Does Coaching Your Employees Feel Awkward? Here’s Why + Another Way
Telling Doesn’t Work
There has been a gradually increasing awareness among leaders that telling people what to do all the time doesn’t build the adaptive capacity of a team. This management style may be faster in the short term, but it creates a dependency that is inefficient. Problem-solving capability is bottle-necked at the top of the pyramid and even then, how often are leaders really practicing scientific problem-solving vs jumping to conclusions and putting out fires?
I see leaders trying to coach their direct reports by asking more questions, but I’m not sure they often understand why they are asking or when and how to do it effectively.
The Coaching Kata
Enter Toyota Kata. The intention of the five Coaching Kata questions is to ‘see’ what the learner (the person being coached) is thinking. In his book Toyota Kata, Mike Rother helpfully describes this approach as ‘Please play a bit so I can see.’ In other types of coaching, the same outcome is achieved by reviewing homework or tests, watching and listening to someone play their instrument or swing the golf club a few times. The questions are meant to ferret out the thinking that the learner is practicing. Once understood, the coach compares that thinking to the Improvement Kata model. Corrective feedback is then given – in the form of statements!
Not Supposed to be a “Gotcha!”
I was recently coaching a director who misunderstood the intention behind the Coaching Kata questions. She asked me, “Why don’t I just tell her the answer instead of continually asking her the same question and treating her like a 5thgrader?”
When she made this statement, I was able to understand more about her thinking. It only feels condescending asking a question if you think you already know the answer. The purpose of asking questions is not to get someone to give the answer you have in your head. It’s not a ‘gotcha’ moment. The purpose is to understand more about what a person is thinking. When it comes to Coaching Kata, it is to understand the problem-solving process and to make sure it is following the Improvement Kata model.
Don’t Ask if You Already Know
As a coach or a leader, you shouldn’t be asking questions you already know how to answer. Next time you ask a question, pause and be clear on your intention. Am I trying to get this person to come to the same conclusion as me – also known as a leading question? Am I trying to prove they don’t know the answer? Am I trying to prove I’m intelligent by asking? Or, am I really interested in what this person is thinking and has to say? Asking questions with a truly curious mindset requires a shift away the philosophy that ‘it’s my job to know all the answers and solve all the problems.’
Instead, being curious requires deep humility along with a willingness to learn and help others improve.