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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

When to ask deepening questions

(Episode 2) | by Tilo Schwarz

This is #2 of a series of articles in which I share hand-on tips for better coaching.

It is based on my "Handbook for the Kata Coach" about Denise, who has taken on her first management position as a department manager with a small assembly team at PowerPump Inc. Denise intends to develop her team through coaching. Every week I plan to share a new episode.

In this article you'll read about a structure, beginner coaches can use to evaluate when to ask deepening questions and when to move on.


Today Denise is again coaching her two team leaders Mark and Joe on their strategic improvement targets. Denise intends to practices her new trick „Rule of Thumb“. To do so she will use her memory card with the 5 starter questions of the Coaching Kata and always put her thumb on the last question she has asked (see Episode 1).

She immediately realizes a difference in her coaching cycles. Whenever the conversation gets unstructured and Mark and Joe, her two team leaders, start to deviate from the topic at hand she can return to the memory card with the questions and knows exactly what the conversion should be focused on. After finishing her daily shop-floor walk Denise returns to her office quite satisfied.

Sitting at her desk now Denise further reflects on the two coaching cycles she conducted this morning and takes another look on her card with the Coaching Kata starter questions. She realizes that she used all the questions on the card but also used some additional deepening questions. It seems to Denise that the 5 questions of the Coaching Kata are like milestones of the coaching cycle and each of them opens the next phase of the conversation. Maybe she could navigate as a coach using these milestones, Denise thinks. And the 5 starter questions of the Coaching Kata could also be seen as quality gate, she continues her thought. The Coach would start a phase by asking the "milestone" question from the memory card and then evaluate the answer. If the answer was precise the coach would move on to the next phase by asking the next "milestone" question. If the answer was imprecise the coach would help the improver to clarify for her/himself by asking deepening questions. She calls her new trick „stand on red - walk on green“ to have an easy reminder of the approach.

Thinking about this Denise also realizes that in her coaching cycle with Mark she jumped back to phase 3 (obstacles) after she had already asked question 4 (next step). Jumping back "over her thumb", Denise thinks and smiles to herself. That probably means that phase 3 had not been answered precisely enough. Probably her deepening questions for focusing on an obstacle and finding the root cause had not been good enough. This logically led to an imprecise next step, which she had noticed and then jumped back, Denise concludes.

In order to have a reference she maybe could think like this "A good coaching cycle has no jump backs". Wow, that is a challenge she realizes. Denise pulls out her notebook she calls „My Management Handbook“ and writes down the following tips:

☞ If you have the Toyota Kata Memory Jogger at hand check out page 94 for more details on these tricks.

Another thought that bothers Denise when reflecting on her coaching cycles this morning concerns David the production manager whom she is reporting to. He has accompanied them today to observe the coaching cycles as a 2nd coach. Several weeks ago Denise had invited him to do so because she feels some feedback will be helpful for her. Denise has also informed David about the concept of the Coaching Kata she is using as a basic structure for her coaching cycles.

David shows no interest so far to try it for himself but Denise hops he will start once he sees the benefits. David has agreed to join Denise on her shop-floor walk once or twice a week and always has some feedback for her. Unfortunately his feedback is often very general and thus not helpful for Denise. This has happened again this morning on her coaching cycle with Joe which took a little long. David afterwards told her: „Your coaching cycle took nearly 25 minutes. Next time you should try to be keep the conversation focused and be quicker“.

Denise has noticed that herself as well. But Davids feedback gives her no advice on how to improve. Denise asks herself: How can I make Davids feedback more useful for me? She thinks about that for a while and then decides to catch up on the thought later.

The next day Denise tries out her new trick "stand on red - walk on green" and realizes how difficult it is. Although she is asking deepening questions between the milestone questions she has to jump back several times. Denise says to herself: This really is a challenge for improving my coaching skills. How do I realize a milestone question has been answered precisely and we can move on to the next phase? Maybe that could be something David could help her with. This would also make his feedback more useful for her.

Thinking about all this Denise decides to catch up with David for lunch. She shares her new findings with him. Then Denise asks him to observe her coaching cycles the next day and not only measure the time for the whole conversation but for each of the 5 phases. In doing so David could track how long she needs for each phase and he would be aware of any jump backs. This might help them to find some indications in which phase she is struggling most and why, Denise concludes. David and Denise agree to meet the next morning.

Next week: Read what Denise and David find out from their now approach.


☞ If you do not have the Coaching Kata starter question card you can find a PDF for download here.

☞ It might be easier to only use the front side of the card for this exercise.


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