Asking questions effectively about meaningful subject matter is an important part of a lean coach's practice. But so is creating enabling and reinforcing environments within which to learn, anticipating relevant learning points, and preparing for the delivery of impactful teaching points. Doing this requires situational awareness, relatively deep knowledge about the work, and time spent in preparation.
Reflecting on my own lean coaching practice, I've noticed that this hard work is easily neglected. But when I let a teaching moment pass by because I’m not ready, or worse, engage in one without clear thinking so my “coaching” is more like conceptual rambling, I fail to effectively carry out my responsibilities as a coach. I’d go so far as to say I show disrespect for my learner.
This recalls for me an interaction from about a year ago. I was the coach applying this reflection. A learner and I were standing (in a circle), with a target of eliminating the time retail customers had to wait in line…
“Alright, I’d like you to just watch and diagnose this job. To do that I'll have you use the WORK STORY technique we just learned."
"I had a different idea. Besides, I thought lean coaches don't tell anyone what to do. Aren't you supposed to just ask questions? What's that called?"
"The Socratic Method."
"That's right. Aren't you in violation of that right now?"
"Well I'm not Socrates. You're not Plato. And this ain't a philosophical pursuit. We just need to improve this awful job. Not sure, have you done this sort of thing before?"
“Well, not exactly.”
"OK. So imagine you're teaching a teenager how to drive a car. He's driving, you're in the passenger seat, and the car's approaching a stop light at a busy intersection... but not slowing down. Are you going to ask, 'What do you suppose we should do here?' No! You're going to instruct him, 'Red means stop! Switch foot pedals to hit the brake!'"
"Unpacking that scenario and relating it to our own we recognize the teenage driver was encountering an unfamiliar, yet simple challenge (car approaching red light) requiring specific knowledge (red light means stop) and skill (depress left pedal using right foot with force).
You are also encountering a new challenge without experience applying the relevant knowledge and skills, yes?"
“On the other hand, we can recognize how prepared the driving instructor is. He understands the context (rules of the road), the work and use of the tools (steering wheel with two foot pedals, each with a distinct purpose). He’s positioned to observe the job (sitting in the passenger seat) and has a succinct phrase ready to communicate at the exact moment instruction is required.”
Such a simple analogy. Upon close inspection we see there’s a lot going on. Many coaching situations we enter into are far more complex. Yet we enter with so little knowledge about the situation and how things work. Instead we rely on our wits and our ability to “ask effective questions.” But how are we prepared when that’s not the countermeasure the coaching situation calls for?
I hope you’ll join us at this year’s Lean Coaching Summit on July 25th and 26th in Minneapolis, MN. Preparation is this year’s theme. We’ll explore this topic further, along with other aspects of lean coaching. If you do join us, I ask you to come prepared (ba-dum-tshh).
The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords: coaching, job instruction, practice