Most companies follow the Toyota Production System (TPS) when introducing Lean Management. They apply popular tools like Just-in-Time, One Piece Flow, 5S and Kanban and eventually recognize that their culture of continuous improvement still diverges from their role model Toyota.
Toyota has a different leadership culture compared to most other companies. The managers’ main task at Toyota is to be a teacher and coach for their employees and help them to practice specific thinking and behavioral routines. The goal is to achieve almost reflexive performance-enhancing behavior from their employees in daily business.
These thinking and behavior routines are called “Kata“. The term is also used to describe the Improvement and Coaching Kata in to the sense of continuous improvement. In both cases the standardized practice and application of recurring procedures is the center of interest – comparable to movement patterns in Asian martial arts.
The Improvement Kata: Reaching the target state in PDCA cycles
The Improvement Kata helps to gradually approximate the target state by applying learning routines. This is achieved by means of an experimental approach, which requires a precise description of actual and target state. The defined target states encourage the employees to get out of their comfort zone and move to their individual learning zone in order to enhance their proficiency.
In a simplified manner, the Improvement Kata consists of the following four elements:
- Understanding the rough direction, vision or “True North“.
- Understanding actual state.
- Defining the next target state.
- PDCA on the way to the target state.
The application of the Improvement Kata is supported by managers using the Coaching Kata.
The Coaching Kata: Turning your employees into problem solvers
The Coaching Kata is a training routine which is supposed to complement the Improvement Kata. Just like the Improvement Kata, it follows strict rules. For instance, the coach (or manager) isnot allowed to immediately take on the role of the problem solver as his task is to assure the development of his employees.
The Coaching Kata follows five standard questions, which should be asked by the coach in every meeting:
- What is the target state of the process?
- What is the current state?
- What keeps you from reaching the target state?
- What obstacle do you approach next and what is the next step?
- When do we have a look at what you learned from the last step?
Such a leadership behavior might appear simple at first glance. In daily business however, managers have shown to not have internalized the role as a coach. That means: They easily fall back to the instructor and problem solver role - especially in situations of high stress. Consequently, they do not help to develop their employees' proficiency and therefore inhibit their own relief.
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