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5 Coaching Kata Questions – Improvement Kata to Drive Results

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coaching kata to classroom of frontline workers

The Coaching Kata is an excellent tool for harnessing the collective power of your greatest asset – your people. It provides a structured framework for creating a culture of innovation where employees take the initiative and strive for continual improvement. If you have lean transformation goals, want to drive creativity, and get the best out of your team, then this is an essential tool. In this article, we explore how the Coaching kata works and five key questions you need to ask as part of the approach.

Coaching Kata – Overview

The Coaching Kata helps employees to develop problem-solving capabilities by improving how they think about or approach an issue. This solution-oriented method ensures that team members can take the initiative and apply what they’ve learned to other tasks. Practicing this type of Kata coaching helps to grow the capabilities of your workforce by embedding learning as a daily habit.  

The concept was made famous in the book ‘Toyota Kata’ by Mike Rother. In it, he details the habits and routines that he observed at the Japanese automotive manufacturer. These habits were fundamental to their success in driving continuous improvement. Rother took Toyota’s Kata concept and adapted it into a structured framework that other organizations can replicate. 

The Toyota Kata is made up of two main Katas or practices: the Coaching Kata and the Improvement Kata. Both provide a structured framework that contributes toward a lean culture of innovation. When combined and practiced on a consistent basis, they support the formation of routines. As these develop into daily habits within an organization, they become part of the fabric of how things are done. The Katas provide a structure that leads to consistent practice, ultimately helping people and companies to achieve their desired goals.

What Is a Kata?

The term ‘Kata’ refers to a small routine or daily practice that is clearly structured. The word has its roots in martial arts where Katas are used to train for various movements. The idea is to practice something small on a consistent basis until it eventually becomes automatic. In an organizational situation, practicing a Kata consistently helps a routine become embedded as second nature to those who use it. This can have powerful effects in both the short and long term by contributing to the development of skills and improvement of processes. The compound results are increases in quality, efficiency, and innovation.

However, the Coaching Kata is about more than a learner mastering a specific process or new skill. It’s designed to develop habits that contribute to creative thinking patterns, proactive problem-solving, and a continuous improvement culture. The structured approach to thought and subsequent action creates a type of ‘muscle memory’ that can be applied to any situation. So, rather than just improving a specific process or business area, it teaches employees to think more openly. It helps them to develop solution-based skills and action-oriented behaviors that make a meaningful difference to your organization. 

Kata Coaching Process

The Kata Coaching process is easy to implement and follow. Everyone in an organization should be allocated a mentor or coach to guide them. This may be a line manager and should always be someone with extensive experience in practicing the Kata. With this approach, training happens through working on real issues in the Gemba rather than classroom scenarios. Mistakes are permitted as long as they don’t have a negative impact on the customer. The goal is for learners to become better at problem-solving – not have the solution given to them by the mentor.

The primary task of coaches is to increase the capability of their Kata learners so that they are empowered to drive improvements. Frontline staff are often closest to a problem and therefore best-placed to suggest effective solutions. Coaching them to view problems in new ways and adopt a continuous improvement mindset enables you to benefit from the collective intelligence of the team. The greatest benefits arise when managers focus on enabling their staff to drive improvements rather than trying to do it themselves. 

5 Key Coaching Questions

There are five key questions at the heart of the Coaching Kata. They provide a structured framework that makes the approach easy to implement, repeat, and scale. The coaching questions are one of many continuous improvement tools that can aid your lean transformation efforts.

Here are the five questions that need to be asked as part of the coaching process:

  1.       What is the target condition or challenge?
  2.       What is the actual condition now?
  3.       What obstacles are preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which one are you addressing right now?
  4.       What is your next step?
  5.       When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

Let’s look at each of these questions in more detail.

1 – What is the target condition or challenge?

This step is about establishing a focus for the coaching session. What are we striving to achieve? By identifying this from the outset, it helps to maintain concentration on the most important issue. It also ensures that the discussions don’t meander off-topic or get side-tracked by distractions.

2 – What is the actual condition now?

The second step is about establishing where we are now. Use data and facts where possible to identify how things are currently operating. This might include looking at metrics like cycle time, the percentage of defective goods, or the amount of waste being generated.

It’s also important to conduct reflection at this point. There are four questions that a Kata coach can use to aid this. These are:

  1.       What was your last step?
  2.       What did you expect?
  3.       What actually happened?
  4.       What did you learn?

By working through these questions with the mentee, you facilitate their thought process and help them to reflect objectively.

3 – What obstacles are preventing you from reaching the target condition?

Once reflection is complete, it’s easier to see where the roadblocks are. What obstacles are creating issues or the root cause holding a project back? Are there any gaps or issues that need to be addressed? Then identify which obstacle you’re addressing right now and whether it’s the best one to be focusing on.

4 – What is your next step?

Now you’ve established all of the vital background information, you can start to devise your next steps. What should be done as a priority? What is the next experiment to be conducted? This is where the next PDCA cycle is formulated so that a hypothesis can be tested.

At this stage, it’s important to note that we all have a threshold of knowledge. Once we move beyond it, we no longer know for sure what the outcome of something will be. When a mentee reaches this threshold, they start using phrases like ‘I think’, ‘it might’, or ‘it could’. It’s at this point where the real opportunity for development and self-improvement occurs. Using a ‘starter Kata’ to develop new skills or mini habits can also be beneficial.

5 – When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

The last step is to set a time to meet again and review progress. It’s also an opportunity to go through the Coaching Kata again and reflect on what has been learned. After this, the process is repeated the following day using the same 5-question framework.

Implementing Kata Principles

If you’re thinking of implementing the Kata principles, then you’ll be pleased to know that it’s relatively straightforward. Thanks to their step-by-step format, it’s easy to work through them in order. The Coaching Kata is a simple tool for supporting employee learning and creating a culture of continuous improvement. However, there are some organizations that struggle with the consistency aspect.

 Although businesses find it easy to follow the process, they sometimes find it tougher to do so on a daily basis. Any kind of change requires commitment, especially to maintain it for the long-term. Because the real benefits come from consistency, it’s vital to take steps that ensure the method’s long-term adherence. This is where digital tools can help.

 For organizations that are serious about adopting the Coaching Kata, it’s often beneficial to utilize a digital tool to support it. Identifying the target condition, understanding the actual situation, and assessing which obstacles are in the way is all easier with a software platform. It enables you to track metrics, capture feedback, and communicate updates between different teams. Digital tools also make it easy to implement PDCA cycles and measure results. Once you’ve identified a solution that works, it’s easy to scale it across an entire organization by sharing via the cloud.

 Introducing Kata coaching cycles is an effective way to achieve process improvements, create a sustainable competitive advantage, and attain manufacturing excellence. It’s one of several lean tools that help you achieve adaptiveness and superior results in your organization. If you’d like to talk to us about its potential benefits for your business, then get in touch with one of our friendly team.

Your Digital Continuous Improvement Tool

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performance of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations. 

At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Are you interested in learning more about the Coaching Kata methodology or discussing case studies? Then get a demo today with one of our friendly Kaizen continuous improvement experts.

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