Developing Coaching Skills: Mine, Yours, Ours, with Tracy Defoe [Webinar]

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Developing Coaching Skills: Mine, Yours, Ours

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I'm excited to be hosting and moderating a new webinar that's part of the KaiNexus Continuous Improvement webinar series, to be presented by Tracy Defoe, an adult educator specializing in learning at work.

Join us on March 21st at 1 pm ET. The free session will also be recorded, so if you register and can't attend live, we'll send you a link to the recording.

Update: The recording is now available through the same link

About ten years ago she started coaching to develop a scientific mindset in people improving their processes at work using the Improvement and Coaching Kata detailed in Mike Rother's Toyota Kata books. She is a cofounder of the global women's group Kata Girl Geeks, cofounder of Kata School Cascadia, and a facilitator with Tilo Schwarz's Kata Coaching Dojo Masterclass.

In this blog post, I'm sharing a short preview discussion that Tracy and I had recently, sharing the video and transcript below.

We explore the benefits of embracing the Kata approach in leadership, from fostering scientific thinking and problem-solving to building an environment marked by resilience, creativity, and shared learning. We also discuss the role of essential elements like documentation in coaching and improvement efforts, revealing their influence in shaping a more educated and responsive approach to challenges.

We also subsequently delve into more empathic and kinder aspects of the Kata coaching culture. They highlight how coaches can build a supportive environment for learners, extend the edge of knowledge within an organization, and foster a safe space for growth and development.

She was also my guest on the Lean Blog Interviews podcast last year.

Video of the Preview Discussion:


Preview Transcript:

Mark Graban:
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the KaiNexus Continuous Improvement podcast. I'm Mark Graban, a senior advisor with KaiNexus, and today we're doing a quick preview of our next webinar. It is coming up March 21 at 1:00 Eastern. It's titled Developing Coaching Skills.

Mark Graban:
Mine, yours, ours. You can register for that by going to kainexus.com/webinars or look for a link in the show notes or the description to go right there. It's going to be presented by Tracy Defoe, and we're joined by Tracy today for the preview. So, Tracy, how are you?

Tracy Defoe:
I'm great, Mark. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to do this preview of our webinar.

Mark Graban:
Yeah, well, I'm excited for the webinar. Coaching is such an important topic that I know people are really going to be interested in and a lot to learn from you and your ongoing experiences. But first, know with the webinar, I'll introduce you, but when we do the preview, I'm going to ask you to introduce yourself to everybody.

Tracy Defoe:
Ok, great. Well, my name is Tracy Defoe. I'm an adult educator turned coach, and I've been coaching pretty much, I don't know, maybe a dozen years or so, particularly kata coaching. And some of you might know me as one of the co founders of Kata Girl Geeks, which is a worldwide group of women helping women learn to do Kata coaching and learn scientific thinking. And then I'm also the co founder of something of a group called Kata School Cascadia here on the Pacific coast.

Tracy Defoe:
And through those two groups, not only do I see a lot of people who are really skilled and able coaches, but I also meet lots and lots of people who are learning to coach. And so through those experiences of meeting people, perhaps, who are all by themselves trying to learn in isolation, everybody's being asked as a manager or a leader to be more coaching oriented rather than telling people what to do oriented. So I'll be sharing what I've learned about trying to become a coach by yourself. So how to track or monitor or even know how you're coaching a little bit about what I do myself and what you might want to do in terms of that, and then the hours is the one I'm excited about because that's about finding your community, joining a community, getting people to perhaps second coach you or watch you coach and give you feedback and then talk a little bit. So that's a lot of how, how we might also talk a little bit about why and what some of the benefits might be for you.

Tracy Defoe:
A lot of people comment on what a relief it is to not have to know everything and to be able to take more of a coaching stance.

Mark Graban:
And that could be a matter of applying whichever framework or language you want to use. A kata approach, a PDSA approach, an experimental approach, learning, planning, doing, studying, and adjusting your coaching. Is that fair to say?

Tracy Defoe:
Yeah. Some people use a grow model. Like, there's all kinds of different models, but I think there's an underlying pattern to a lot of those. There are some differences, too, but you have an objective in mind in a way that you want to approach something, and basically you're asking for new behaviors from yourself. And so we'll just talk about how to notice when you fall from your ideal and when you're moving that way.

Tracy Defoe:
And maybe we'll talk a little bit about how people document and keep track. Okay. And like I said, why you might want to do that.

Mark Graban:
So maybe a couple of follow up questions. You gave us some of the overview of the webinar session, a couple of the whats that people might not know. Even though Kata has become, I think, pretty widely known and popular, if somebody's really new to it or they've barely heard of it, how would you summarize? Okay, well, what is the kata approach?

Tracy Defoe:
Well, there's two parts. I always say it's a duo, which for me is like a foodie term. But anyway, they come together.

Mark Graban:
It's like two different types of salmon together on a plate.

Tracy Defoe:
One is sashimi and one is barbecue. That's right. But there's two sides to the Kata approach, and it's really important to know that in this particular coaching, our aim is to be more scientific in our thinking and to be more independently problem solvers, really. So there's a four step process for being the improver, and there's a process. How many steps it is depends on who you ask.

Tracy Defoe:
But there's also a process, a complementary process for being a coach. And so the improvement cattle runs, like you said, a kind of plan, do study, adjust kind of center gear, and then around that, there's a way to visually and in data analyze your current condition and where you want to be next on your way to a bigger challenge. And the role of the coach there is to ask the questions. It's very socratic, kind of. We do some teaching, we do some modeling, of course.

Tracy Defoe:
But your idea is that you lead through questions, and what we're looking for is learning. So there's quite an emphasis on whether or not, your last step yielded results that you expected. What did you learn? And we celebrate the learning, and that's quite liberating for people to not have to hit a home run every time they come up to the plate. It's okay to learn, and in fact, it's great.

Tracy Defoe:
If you can write down what you learned, that's a win, because anytime we're.

Mark Graban:
Learning or trying something new, you almost have to expect to make mistakes and maybe be kind of kind to yourself when that happens, then, right?

Tracy Defoe:
Yeah. I mostly am second coaching right now, and one of the women who's being the learner improver in a group said one of her learnings was, there's a lot more empathy and kindness in this than you get from reading the book. And I thought, okay, that's such a win for us that she not only feels supported as a learner, but that she's getting that we're trying to be empathetic, which is sometimes a new stance for somebody in their job.

Mark Graban:
Yeah. One final, maybe kind of quick, fun question for those who are watching on video over your shoulder the different characters there. One of them is a yeti. I'm kind of half remembering.

Tracy Defoe:
Yes.

Mark Graban:
Story. So I was going to ask you to share about the Kata School Cascadia.

Tracy Defoe:
We have a mascot called I Don't Know Yeti, and this is the inexpensive, plush version of the I Don't Know Yeti. And it comes from a conversation we were having one day in our Friday coaches Zoom call, where we just get together on Fridays and talk about coaching and our challenges and stuff. And we were talking about the power of the word yet. There's a couple of books about yet, and somebody was saying that their kid's teacher was teaching their child to say, I don't know yet. And it's just such a liberating mindset to think, I don't know yet, but I can learn.

Tracy Defoe:
I don't know yet, but I can find out. I don't know yet, but I'll try. And so we call this one the baby yeti. So we had originally handmade a bunch, but this is less than $20 yeti.

Mark Graban:
And put a pin on it.

Tracy Defoe:
Yeah, let me just give you the pin. And then this is actually standing in as the coach right now, the puffin. But I think it's really important, first of all, to have fun with that. For us, it's a lot of fun, but also just to remember that what we're after is to extend the edge of what we know, which means we expect to not know. And so many people are used to applying tools or working safely within what's worked for them before.

Tracy Defoe:
And I think being coached to go a little bit outside your comfort zone is where the real benefit happens, really benefit happens. So these are the mascots of school cascading.

Mark Graban:
Well, good. Thank you for sharing that. They're going to be there for you for some moral support, I'm sure.

Tracy Defoe:
Yeah, I'll leave them there for sure. They mostly live on this printer to kind of give some foreground to the bookcase.

Mark Graban:
I'm looking forward to the webinar that you haven't presented yet.

Tracy Defoe:
Yes, we'll see it. We'll see you on March 21.

Mark Graban:
Yes. March 2101:00 Eastern again to be presented by Tracy Defoe, who joined us here today developing coaching skills. Mine, yours, ours. Go to kinexis.com webinars. Or you can look for a link in the show notes if you're watching or listening to this preview after March 21, the recording of the session will be available later that day.

Mark Graban:
So, Tracy, thanks again in advance for the webinar.

Tracy Defoe:
Thank you. Thank you. Mark.

Article on the Webinar Topic

Elevating Leadership Through Coaching Skills

In the fast-paced world of business and continuous improvement, the art of coaching has become a vital skill for leaders and managers alike. As organizations shift from a directive approach to one that empowers individuals, the demand for effective coaching techniques has risen significantly.

The Significance of Developing Coaching Skills

Coaching skills are essential for anyone who assumes a leadership role in today's collaborative work environment. Unlike traditional management styles that focus on instructing employees on what to do, coaching-oriented leaders foster a culture of empowerment and personal growth. This approach has been embraced widely as it encourages employees to unlock their potential and take ownership of their work, leading to increased engagement and improved performance.

When leaders develop coaching skills, they step into a role that goes beyond managing day-to-day operations. They become facilitators of learning, cultivating an environment where team members are encouraged to think critically and develop solutions autonomously. This cultivates a more dynamic and responsive workforce, able to adapt to change and innovate continuously.

The Journey of Becoming a Coach

The path to becoming an effective coach is an evolutionary process, often necessitating a shift in mindset from being an expert who provides answers to a guide who sparks insight. For individuals like Tracy Defoe, an adult educator turned coach with over a decade of experience, becoming a successful coach involved immersing herself in the discipline, engaging in practices such as Kata coaching, and fostering communities centered around coaching methodologies.

For those new to coaching or seeking to enhance their skills, it is important to recognize that the journey is both personal and communal. It starts with an introspective look at one's own coaching abilities and progresses by seeking opportunities for learning and growth. Self-monitoring and self-awareness are critical components in this process, as they help coaches understand their current competencies and identify areas for improvement.

Additionally, finding or creating a community of practice plays a crucial role in a coach's development. Joining networks such as the Kata Girl Geeks or Kata School Cascadia provides invaluable support. These communities offer a platform for sharing experiences, learning from seasoned coaches, and receiving constructive feedback, all of which are integral to honing one's coaching capabilities.

The Transformative Power of Coaching

Adopting a coaching mindset can significantly transform how leaders interact with their teams and influence organizational success. It can also alleviate the pressure on managers to have all the answers, positioning them instead as facilitators who support their team's journey towards finding solutions. This is a relief to many and allows a more productive and collaborative environment to flourish.

Engaging with coaching frameworks and languages enables leaders to communicate more effectively, building a shared understanding and commitment to common goals. Moreover, the benefits of coaching extend well beyond immediate team performance. They also contribute to a positive organizational culture where continuous learning and development are part of the everyday fabric of the business.

Implementing coaching skills in leadership is not only about the advancement of individual capabilities but also about inspiring a collective movement towards greater efficiency, innovation, and adaptability. As leaders embrace coaching, they drive their organizations toward a future where every member can contribute their best work, inspired by the support and guidance of adept coaches.

Embracing the Kata Approach in Leadership

To utilize coaching skills to their fullest potential, leaders must be open to adopting various methodologies that promote continuous improvement. Among these, the kata approach stands out as an influential mechanism for fostering scientific thinking and problem-solving. This approach draws upon the principles of the scientific method–planning, executing, observing, and adjusting–to create a cycle of learning and development.

The Dynamics of the Kata Approach

The kata method is structured in a way that promotes continuous improvement and can be thought of as a dual-action process. First, it involves the Improvement Kata, a four-step cycle that echoes the plan-do-study-adjust (PDSA) pattern. This sequence drives a leader or manager, in the role of an improver, to:

  1. Understand the direction or challenge.
  2. Grasp the current condition of the team or project.
  3. Establish the next target condition that moves closer to the challenge.
  4. Experiment toward the target condition through iterative steps.

The complementary portion of the kata method is the Coaching Kata. The coaching process can vary in its steps depending on the model, yet its objective remains consistent: to guide the improver through thought-provoking questions that facilitate learning and reflection. This Socratic style of coaching shifts the focus from merely achieving results to valuing the learning that arises from each attempt. By documenting what was learned, even if the expected results weren't achieved, the team scores a win through gained insight–an aspect deeply celebrated within the kata framework.

A Schematic Review of Documented Learning

A significant element of the kata approach is the emphasis on documentation, which serves as a cornerstone for tracking progress and learning. Leaders who integrate kata into their coaching repertoire encourage their teams to:

  • Document hypotheses and predictions before undertaking a task or experiment.
  • Record observations and data that reflect the outcome of their efforts.
  • Analyze the variance between predicted and actual outcomes.
  • Capture insights and learnings regardless of whether they met the initial goal.

This meticulous documentation facilitates a clear understanding of the current condition and paints a pathway toward the ultimate goal. It's a tool that demystifies the learning process, providing tangible evidence of progress and areas that need adaptation or further experimentation.

Leveraging Documentation for Continuous Improvement

Effective coaches recognize that every detail captured in documentation is an asset that can guide future coaching and improvement efforts. Thus, it is crucial for teams to develop a consistent method for recording their learnings as they navigate through the kata cycles. Some practical aspects of documentation in coaching include:

  • Using visual tools like boards or digital platforms to track progress.
  • Maintaining consistency in how data and learnings are recorded to ensure clarity and comparability.
  • Encouraging reflections and discussions around documented findings to extract maximum learning.
  • Creating a culture where documenting and reviewing are regular, value-added activities.

By prioritizing documentation and reflective practices, organizations can significantly deepen their understanding of how they function and innovate. It provides a shared basis for analysis and conversation, which in turn facilitates a more educated and nimble approach to challenges.

The Impact of the Kata Coaching on Organizational Culture

The integration of the kata approach into leadership and coaching practices has profound implications for organizational culture. It promotes a mindset of resilience and experimentation where leaders and teams are not daunted by the possibility of not ‘hitting a home run' with every attempt.

  • It portrays failure as an opportunity for learning rather than a setback.
  • It encourages a scientific and inquisitive attitude towards problem-solving.
  • It frames challenges as opportunities to iterate toward excellence.
  • It commits to a transparent and shared learning experience, bolstering teamwork and collaboration.

This culture of learning and improvement becomes the bedrock upon which organizations can build agile and adaptive strategies. Such a shift in perspective can be critical for achieving long-term success and maintaining a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

Cultivating Empathy and Kindness in Leadership through Kata Coaching

A key revelation in the practice of Kata coaching is the underlying thread of empathy and kindness woven into the fabric of the learning process. Leaders adopting the Kata approach often discover a softer, more nurturing aspect to their role. In such an environment, the fear of failure is mitigated as individuals and teams are reassured that mistakes are not just tolerated but are viewed as critical steps towards learning.

Building a Supportive Environment for Learners

Creating a safe space for growth includes establishing an atmosphere where team members feel valued and supported in their roles as learners. The focus shifts from the end results to the journey of growth and understanding, which encompasses these vital qualities:

  • Promoting mutual respect and patience as individuals work through challenges.
  • Fostering a supportive network where team members can share knowledge and experiences.
  • Encouraging open communication to ensure that assistance is readily available when needed.
  • Implementing feedback mechanisms that are constructive and affirmative.

The Role of Coaching Mascots in Kata Culture

The use of mascots, such as the “I don't know Yeti” and the puffin representing a coach, contributes a playful and memorable element to the serious process of professional development. These tangible symbols serve as a constant reminder of the principles that are key to the Kata coaching methodology:

  • The Yeti embodies the concept of not yet knowing but being eager to discover and learn. It reflects the permission to acknowledge current limits while maintaining optimism about pushing boundaries.
  • The Puffin Coach stands as an emblem of guidance and wisdom, helping the learner navigate through unknown waters, and providing support along the journey.

Integrating these symbols can lighten the atmosphere, making the process more engaging and less intimidating for the learners. It also injects a sense of fun into what can be an intense and demanding process, reflecting the balance between seriousness and playfulness.

Extending the Edge of Knowledge through Coaching

Kata coaching is not just about refining what is already known but also about extending the edge of collective knowledge within an organization. Leaders take on the role of challenging their teams to leave the safety of the familiar and venture into the territory of the unknown where real learning and innovation occur.

To enable this process, leaders should:

  • Encourage calculated risk-taking, offering reassurance and support.
  • Push the boundaries of comfort zones gently, ensuring that team members are prepared but also challenged.
  • View each coaching opportunity as a chance to expand the overall capabilities of the team.
  • Celebrate the moments of uncertainty as they frequently lead to the most significant strides forward.

The Psychological Safety Net in Kata Coaching

The notion of psychological safety plays a critical part in the effectiveness of the Kata coaching method. Team members should never fear being reprimanded or marginalized for not knowing an answer or making a mistake. By design, this coaching technique supports a learning landscape where:

  • Mistakes are openly discussed and dissected for collective learning.
  • The phrase “I don't know yet” becomes a starting point, not an admission of failure.
  • Creativity and original thought are prized over rote repetition of known solutions.
  • The entire organization is oriented towards a growth mindset.

In essence, the Kata approach in leadership and coaching is far more than a set of practices aimed at increasing productivity–it's an enriching journey that humanizes the process of organizational development. By nurturing qualities like empathy, kindness, and support, leaders can foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to learn, innovate, and extend their professional horizons.

Enhancing Leadership Skills Through Shared Learning

The concept of shared learning embodies the essence of the Kata coaching culture. It's underpinned not solely by the individual's capacity for growth but crucially includes the collective evolution of the team's skills and knowledge. Leadership requires a dedication to fostering an environment where insights and advancements are the fruits of a joint effort, reflecting a communal journey rather than isolated endeavors.

To actualize shared learning, leaders are encouraged to:

  • Create collaborative platforms for team members to solve problems collectively.
  • Share ownership of both successes and setbacks to promote a united front.
  • Building repositories of shared knowledge accessible to all, ensuring continuity and collective reference.
  • Structure learning sessions where team members can teach and learn from one another in an organic cycle of knowledge transfer.

The Integral Role of Reflection in Kata Coaching

Fundamental to the Kata coaching experience is the act of reflection – a powerful tool for growth and improvement. Reflection allows individuals to look back at their actions, understand their impacts, and plan future strategies with greater insight. Leaders skilled in Kata coaching utilize reflection to foster deeper understanding and greater resilience within their teams by encouraging practices such as:

  • Prompting team members to reflect on both the process and outcomes of their work.
  • Facilitating regular retrospective meetings to analyze the effectiveness of current methods.
  • Ensuring that reflective practices are constructive, focused on learning rather than criticism.
  • Encouraging self-reflection as a habitual exercise to underpin personal development.

Empowering Teams Through Mastery of Skills

The transition from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence is a hallmark of mastery, and in Kata coaching, leaders play a pivotal role in guiding their teams through this transformation. The journey toward skill mastery in an organization must be carefully curated to ensure it blends seamlessly with the broader objectives of the team and the company.

Key strategies for promoting mastery include:

  • Designing skill-building activities that align with both individual roles and the team's mission.
  • Recognizing individual learning styles and adapting coaching techniques accordingly.
  • Setting incremental goals that steadily guide team members toward greater competence and confidence.
  • Celebrating milestones in skill development as a means to motivate and reinforce the value of continuous learning.

In the landscape of modern organizational development, the approaches embodied in Kata coaching reach well beyond the mere transmission of knowledge. They form an intrinsic part of nurturing dynamic, resilient, and empathetic leaders and teams capable of meeting the challenges of an ever-evolving workplace. With each careful step towards fostering psychological safety, shared learning, reflective practice, and skill mastery, Kata coaching crafts not only better leaders but also a more robust and human-centric organizational culture.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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