Be a better coach

Five questions that improve performance.

August 28, 2014   by Hugh Alley



You are expected to coach employees, but what does that look like? Here are five powerful coaching questions that will improve your team’s problem solving skills and performance.

1) What’s your target condition? This isn’t a goal with a defined timeline, but how you want things to work. The answer (for example, I want this production cell to produce 400 parts per day) will serve as a reference for all later discussions.

2) What’s the current condition? A manufacturer wanted to improve its quality index by 30%. Understanding the current condition required understanding the circumstances contributing to the current quality issues. Where in the process did they originate? What caused the quality failures?

3) What are the obstacles to achieving the target condition, and which one are we working on? Identify the obstacles. Some will be external, some internal. Sometimes we don’t know enough about a process. If we change too many things at once, we won’t know which one is driving the new outcome. Prioritize, but it’s not essential. You learn something that will take you to the next step, even if you pick an obstacle that doesn’t resolve the situation.


4) What is the next step/experiment/PDCA cycle that will overcome the obstacle? It may take more than one round to resolve. Using Plan/Do/Check/Act, start the experiment with your guess about the outcome. Conduct the experiment or take the step see the outcome. What have you learned? If you didn’t progress to the target, you’ve still learned something that will inform your next trial.

5) How soon can we see what we’ve learned? A supervisor considering a new jig built a cardboard test unit. He was planning to run a trial for a month, but realized all the needed information would be available in three days. That shortened the trial time by 85%, saving several hours a week in just two weeks, instead of two months.

To learn more about this approach, read Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. Click here details of his work and some other resources.

Hugh Alley is president of First Line Training Inc. in Burnaby, BC, which focuses on increasing productivity by improving the skills of front line managers and supervisors.

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