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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

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by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 15

This article further discusses deepening questions for the Coach to help the Improver clarify their thinking.

Recap of the last episode:

In the previous episode, Denise and Jason met to discuss situations they struggle with when coaching. They started a list with helpful questions for the coach in these situations. They also discussed why it is essential to find the threshold of knowledge and how this conflicts with management culture in many companies. In this episode, they continue their conversation.

(Read Episode 14 for details)


Episode #15

Jason explains another situation he frequently struggles with when coaching: "I often have difficulties when asking the question about the last step. Sometimes the answer does not match the step we discussed in our previous coaching cycle. On other occasions, the step my Improvers made is fine, but the learning is not mentioned or explained rather superficially like‚ it didn't work as expected '."

Denise opens her notebook and shows Jason the sketch she made a few days ago about the logical connections (see episode 13). She explains: "In my recent coaching cycles, I noticed that there are some valuable logical connections inside the Improvement Kata Cycle (see episode 12). The step and expectation should refer to the obstacle. The result and finding then should refer to the expectation. Maybe we can use this idea to derive more in-depth questions. If the answer is very vague, I first try to reconnect with the last coaching cycle using the deepening question ‚what was your last step '. In case we both can't remember," Denise smiles, "the last step is noted on the problem-solving sheet."

Jason interrupts her: "Then I could ask right away ‚what was your last step and what did you find out. That would be more efficient than just asking, what did you learn from taking your last step?"

Denise replies, "I don't really like that. My main focus when coaching is to learn about the way my Improver thinks, to understand the current condition of his ability. Once I get an understanding, I can start developing his ability. That is why I try to ask a very open question with minimum influence at first. In doing so, I can see better how he thinks and which methodical approach he chooses. Once I recognize deviations in comparison with the Improvement Kata Cycle (see episode 12), I try to help them use a more systematic and scientific approach by using deepening questions. If I ask all the deepening questions right away, like 'what was your last step' and 'what did you expect' and 'what did really happen', and so on, it feels like guiding my Improver with remote control.

Then she continues with her original thought: "When we have reconnected with the last step, I usually move back to the open question again by asking: 'So, what did you learn from taking this step'? In doing so, it becomes immediately evident if my Improver has actually performed the step we agreed on or decided to do something else. If the answer seems not to match the expectation we wrote down last time or is very vague, I zero in again by asking 'what did you expect initially'? Afterward, it is easy to dig out more specific insight with the question: 'And what did actually happen'?"

At this point, Jason picks up: "And then it's about evaluating the facts. So either having actual data or go on-site and see the outcome of the experiment with our own eyes to understand the connections". They add 'what does that mean in numbers' to their list of deepening questions. Denise thinks aloud: "I often use that question. It is like a universal question and useful for nearly every phase of the coaching cycle. Similar with go and see where I often use ‚'let's go and see while you explain'."

Jason brings up another coaching obstacle. "In Phase 3, with the obstacles, I sometimes struggle when we start with a new Target Condition. When I ask my Improvers about obstacles, they simply say 'I don't know' or remain vague like 'the process is very unstable'. Do you have a tip on how I could react as a coach"?

Pause for a moment and consider: What would you propose to help Jason?

Denise ponders: "A couple of times it has been helpful for me to divide the process into its influencing factors logically. I sometimes call these process parameters. Generally speaking, understanding how and being able to control each process parameter is an obstacle in itself. I usually ask something like: 'Which process parameters influence the process metric'?" Jason jumps in. "That's like splitting a problem up into its key factors and go down level by level. It's like a tree. When I was working for a big consulting company in Boston, we called this the issue tree. Cool idea."

They also add this question to their list. Then Denise speaks up: "Here is a struggle I have when coaching in phase 3. That is when I have the impression that my Improver is arbitrarily choosing the one obstacle to address next. Alternatively, when I realize the chosen obstacle is not a good pick. Either because it occurs too rarely or the effect is definitely too small. I mean, I could let my Improver find out for themselves that this might not be the best choice, but that could take quite some time. Also, we have a due date for the Target Condition, which I don't like to postpone as this signals that achieving targets on time is optional. I'm quite strict with due dates. Any idea of what to do?"

Pause for a moment and consider: What would you propose to help Denise?

Jason grins: "Well, in this case, I think your tip with the obstacle formula 'Obstacle = Unwanted Effect x Root Cause' could be helpful (see episode 5). The deepening question could be something like 'what is the unwanted effect of this obstacle' and maybe even add 'regarding the process metric' for clarity".

Denise reacts immediately: "That's a great idea. The Improver can clarify for themselves if there is enough impact to make addressing the obstacle a good choice right now. Also, I am not pushing my perception as it might be wrong. By only asking openly about the impact we can simply find out. Besides, it also immediately becomes clear if the obstacle is a process obstacle or just an implementation obstacle with no impact on the process metric." They complete their list of deepening questions.

Suddenly Denise looks at her watch: "I have to go. Today we have a choir rehearsal." They say goodbye and agree to continue working on their list of deepening questions another time. As he leaves, Jason asks, "Would you fancy going for a snack after work some time?" Denise nods as she grabs her bag, "sure." As she makes her way to the parking lot, she realizes that she's happy about Jason's invitation.

Next week: The next episode will feature a DIY cut out card with Denise and Jason's list of deepening questions and include some general thoughts on the questions for the Coaching Starter Kata.

If you like this post, forward it to a friend or colleague right now because they will appreciate getting helpful tips from you.



For new readers: Every week, I share hands-on tips for coaching with the Coaching Kata. This episode is part of a series of articles about Denise, who has taken on her first management position as a department manager at PowerPump Inc. Denise intends to develop her team through coaching. Read Episode 1 to get into the story.

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