The Coaching Manager -- Toyota Kata and Scientific Thinking

Just this month, Tilo Schwarz and Jeffrey K. Liker published a new book entitled Giving Wings to Her Team: A Novel About Learning to Coach the Toyota Kata Way, which presents a story about the benefits of becoming a coaching manager and how to get there. We follow the fictional character, named Denise, on a journey of discovery and skill development, as she moves beyond the tools and concepts of Lean and focuses on daily practice that helps her supervisors achieve their goals. It's about the Toyota Kata approach, which helps anyone develop and apply scientific thinking -- an exploratory mindset of curiosity and experimentation.

When I recently spoke with Tilo and Jeff, I had the chance to ask them some questions specific to the concepts discussed in their current book, and how those concepts apply to daily work.

Question 1: What are the benefits of becoming a coaching manager?

In general terms, a coach teaches, watches the student, gives appropriate feedback, and assigns drills to learn specific skills.  You can coach anyone on any skill.  In Giving Wings to Her Team, the central character Denise learns a specific type of coaching for a particular skill set -- scientific thinking.

We often think that to navigate today’s complex challenges we need decisive leaders with a clear roadmap that they rigorously implement.  In reality, the more complex the challenge the less a roadmap will be helpful.  Instead, we need adaptive problem-solving, testing ideas rapidly, and learning our way to goals.  In Toyota Kata, this way is called scientific thinking—focus on facts, formulate hypotheses, test ideas instead of making assumptions, reflect, and learn.

Toyota Kata teaches a coaching approach that enables your team to become increasingly adaptive, innovative, and resilient – fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement, so your team can meet their current challenges and be ready for more.

Question 2: How does Toyota Kata help you to become a coaching manager?

The term “kata” is used in Japanese martial arts and are the small skills the black belt teaches and then the student practices repeatedly, with feedback, until doing it the right way becomes a habit. Michael Jordan put it nicely: “You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way.” 

In the novel, Denise faces the biggest challenges of her life as a manufacturing manager and is fortunate to get coaching help from Maggie who runs the local gym.  Maggie has studied and used Toyota Kata in her gym.  She helps Denise learn to work with her team to set big challenges they can relate to, study the current condition, set short-term target conditions, and then experiment toward these targets.  Denise struggles at first, but through practice, and Maggie’s coaching, she gets better and better at giving wings to her team.  

You can learn along with Denise how to become a coach of scientific thinking and by coaching your team to achieve goals that at first seem impossible.  In this book, we go beyond laundry lists of coaching best practices and demonstrate how to develop actual skills in yourself and your team.  

We hope our novel will help you start a learning journey of your own.

What are your experiences with Toyota Kata? Have you applied it in your organization? How has it benefited your managers and teams?