes. Tom Yum Gung, followed by Pad Thai, then red curry with chicken, and we finished up with a beautiful mango and sticky rice.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week until I realised that while we had this incredible cooking experience, at the same time we also had a masterclass in leadership.
I think we sometimes fall into the trap of complicating leadership. Here are a few reminders about some of the simple things that can make all the difference when leading others.
Share The Big Picture.
Before we arrived at our cooking class, we received an overview of the cooking class experience. We had an idea of what to expect when we arrived. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed into the cooking school. Everyone associated with the cooking school was part of this. It was clear that everyone was on the same page.
This vision was also shared with the cooking class participants. We are here together to create a great experience, to cook in an authentic Thai way. We are going to produce four dishes and we are going to eat and enjoy them along the way. Everybody knew exactly what we were there to do, the same page. Effective communication of the vision.
Form The Team.
Our instructor, Song, was very good at bringing the group together. She provided us all with a high level view of what we would be doing together during the afternoon, but without going into too much detail, so we did not get overwhelmed. She also was really great at setting us up in our workstation, so giving us a space that was our own to work in.
Learn About Your Team.
As part of getting everyone organised in the kitchen, Song asked a few questions. She was getting to know more about each of the individuals, to understand where they came from, and how much cooking experience each person had.
Set The Work Conditions.
Next Song moved us into the kitchen and our individual cooking spaces. Now we belong in the space. And immediately we began to work on a task together. In pairs, we had to squeeze the milk from shredded coconut. This was a joint task to create the coconut milk to be used in our recipes during the afternoon. So we are all working for a shared outcome. We are starting to form a team.
Break A Milestone Into Smaller Chunks.
Song began to introduce us to the next series of tasks to create our first course, which was the Tom Yum Gung soup. After sharing each piece of information, for example about the different ingredients we were using, she would check for understanding. Next she shared instructions for how to prepare each ingredient. One ingredient at a time. Making sure that everybody kept up with the group.
Clarity, Capability And Building Confidence.
Now we have all of our ingredients ready to move to our cooking stations. In a very small space, there are eight gas hobs with woks on them ready to use for cooking. Song was masterful in terms of the clarity of her instructions on how to cook the first dish, Tom Yum Gung, as she built capability in her team.
She did not overwhelm with too much information at once. It was a step-by-step process, within a greater task. She made sure that everybody was keeping up with the group before moving to the next step. If somebody did require assistance, she quickly noticed, and she encouraged and supported them in completing the activity. Letting them know she was confident they could do this.
We completed all of the steps of creating our Tom Yum Gung, and we plated it into our serving bowls. And then, and I thought this was clever, the next step was to capture the moment. Song took a photo of each group with their finished dish, on their camera, so that they have the memory. And in these moments we were celebrating achievement of the goal of creating the dish. We all congratulated each other and celebrated together as a team.
The next part was easy. We got to eat our meal, which was wonderful. And tell each other how great it was, and really enjoy the moment before we moved on to the next stage.
Think about this in the context of a major program of work. Taking the moment of celebration. Having that moment of enjoyment, of rest and recovery, before we move into the next phase or the next period of the project.
And so it went through the afternoon. We would move into the next item on the cooking agenda, and the ingredients would be explained to us, and we would work individually, but on the same task. We would cook our own meal, and then we would celebrate it, and enjoy it.
Now interestingly, when we got to the red curry recipe, this was not a solo activity. We were not preparing just our own individual meal. Every person was involved in preparing the red curry paste. There are many ingredients that go into this, and it became a team effort.
Each person was given different ingredients to work on, to chop, to crush. Each person had a clear role and responsibility to contribute to the greater whole. The red curry paste.
Once all the ingredients were chopped, they went into a common mortar, and everybody had a turn at pounding that red curry paste with the pestle until it was ready to be used. A collaborative effort.
In the space of about 2 hours, Song had created a team who knew exactly what they needed to do. Each person had clarity on their role and responsibilities. They were encouraging each other, they were all contributing to the greater good and enjoying it. Keeping up with each other and were unified in the creation of this goal of cooking the red curry, which was the most complex item on the menu. We completed our cooking and enjoyed our red curry, and we went to dessert.
Leverage Individual Strengths.
One more thing. During the red curry paste preparation there was one person who would need to work unsupervised in the kitchen for a few minutes, while Song worked with the remaining 7 people in the group.
Remember the questions Song asked at the beginning of our time together? This gave her insights into her team, into what their strengths might be, into how experienced they were as cooks. She used this information when she was assigning this unsupervised task, to choose an individual who she could be confident would have the capability to complete the task unsupervised. And who would have the confidence in themself to complete the task.
There are so many other lessons and reminders here, which I have not specifically listed out. The value of asking questions and listening, the importance of consistent communication on multiple levels, offering regular relevant feedback for improvement, and more.
A fun afternoon of delicious Thai cooking served with a side of leadership.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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