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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

Practicing for Scientific Thinking

In the just-published second edition of his bestseller The Toyota Way, Jeff Liker did a major rewrite, putting scientific thinking at the center of his model.

Jeff explains how Toyota purposefully has people practice a scientific way of thinking and acting. They do so through different formats and at different stages of people’s career. For example, all managers must do Toyota Business Practices (TBP) projects.

What’s unique? There is little classroom training. Instead, people are trained on the job, working on real projects with a manager as a coach.

In part four of his book Jeff mentions:

“Toyota recognized that learning organizations are built on learning individuals, and individuals need to develop the mindset through repeated practice, with a coach.”

Developing a scientific mindset in our teams

Three aspects I found helpful in this part of the book for developing a scientific mindset in our teams:

Have a clearly defined framework to practice.

Jeff explains: Toyota didn't create a rigid problem-solving method that always has to be followed; they rather provide a framework for developing a scientific way of thinking through practice on real-world problems. (Page 266)

Repeatedly practice on the job.

Jeff explains: To get to habits we need to change behavior through deliberate practice, repeatedly. What matters is what we do, not what we think we might do.

As we look at how Toyota develops people, we see that the company creates conditions that foster certain behaviors, like reducing inventory so problems sur- face quickly and visibly and put pressure on problem solving.

(Page 284)

Have a coach to give feedback and correct.

Jeff explains: But challenging people is not enough. The company also teaches managers how to coach—to find opportunities in the course of daily work to give corrective procedural feedback to their team members as they strive to move toward a goal.

The coach (manager) takes advantage of being with the learner who is following the steps (of the framework) to find occasions to provide feedback.

Some keys to effective feedback are to give it immediately after the behavior, focus on the behavior not the person, and do this in a context of true compassion for the person you are coaching.

The coach cannot artificially create behaviors in the learner, so the coach must identify them when they occur and immediately provide feedback. That is why it is so important that the manager of the person is the coach and is around the person enough to observe behaviors in real time and provide feedback.

(Page 270)

This links neatly with Toyota Kata developed by Mike Rother. It is a skill-building process that shifts mindset and habits from a natural tendency to jump to conclusions, to a tendency to think, work and learn in a more scientific way.

At its core, Toyota Kata consists of:

The Improvement Kata and its routines for getting started called Starter Kata. A framework for teams and individuals alike to practice and scale a scientific way of thinking and working together.

The Coaching Kata a framework for leaders to practice and coach a more scientific mindset in their teams.

You can find out more about Toyota Kata on Mike's homepage.

A caveat: We can't coach what we haven't experienced

Jeff explains: The executives, after a career of learning how to problem solve, humbly followed the process (TBP), typically over eight months, for very large issues appropriate for their level. Then, they had to report out to a board of examiners, including Fujio Cho. In about 80 percent of the cases, they were asked to go back and do some more work. (Page 269)

Can you believe it. C-suite managers practicing for eight months and more?

Let's start building a more scientific way of thinking and acting in our teams. We might have to up our coaching game though and the Coaching Kata can help us to do so.

A question for you:

How do you coach your team to develop a more scientific way of working?

I am eager to hear about your strategies.

See you next time and as always, let's give wings to our teams to achieve great things together.

If you like this post share it right now with a friend or colleague your care about.




All quotes, with permission from the author, taken from The Toyota Way, Second Edition, 2021, McGraw Hill, by Jeffrey K. Liker.

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