by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Last month, readers were introduced to kata – a deliberate pattern of structured routine to learn, improve, and master specific skill sets. Regardless if the targeted skill is a specific martial art, a musical instrument, a sport, or how we in business think and act to achieve improvement, kata can help provide the discipline and create habits required to overcome challenges, adapt to uncertainty, and achieve desired goals. If you saw the movie Karate Kid, you’ll recall Mr. Miyagi’s approach to teaching Daniel and the results of applying the wax on wax off, painting the fence with up and down movement, and the house siding with left and right movement. I also previously wrote about my personal experience as a football coach applying the improvement kata when teaching my players the steps to practice and perform tackling, both effectively and safely in the open field. At our event in December, Mike Rother, researcher and author of Toyota Kata, introduced kata to learn and teach scientific thinking to achieve superior results in business.

Illustration from Toyota Kata by Mike Rother.

We know that kata is a structured, deliberate practice routine, and that companies like Toyota have gained a sustainable competitive advantage from practicing scientific thinking (kata) in its culture. But how does an organization begin to practice kata? The answer lies in the ‘Coaching Kata’. The 4 steps of the ‘Improvement Kata’ are: 1) understand the challenge; 2) grasp the current condition, 3) establish the next condition; and 4) execute/experiment. Improvement (or learning) occurs from deliberate, repetitive practicing these 4 steps. But simply repeating this series of steps in the improvement kata is not enough, the learner needs a coach. Without a coach, it’s human instinct to revert to our existing habits and ways of thinking. The new patterns of thought and behavior we are trying to establish will not withstand years of experience and the brain’s tendency to fill in the blanks. A coach is important because the learner may not know or see what needs to be corrected. Additionally, the learner needs a coach to provide support and encouragement as there will certainly be setbacks and new challenges, and to enable and promote self-learning. Someone once said, “tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I’ll remember, involve me and I will understand”. A coach should routinely and predictively ask questions throughout the improvement kata: “why is that important?”, “‘what did you learn?”, “what can you do to accomplish that?”. Like the improvement kata, the coaching kata needs to be a structured, deliberate practice routine. According to Rother, the coach’s responsibility is to manage the learner’s practice and it takes practice to learn how to do that effectively and instinctively.

If you or your organization is serious about practicing the Improvement and Coaching Kata, contact the NWIRC and ask for Mr. Miyagi (we’ll know you read this article). All kidding aside, we can help.


Side Note:  Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata Workshop is scheduled for April 11, 12, & 13 in Erie. The training is facilitated by a Certified Kata Instructor from TWI Institute.