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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

How to give better Feedback - Part 2

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 22

This article discusses how to give better feedback as a 2nd Coach.

Feedback should be evaluated not by how sophisticated it is, but if and how well it is turned into action. We, therefore, should aim to give feedback that is focused, provides specific instructions for action and a trigger. A trigger? The first challenge for turning feedback into action is to realize when to apply it. This is why good feedback helps to identify the need for action by providing a concrete trigger. Read more on how to do it in this episode.


Episode #22

After Jason and Mary have finished their coaching cycle, Denis thanks Mary for letting her observe, and Mary returns to her work.

Jason turns to Denise and says: "And, what do you think, how did it go?" He is obviously excited.


☞ You might want to re-read the coaching cycle from Episode #21 to get most out of reading this article.

☞ If you filled out the observation form on the last episode and noted the feedback you would have given Jason, you might want to take out your notes now.


Denise scans her notes on her observation form and ponders. Then she says to Jason:

"I have observed that you did not really talk about Obstacles today. I have the impression that the next step, therefore, isn't really precise. The step Mary proposed is very vague and will take a long time.

From my perspective, it would be helpful to specify the Obstacle and then agree to take a precise next step. At the same time, the unwanted effect of the Obstacle should be clear in numbers. Otherwise, the Improver can't come up with a precise expectation for the step.

Right now, we don't know what automation should contribute to matters of time reduction. How much closer will Mary get towards her Target Condition if the step was automated?

In addition, from my perspective, it would be helpful to define a significantly smaller step so you could meet again tomorrow."

At that point, Jason is becoming impatient and replies. "I noticed that too. That was exactly the problem. Mary did not understand the process deeply enough and, therefore, did not come up with actual Obstacles. Recognizing that, I tried to work out at least one Obstacle. And then the step somehow got too big. I realized that, too, but did not know what to do as a coach in that situation.

First, I asked the question about the Obstacles. Then I tried 'repeat and add' by asking 'and what exactly is the problem that keeps you from reaching the Target Condition. Next, I tried, 'but what could it be that makes the data entry take so long,' and still we were not getting more precise Obstacles. At that point, I also had the feeling that Mary was feeling cornered by my questions. I really didn't know what to do and just went to the next question on the card, asking about the next step. So your feedback just repeats what I already know. Also, you are giving me several points I should watch. How should I do that? I am already struggling with the first one. Denise, honestly, your feedback is not helping me."

☞ Pause for a moment and consider:

  • What structure is Denise using for her feedback?

  • Although Denise is using first-person messages her feedback is not received well. What might be the case?

Denise realizes that Jason is rejecting her feedback and tries conciliation. "I know that I still have a lot to learn when observing and giving feedback. Maybe we could use your coaching cycle to develop what good feedback should look like. We now have both views on the conversation. Yours from inside and mine from outside. What do you think?"

"Yes, that may be a good opportunity," Jason replies a bit calmer now. Then he continues, "Actually, with your feedback, you're right. The only problem is that I noticed that myself during the coaching cycle and struggled. I just didn't know how to deal with it. So I don't need feedback about what the problem is. I need feedback on how to deal with it." Jason realizes he's been a bit offensive, he pokes Denise's shoulder and smiles: "I know I crashed the car, tell me how to avoid the accident."

Denis is relieved that Jason is relaxing and starts sharing her thoughts: "What you are telling me makes me think that the feedback should address the key point that was difficult during the conversation and provide specific help for the coach. But what's the key point? In your coaching cycle just now?"

Jason also ponders. "Somehow, the points I was struggling with during the coaching cycle are related. As we did not have a clear and measurable Obstacle, we could not define a precise next step. That, in turn, meant that the step we finally agreed on would take a very long time."

"So actually the threshold of knowledge was at question 3, the Obstacles," Denise concludes. Jason replies, "Exactly, and at that point, I should have immediately gone to the next step to finding out instead of continuing to drill for Obstacles. At the threshold of knowledge, we need to take the next step to find out. Closer observation would have been the right thing to do. That was the key point in the conversation."

Denise keeps thinking. "Perhaps the cause for all this lies even earlier in the conversation. The data and the chart for the actual condition were not up-to-date today. The last measurements took place two weeks ago. Mary mentioned that. So today, you did not have the opportunity to point out outliers and trends to help Mary identify individual Obstacles and then do a more detailed analysis of these outliers."

Jason picks up the line of thought. "That's right; that was another key point. One that I didn't even notice. Now we have two points to give feedback on. But maybe good feedback should only focus on one, right? Otherwise, it will be hard for the coach to put things into practice." Denise nods approvingly, and Jason continues. "But which one should we give feedback on?"

They discuss. Both points are decisive. 'Having current up-to-date data' and 'taking the next step at the threshold of knowledge.' The first point was more about working scientifically, based on facts and data, i.e., following the Kata Cycle. The second was more about the coach's approach. Being aware of the threshold of knowledge and not pushing the Improver towards assumptions by asking deepening questions when there were already clear signals that the Improver did not know. In Mary's and Jason's coaching cycle, both points were also connected. Outdated data made it difficult to identify Obstacles and to assess their unwanted effect regarding the Target Condition.

Missing actual data also prevented having an explicit expectation in numbers about the impact of a countermeasure. However, Denise and Jason come to the conclusion that good feedback should focus on only one point. The coach could more easily focus on it and practice. It also gave the 2nd coach the opportunity to see if the coach was making progress regarding that point or was constantly struggling with the same problem.

Denise and Jason also conclude that, if possible, the feedback should refer to the first key point in the conversation. After all, the 5 phases of the Coaching Kata build on each other. When a phase does not go well, that usually causes even more problems in a later stage of the coaching cycle. If that is the case, it is important to develop the skills of a coach phase by phase, starting from phase 1. It was a bit like building a house. If there was a mistake in the foundation, things wouldn't get better later on.


Some thoughts for those practicing in the Kata Dojo:

Start practicing with coaches and building a common reference from phase 1. Then go phase by phase.

Example: Sometimes, coaches struggle with steps beeing to big or time-consuming. This is hard to address once the coaching cycle is in phase 4. Often the cause for 'big steps' lies in an earlier phase, e.g., a vague understanding of obstacle and cause (Phase 3) might lead to a big countermeasure based on assumption. Or missing or bad current data (Phase 2) or a superficial reflexion on the learnings from the last step might lead to a big next step. Even an unspecific Target Condition (Phase 1) might be the cause. Building quality phase by phase into our approach i.e., act scientifically, will help to come up with small and precise experiments.


Jason points out: "Having the Improver come up with imprecise Obstacles has happened to me before. That seems to be a pattern. And it's true, we often also don't have up-to-date data. That is a connection I wasn't aware of. Good feedback would have to point out what situation I should recognize in a coaching cycle, and give concrete instructions on what to do as a coach. What do you think?"

Denise follows along: "Maybe it's like this: Helpful feedback should give not only helpful advice on what to do but also name the station, the trigger, that indicates when to use the advice thus helping the coach to recognize when to act. That's a good trick; I'll write that into my 'personal management handbook'."

☞ Pause for a moment and write down the feedback for Jason, including a trigger and giving specific advice.

"Let's try that for your coaching cycle we just observed," Denise continues:

"I have observed that the data for the Current Condition was not up-to-date today.

I have the impression that it was, therefore, difficult to identify Obstacles precisely.

From my perspective, it would be helpful to try the following. If you notice in phase two that the data on the chart for the Current Condition is not up to date, repeat question two with a time constraint like, 'what is the actual condition today.' Then, if the threshold of knowledge comes up, go to question four defining the next step to get up-to-date data first."

"Hey, that's really helpful now," Jason replies, "that's the 'Repeat and Add' trick. I like that feedback. Let's try that kind of feedback structure again after my coaching cycle with Todd." Denise and Jason move on to meet Todd at his storyboard.

Denise and Jason regularly observe each other during their coaching cycles over the next few weeks, improving their observation and feedback skills. They also discover other tricks.

If the 2nd coach starts to give feedback immediately after the coaching cycles end, it often pushes the coach into defense mode. Denise had already noticed that herself, when David, the Production Manager, gave feedback on her coaching cycles. She often wasn't satisfied with herself about one or two points in her coaching cycle. Immediately getting feedback and learning about even more points that didn't go well felt like a cold shower. Often she had noticed most of the points herself. In these situations, David's feedback was a mere repetition and felt like finger-pointing rather than help. The coach expected tips, not a repetition of the failures.

Jason and Denise found that it was much better to ask the coach about their own impressions first. Over time Denise and Jason developed some questions that the 2nd coach could use to help the coach reflect on the coaching cycle. With these questions, it was often no longer necessary to repeat the problems in the feedback. The coach described the problems themselves, and the observer could easily pick up the ball. Often the 2nd couch would start the feedback like this: "That's exactly what I observed as well. I'll try to give you some feedback on this point. Would that be o.k.?" That created a totally different and open atmosphere for the feedback.

They also noticed that the Improvers were often eager to get some feedback too. However, a 2nd coach had to be careful not to take over the role of the coach or, even worse, tell the Improver what to do nor not to do about the process. As a 2nd coach, it was best to give just a brief appreciation for the Improvers efforts, the value of the findings from the last step, or the importance and contribution to the business of the topic the Improver was working on.

Sometimes Denise and Jason felt that Improvers thought Denise and Jason would talk about them once they left the storyboard, so they continually explained what was going on in the feedback. Often, as a 2nd coach, they used the following phrase after the coaching cycle.

"As you know, I will give feedback to your coach now to help them improve their coaching. If you would like to listen to you are welcome to stay. But we understand if you need to get on with your tasks today." At first, Improvers stayed out of curiosity. Once they realized the feedback wasn't about them, they preferred to go back to their workplace.

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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