Instructing, training, coaching


Coaching is all the rage these days – trainers are supposed to coach, managers are supposed to coach. Even lean senseis are supposed to coach.

As a young man, I used to crew in ocean racing, as I wrote in The Gold Mine. Certainly, I had the good fortune of being coached by some great sailors. But they would not ust coach. A typical training day went as:

  • a theoretical briefing about wind, boat, and tactics
  • a day out at sea practicing the trickier maneuvers
  • team debriefing to discuss what went right and what went wrong

Coaching certainly occurred at sea. Sometimes on land as well. I still remember the best skipper I ever crewed with had this knack of never saying anything on board when you screwed up (stuff happens, move on), but then sitting down next to you with a beer and telling your about some youthful mishap which, when you eventually looked up from hurt misery at having messed up, you realized he was teaching you about how to deal with such situations.

But instruction was a big part of the overall learning process. Technical briefings were integral to setting up the mental frameworks for us to understand what we did, what we were supposed to do, and where we got it or not. Theory matters.

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In Lean thinking, theory matters as well. The emphasis on coaching and learn-by-doing is correct, but without theory to hang it all on, can be confusing and misleading. If you lift up the hood of any serious lean effort you’ll find a TPS engine, and this must be learned.

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  • Instructing means teaching the theoretical fundamentals of the job
  • Training means practicing specific aspects in a stable, safe environment
  • Coaching means helping the learner cope with real life turbulence and messiness

All three are equally important.

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