top of page
  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

How to Coach a Coach

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 25

This article discusses how to begin coaching a coach in developing people's abilities.

As a 2nd coach we tend to give feedback only. Shouldn't we be coaching as well? Isn’t that what 2nd Coach means? Coach the Coach. Maybe we could start by asking some questions before and after observing the coaching cycle.

Episode #25

When Denise returned in the New Year after her skiing vacation, she had had the annual review and feedback meeting with David her boss. That was four weeks back now. The conversation had taken a direction Denise had not expected. David had told her that Rob, head of the machining department, would unexpectedly be leaving the company. Rob wanted to accept an offer as a project manager for a consulting firm.

Even more surprising for Denise had been that David had offered her Rob’s job. That was in addition to her role as head of final assembly for the large pumps. "Your current team is quite small, you have organized your department well, and the results speak for themselves," David had said. "Also, with the new role, you have the opportunity to expand coaching with the Kata into another area. Didn’t you have that in mind anyway" David had added.

It was true that the final assembly, her current area of responsibility, was small.

And yes, it was also true that she had planned to talk with David about how to expand the coaching approach and to practice the Kata in other areas of the factory. However, she had not quite had this option in mind. The machining department with 120 people over three shifts was huge.

Denise had requested two days to think it over. The perspective of coaching on a much larger scale and working in a new environment was an exciting challenge. Besides, Denise was sure that David would support her and that had ultimately been the deciding factor. She had agreed to take up the new role.

As a result, she now had only one-third of her time available for her final assembly team. To make things even more complicated, Mark, one of her team leaders in assembly, had taken on a new role in another area as well. He was now a group leader in Quality Assurance. Mark had been the first of Denise’s team to start coaching his 2nd shift. Now her only coach in final assembly was gone at a time when Denise needed him to take over some of her own coaching cycles.

However, the situation also had some advantages. Denise now had a ‘Kata ally’ in another vital area of the plant. Infiltration could also be a way to spread the Kata mindset Denise thought. Her two remaining team leaders Joe and Michael, now had to pick up the coaching role as quickly as possible. Now it would pay off that they had already taken their first steps in this some time ago.

Joe had begun to inform his assembly line team in the shift meetings about the Obstacles he was addressing. Often they had come up with good suggestions that Joe later discussed in his coaching cycles with Denise. Then Joe had started to let Braden, one of the assembly line team members, implement improvement ideas from the team. In the beginning, these had mostly been small things and realizing them took little time. Often 30 to 60 minutes was sufficient.

An advantage was that Braden could test the changes he had made during the shift the next day. If something did not work out the way he had expected, his ambition to solve the problem only grew. He also had to explain to the team how and why he had changed things.

Subsequently Joe had discussed with Braden more and more about the Target Condition and the Obstacles that they had to address. Almost unnoticed Joe had started to use the five questions of the Coaching Kata and had slipped into coaching Braden.

From then on Braden always had a small Obstacle to chew on in parallel with his usual work in the assembly line. He discussed his findings and ideas in short coaching cycles with Joe. Over time, the time needed to implement the steps increased and merely using some overtime after the shift ended was no longer sufficient.

That's why a few weeks ago Joe had changed the staff plan so that Braden was free to work outside the line for half a shift. Of course, that had needed some foresight and planning ahead. It worked so well that they started to organize this way of working for Braden more often.

If it was scheduled ahead of time it was not a problem and soon the results of the improvements implemented by Braden showed in their performance indicators as well. Not to speak of Braden's motivation and engagement in contributing to their continuous improvement process. That was how the role of the ‘Improver’ at the level of the assembly teams was born and Denise planned to gradually develop more team members in this way.

Then something surprising happened. Braden’s colleagues had complained that they always had to work in the line only. They also wanted to have some ‘fun time’ outside the assembly line to work on small improvements for their process. Of course, that was not possible because the line had to run.

Consequently, Joe had developed the following plan with the team: If they would all help increase the productivity of the line through step by step improvements over time, this would add up to freeing one person. That would enable them to always have one person free on each shift working outside the line on improving the process further. One person would always be free to implement improvement issues. They could then rotate this task in turn so that everyone had the opportunity once in a while. The team was thrilled and agreed to take up this challenge.

Of course, as a result coaching one employee from one line was not enough anymore. Denise had asked her team leaders Joe and Michael to start coaching cycles with their shift leaders as well. Now Denise regularly observed these coaching cycles.

After a few weeks of observation, she realized that Joe and Michael were at very different stages of development as coaches. Michael was still at the beginning. During his coaching cycles Denise often felt the impulse to intervene or even take over. She mostly managed to hold herself back and give feedback afterwards. However, it just did not seem to increase Michael’s coaching ability. His learning progress is too slow for the task at hand Denise thought.

The situation with Joe was quite different. He already had significant experience with the Kata and managed to apply Denise’s feedback. With Joe it made no sense to give feedback on single observations after each coaching cycle. After observing several coaching cycles Denise had noticed that Joe seemed to struggle repeatedly in similar situations.

One situation occurred whenever Joe’s Improvers jumped to a quick solution or had a specific solution in mind already at the start of the coaching cycle. Once Denise had realized that she paid more attention to Joe's two or three ’fields of learning’ as she called them. Denise tried to focus on these ‘fields of learning’ when observing Joe and giving feedback.

Denise now regularly used the Observation Record during her observations (see Episode 21). She had added a few fields to the form as well.

One of them was for taking notes on Joe’s self-assessment of the coaching cycle when they reflected afterwards. That made it much easier for Denise to link her feedback to the difficulties Joe had felt during the coaching cycle. Denise also noted what feedback she had given Joe so she could see over a period of time what they had been talking about and how that matched Joe's ‘fields of learning’.

One afternoon Denise had looked through the observation records from Joe's coaching cycles and noticed that she had repeatedly given him feedback on similar topics. That was what had triggered the ‘fields of learning’ idea.

Another thing she had started to do was to ask Joe some questions before the coaching cycle. One question was: "What do you intent for this coaching cycle and what will you therefore pay attention to?" She usually asked this question when they made their way to the storyboard of the Improver Joe was going to coach next.

Joe's answer helped Denise see how well he had prepared and gave her an indication on what topic Joe expected to get feedback.

After the coaching cycle, Denise had started to use some of the ‘questions for the 2nd coach’ before she gave feedback. That made it a lot easier for her to build her feedback on Joe's self-assessment. Today had been such a situation. Denise had even asked some more deepening questions to discuss with Joe what had been the decisive point in the coaching cycle. Denise recaps the conversation with Joe.

Denise: “Joe, how did the coaching cycle go from your perspective?

Joe: “Not so good. I feel like we did not make progress today.”

Denise: “Where was the threshold of knowledge for Mat?

(remember Mat is one of Joe’s Improvers)

Joe: “He did not know what the current Obstacles are.”

Denise: “Where did his approach not follow the Kata cycle?

Joe: “Well, from my perspective, it was o.k.”

Denise: “At which point was the coaching cycle difficult for you?

Joe: "Especially at question 3 (Obstacles). I think that is where we lost track in our discussion."

Denise had then given feedback. "Joe, that’s exactly what I observed as well. I will try to give feedback on that. Would that be o.k. for you?”. "Yeah, sure” Joe had answered.

Denise had continued: "I've noticed that in phase two Mat did not mention any current data for the process metric. Neither was the chart for it updated. I have the impression that this made it difficult for you in phase 3 to coach Mat on identifying Obstacles. From my perspective it would be helpful in phase 2 to always check the dates on the chart of the process metric. If you notice that the current date is missing you could use the following deepening question: What is the actual condition for the process metric right now? By the way, I call this trick ‘Repeat and add a time constraint’.”

☞ Pause for a moment and consider: How is Denise using the feedback formula we discussed in Episode 22?

After giving her feedback Denise now regularly asked Joe, "What do you intend to do for your next coaching cycle and what do you expect then?" This question helped Joe to come up with a precise next step as a coach. It also helped Denise understand how Joe understood her feedback and what he took away from it.

Sitting at her desk now, Denise took her notebook. She sketched a structure for the approach she used before and after her feedback, including the deepening questions she had used today.

Of course you could not use all the questions every time. Nevertheless, it was an excellent way to help coaches reflect and identify at which point and why the coaching cycle had become difficult.

Denise realized that she used two questions nearly every time before giving feedback.

1) How did the coaching cycle go from your perspective?


2) At which point was the conversation difficult for you?

Her short conversations with Joe were turning into small coaching cycles Denise thought. More and more they also talked about the learning progress of Joe’s Improvers in applying the Improvement Kata. It would be interesting to define a Target Condition for each of Joe’s Improvers regarding their ability. Then Denise’s thoughts went back to Michael. He really was at the beginner stage of coaching compared to Joe.

Denise started thinking about the learning process of a coach. Put simply a coach goes through three stages of learning she thought.

First, a coach learns the five questions of the Coaching Starter Kata. In this stage, feedback from a second coach wasn't helpful Denise realized. Instead, the coach needed specific guidance and immediate correction if deviating from the question pattern. Just like a ski coach wouldn’t let you start skiing with a ski attached incorrectly but would immediately stop you and correct it.

If immediate correction was needed, it made hardly any sense to let a coach at this stage, coach others. That would risk others feeling micro-managed rather than coached and might even attach a negative connotation to the Coaching Kata and coaching in general. Denise decided to be more aware of that. In addition, correcting a coach in front of their team could backfire as well.

If there were several coaches at this stage, they could form a learning group and coach each other to gain proficiency. But that was rarely the case. Mostly it was about individual executives starting to coach. We need to find a safe approach for a new coach to gain ability quickly Denise thought and decided to think more about that.

A coach in the second learning stage was able to follow the pattern of the Coaching Kata. At this stage coaches listened more to the Improvers answer and started to realize if answers were not precise enough or the Improver was jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. The challenge in this stage was to learn how to react to situations like that. Mostly with deepening questions. In this stage a coach would need an experienced 2nd coach who regularly observed their coaching cycles and gave feedback afterwards Denise thought. Or even better, could there be a way to train specific situations and individual fields of learning with each coach Denise pondered.

Finally, in the third stage, a coach can focus on the other person's ability and feelings rather than the content of the conversation Denise realized. That is when we actually start to coach and can help others develop their skills and grow as a person. My new coaches and probably all of us, still have a way to go Denise thought. She liked the challenge of developing coaches in her now bigger team. But she also had respect for the responsibility that came with it.

Suddenly Denise noticed how late it had become. Still chewing over her thoughts about developing coaching ability quickly, she left her office, locked the door and went home.

Next episode read how Denise develops a unique way to increase the ability of her coaches specifically and quickly. Also, Denise and Joe will start to formulate Target Conditions for developing the problem-solving ability of Joe’s Improvers.



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.

If you haven't done it yet: Sign up for my weekly newsletter with coaching tips.


bottom of page