Toyota Kata: How to Get Started Using These 4 Tips

Toyota Kata: How to Get Started Using These 4 Tips

Over the past few years, when I talk about or present my experience in practicing Toyota Kata, I am often asked, how do I get started?

Here’s my advice on the four things you need to know before starting to practice:


The most important thing you need to do to be successful in practicing Toyota Kata and achieving extraordinary results is to be aware of your mindset.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D. wrote Mindset, and in it she describes the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset.

Growth mindsetis the belief that our intelligence, our creativity, how good we are as leaders or employees, our ability, can be cultivatedthrough your efforts, your strategies and help from others.

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindsetbelieving your abilities are carved in stone. With a fixed mindset, you hide deficiencies and believe that effort is bad and evidence that you aren’t smart.

Now maybe you’re thinking, who cares? Why does this matter to practicing Toyota Kata?

Practicing the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata is taking a step into the “zone of uncertainty” otherwise known as the “learning zone.”

There are two reasons the learning zone is hard for a fixed mindset person.

  1. When practicing the Improvement Kata, you learn when we’re wrong. You try something, and it didn’t work. You have to acknowledge that and talk about what you learned. A fixed mindset person doesn’t want to be wrong –being wrong means “not good enough.”
  2. You have to risk looking dumb and saying I don’t know. When you believe that your abilities are fixed – saying ‘I don’t know’ means you’re a bad leader.

How do I start? This is an interesting question because the steps are explained clearly in the Toyota Kata home page, three reference books and tons of YouTube videos. I think this question really comes a need for certainty, for confidence and wanting to stick with what we know for sure.

So, given that as a context, here is my answer: just start.

Peter Block wrote The Answer to How is Yes. In other words, just start. Our brains don’t like uncertainty, and we get stuck in thinking we have to know everything before starting to practice.

Dan Sullivan is a leadership coach and created a model related to goal achievement that applies to Toyota Kata practice as well. We want to wait to have confidence before we start something. But really, it’s the reverse. Commitment comes first, then courage, capability and finally confidence.  You think you need confidence at the beginning, but it only comes after discomfort and practice.


My 3rdtip for getting started with TK is to begin as a Learner. Some directors or middle managers want to start by coaching staff below them, but how can you teach what you don’t deeply understand or have not yet experienced?

You need to understand the TK pattern, but also the feelingof being vulnerable, of not knowing the answer. The feeling of panic when you’re not sure what to say and don’t want to say, “I don’t know.”

Managers think they are good coaches and so assume they can go right into the coaching role, but most managers equate coaching with telling someone what to do.HBR; “Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn” by Julia Milner and Trenton Milner

That’s not the intention of the Coaching Kata. The intention of the coaching kata is to understand what your learner is thinking and to teach. You do that most effectively through asking questions and giving guidance, but not by directing.


My final tip for getting started with Toyota Kata is to forget results. Focusing on results and outcomes gets in the way of learning and experimenting.

When you’re focused on results, there is a strong bias towards giving the answer and telling people what to do.

As a coach – that habit of having all the answers is hard to break.

“I know what you should do next. Don’t do this experiment, do that experiment. My experience tells me this is the right way to go.”

However, if your intention is to develop the capability of that learner – you react differently. Ok, this is your experiment, what do you expect? How quickly can we learn from that experiment?

When the learner experiences that conflict between what they thought would happen and what actually happened, the learning is much deeper, and you must pause for that.

In summary, here are my four tips that can help you be successful as a Toyota Kata practitioner:

  1. Learn about and develop a growth mindset.
  2. Just start even though you have 0 confidence and 0 capability. That comes after you take the leap.
  3. Third, be a learner first. You can only teach what you know and your empathy as a coach will be much greater.
  4. And finally, forget results. Focus on habits on the TK pattern, deliberate practice and the results will come.




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