It is a paradox that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, and LeBron James all need coaching, but in the world of management and leadership the suggestion that you should have a coach is too often met with a reaction that says, “What me? There’s nothing wrong with me, why do I need a coach?”

The Coaching Kata

If you go through my Team Leadership (Team Kata) course you will quickly be confronted with the strong suggestion that every manager and every team have  a coach to lead them through the steps of lean implementation and to provide feedback to the leader and team. But, you ask, where are we going to get all these coaches? Here is a clear answer.

One of the VON Canada Eastern Region site leadership teams with their coach, Andrew Chan.

One of the VON Canada Eastern Region site leadership teams with their coach, Andrew Chan.

At VON Canada, where all 250 managers are going through the Team Kata course, providing a coach for each team is a struggle, particularly if you assume that the coaches are full time staff and your teams are spread over a large geographic area. That is expensive. But, what if they were not full time, but rather peers who are assigned to coach a team outside their own area of responsibility?

One of the sections of the Team Kata course provides a coaching model. You can see the lecture on the Coaching Kata here. There is no reason why peer managers cannot take on the role of coaching, particularly if they follow a clear set of coaching kata questions that follow a parallel online learning program.

The Toyota Way of Coaching

One of my associates at the Lean Leadership Institute is Jake Abraham. Dr. Abraham was with Toyota for many years and was responsible for the coaching process. I asked him how this worked at Toyota. Here is his reply:

Thank you for your question.

Yes, every manager at Toyota had a coach. I had the opportunity to set this up while at Toyota.

Yes, it was economically not feasible to have coaches full time. There were no coaches full time, except there might be a master coach – like myself – helping with the development process of coaching – as part of my other duties as the continuous improvement & human resource development (TPS and Toyota Way) senior manager.

These coaches were other next level managers – assistant general managers, general manager, vice presidents and even the president. In some situations, we had very seasoned and senior managers coaching junior managers. So part of their daily work of operational management was also to coach others.

And, yes, it was also set up that coaching was provided by next level managers who were not their natural team leaders. It was set up as a mentee – mentor format – where a mentee might see a skill gap in a certain area within himself – and then he connects with a mentor – that has that knowledge and skill – to mentor that mentee – and help coach – mentor – close that gap. This was structurally set up where the skills of mentors were assessed and determined – and formalized – and advertised. The mentee’s gaps were also assessed and determined. Pairings were then done – to ensure match with personalities too.

So the structure would be this – each next level manager – who is a team leader for their manager – will coach their direct report managers – that is a must as part of their job – using the Toyota Business Practice and On the Job Development as the standard practice of coaching  plus they will coach – mentor up to 3 managers – outside their areas.

This system is also cascaded down – Managers who are immediate team leaders for their assistant managers – must coach them as part of their jobs – thru TBP and OJD as a standard practice – and these managers – will coach – mentor – up to 2 assistant managers – outside their areas. This would also include group leaders (supervisors) who would be able and capable to move laterally or upwards.

This was further cascaded down to Assistant managers and their group leaders (supervisors) – coaching as part of their job.

Hope this helps Larry



I have always been impressed by the fact that we learn more when we set out to teach someone else, than when we are simply a student. Stephen Covey used to require students going through his Seven Habits or Principle Centered Leadership course to learn the material and then teach others. Teaching others, or coaching, confirms and strengthens your own knowledge and your own appreciation for the power of a method such as the lean or team kata process. It seems to me that this should be a feature of every lean implementation.