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Leaders As Coaches: An Overview of Toyota Kata

For most of my life, I identified myself as a team member - whether that was on a basketball team at the local YMCA in elementary school, a State Champion shooting guard for my local high school, or as a member of the U.S. Air Force. The best leaders I knew, were not those wearing suits and sitting in air conditioned offices, but were coaches who were out on the court or the field with their team. So in my mind, to be a good leader was to be a good coach, because the coach's primary mission was to develop the individual members of his or her team to be a cohesive unit that can overcome any obstacle to accomplish the mission.

This is what most leaders and business owners want: a team that is fully developed that nothing can get in their way, preventing them from winning. Although this is the desire, unfortunately, most leaders in local businesses and industries have never been taught how to coach. Rather they have been taught how to manage, which is drastically different from coaching. Coaching is what we are interested with in this post, specifically the Leader as Coach.

Over the next three weeks we are going to focus on a particular discipline that has a proven track record for equipping and encouraging leaders to coach their people effectively: Toyota Kata. Today's post is only concerned with giving you a brief overview of the model, but in the coming posts we will dive deeper into the practical applications and successes of this particular model.

What Is Toyota Kata

What is Toyota Kata? The word Kata simply means "a systematic or structured routine or habit." In his book, Toyota Kata, Mike Rother defines Kata as “a skill-building process to shift our mindset and habits from a natural tendency to jump to conclusions, to a tendency to think and act more scientifically”. In other words, Kata is a leadership model by which the leader is managing his or her employees in a structured and repetitive routine that develops a mindset for continuous improvement across the organization. Just as a coach of an athletic team helps develop a certain mindset through repetitive drills, so the business leader utilizes Kata to develop a certain mindset (continuous improvement) through routine habits (Kata).

Two Types of Kata

Within the Kata model, there are two types of Kata's: Coaching Kata and Improvement Kata. We will dive deeper into these in the next post. However, it is helpful for us to understand the difference between the two. Improvement Kata is the application of continuous improvement tools. Coaching Kata is the leadership (the Coach) teaching those principles to his or her employee (the Learner) and holding them accountable for applying them in their daily work.

The Four Steps of Kata

The Kata process involves four steps: 1.) Direction, 2.) Current Condition, 3.) Target Condition, and 4.) PDCA Experimentation. Below is a brief description of each of these four steps of Kata:

  1. Direction: The Leader works with the Learner to establish a direction or an end goal for this particular Kata. This answers: Why it our desired outcome?

  2. Current Condition: The Leader and Learner work to understand the current state of the process. This answers: What are the obstacles that are currently preventing us from accomplishing this goal?

  3. Target Condition: The Leader and Learner work together to establish measurable actions to get closer to the end goal. This answers: What can we do over the next 2-4 week time to make measurable improvements towards the end goal?

  4. PDCA Experimentation: The Learner will utilize the Plan-Do-Check-Act Method of experimentation to reach the target condition. This answers: What can we do to overcome the obstacles preventing us from accomplishing the target condition?


As you can see, this is not a coaching method that you can implement overnight and expect to see immediate results. However, it takes a coach 4 years to fully develop a high school athlete to reach his or he potential, and one could argue that a soldier, airman, or marine never reach their full potential even after a 20-year career, even though they are coached daily in how to improve. Kata is the same: it is a long-term commitment to develop a mindset for improvement in each of your employees. In the coming posts, you will see that the return on investment is actually mind-blowing!

If you are interested in learning more about Kata and how to implement it in your business or industry, please contact us or 218.791.7113.


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