Leadership Development Through Toyota Kata


NOTE: This article was written by Sam Wagner of FAST Global Solutions. Sam is a TWI and Toyota Kata Thought Leader and has appeared several times as featured speaker at the annual TWI Summit and Toyota Kata Summit. (this year held in Savannah, GA, February 18-22, 2019). Learn more about Sam on LinkedIn.

At FAST Global Solutions we’re experiencing two ways Toyota Kata helps develop leadership skills.

First, we are using the Kata pattern of thinking to establish a Challenge that involves developing leadership skills, then using the four steps of the Improvement Kata along with the Coaching Kata to move toward achieving this Challenge.  This case study is described in the table below.

Second, as a by-product of practicing the pattern of Toyota Kata, we develop leadership skills.  The leadership principles we find being practiced through Toyota Kata are underlined in the table below.

Our fundamental belief is that good coaching is a key skill in being a good leader, and that Toyota Kata provides a great starter structure for good coaching.

Step 1: Understand Direction

What do we as an organization want of our front-line leaders, called “Leads”? We asked their supervisors (the Foremen), “Who’s leading the front lines for achieving shop floor results?” All agreed that the Leads were currently responsible for this. However, when asked, “Who’s leading improvement?” we got a mixed response. Some Foremen felt it was their own responsibility, while others thought it was the Lead’s responsibility. This uncertainty gave us the opportunity to clarify our expectations, and eventually we came to consensus that we wanted it to be the Lead’s responsibility. We defined our Challenge as having all Leads using Coaching Kata every quarter to lead daily improvements and achieve business goals related to their area by 1/1/2020. We then created a way to measure this and put the measurement system in place. Working together we developed a Challenge that provides us with a clear direction worth following.

Step 2: Be clear on Current Condition

Where are we now relative to what we want of our Leads? Our current reality is that our Leads spend much of their time conducting Level 1 problem solving (sometimes referred to as firefighting) as well as finding and delivering parts and information to their people to help keep them busy. As a result, many of our business goals are not being met. Several obstacles were identified, including that we don’t know how the Leads feel about Toyota Kata. To address this, we individually asked each Lead, as most had only been exposed to it briefly as a Learner in the Coach-Learner relationship. Their responses reflected some lack of clarity and understanding of the thinking patterns and lack of confidence in themselves to be effective in using the patterns, as well as some enthusiasm about the potential for using the patterns. By listening with humility to understand the truth about the current condition we moved forward in the right direction.

Step 3: Establish Target Condition

We established an initial Target Condition of the Leads practicing Toyota Kata coaching in a focused area by 2/28/18. This Target Condition was not the first one we identified, but it became one we could all rally behind. It was not too far into the future and we all thought we could achieve it, but we weren’t sure how. Through this cooperative effort, we identified a Target Condition that inspired the effort needed to achieve it, and encouraged the teamwork needed to make it a reality.

Step 4: Experiment (PDCA) Toward Target Condition

What do we expect to happen? When we asked our Foremen this, they expressed their honest concern that many of the Leads would not be willing and able to do it. We had nudged them forward out of their comfort zone with this Target Condition, while building trust through listening to their concerns and admitting that we didn’t know a lot about how this might work for each Lead. Next we delegated to the Foremen the selection of the area and Lead for the pilot, and used the Experiment Record to record their expectations and learning for each step. From their concerns, we adjusted our training of the Leads accordingly, thus demonstrating to the Foremen that we heard their concerns. When the Leads began coaching and the Foreman witnessed their successes, the Foremen acknowledged that Toyota Kata has value to improve production, and should make the Leads’ job easier by fostering better relations with their people, thus making them better leaders. Through practicing Toyota Kata, we built trust with our Foremen and encouraged their learning by delegating effectively and empowering them to take action to move forward.


In reflecting on this case, I learned about our culture, that our expectations of our people are too low. Through practicing Kata Coaching, our leaders can learn to be good coaches and guide us to learn what we need to know when we need to know it. As good coaches, our leaders, through learning partnerships, achieve improved results through people.

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