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5 Ways to Improve Your Virtual Process Improvement Coaching Sessions - GoLeanSixSigma.com

The other day I was invited to coach a two-and-a-half hour visioning meeting. I was super excited for the event. The group was working to create three innovative ways to serve future customers—and the meeting was planned to be totally interactive. Problem was, I was going to be five hundred miles from the meeting. I wouldn’t be able to fly there in time.

Maybe this has happened to you? And maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “There’s no way that I can do the coaching.” But is that true? It’s not. Video chat technology today is amazing, and constantly improving. As coaches, we need to take advantage of this so we can coach people remotely. That’s what I did. I joined the visioning session remotely using FaceTime. I coached each of the three groups just-in-time—the same way I coach my clients all over the world.

What about “Go See”?—What About the Gemba?

For many people, even the idea of remote coaching is uncomfortable. It was at first to me too. After all, isn’t lean coaching supposed to happen in the “gemba,” the place where the work is being done? Don’t you need a direct, personal connection with the person you are coaching? These were the same questions I asked myself.

Although at first I was just as reluctant to give remote coaching a try—as many of you may be—I had so many requests for coaching from people who were far away that I decided to start. So I did. And I’ve worked over the past five years to get better at it. Now it’s my primary method of coaching. So today, I’d love to share 5 Tips and Tricks that I use for successful remote coaching every single day.

5 Ways to Improve Your Process Improvement Coaching Sessions - GoLeanSixSigma.com

1. No Phones Allowed

Don’t coach over the telephone! Use video chat. When coaching, it’s unbelievably important for you, as the coach, to see how the person you are coaching is doing. If they look a little too uncomfortable—if you can see from their facial expression and body language that they are having trouble understanding or moving forward, give them some extra nurturing. You can do that by smiling and nodding, speaking encouragingly and offering to schedule extra coaching sessions.

When coaching, it’s unbelievably important for you, as the coach, to see how the person you are coaching is doing.

On the other hand, if you can see that the person you are coaching looks a little too comfortable, then you can give them a virtual push into the uncomfortable “learning zone.” Ask some challenging questions and/or introduce a new concept and skill. Remember, more than eighty percent of communication is through body language, so seeing the person—and having them see you—is super important. (Don’t worry—you’ll get used to the way you look on video chat, and so will the person you’re coaching)

More than eighty percent of communication is through body language, so seeing the person—and having them see you—is super important.

2. Choose the Right Platform

Choose a video chat platform that works for both of you. I use different platforms with different clients: FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp. Use what works for both of you and what the organization supports. If you aren’t used to video chat, practice beforehand with family and friends so you feel comfortable.

If the person you are coaching isn’t familiar with video chat, help them learn and get started. Walk them through the steps and spend time simply chatting before you get into a real coaching cadence. I’ve had many clients who have thanked me for helping them learn to use FaceTime and Skype. Once we started using video chat, they began using it to connect with their children and grandchildren and doing that more often—an added, unanticipated bonus.

3. Connect Early & Often

Connect frequently! As with everything else we do, the more we coach remotely the more we get used to it—as does the person we’re coaching. It simply becomes a habit and we stop worrying about feeling awkward. Many people are initially concerned about how they look on screen. But after a while, as with people on reality TV shows, the cameras disappear into the background. You and the person you are coaching will forget you are on video chat.

Connect frequently! As with everything else we do, the more we coach remotely the more we get used to it.

Also, and perhaps even more importantly, when we coach people frequently, and see the person we’re coaching, it creates a great, personal, human connection. This is exactly what we coaches want. Once we have that personal connection, it’s easier for the person to “borrow our courage” and step into the uncomfortable learning zone. I often bring a cup of coffee with me and encourage the person I’m coaching to do the same, just as you would if you were meeting in a room together.

5 Ways to Improve Your Process Improvement Coaching Sessions - GoLeanSixSigma.com

4. Go to the Virtual Gemba

“Go see” virtually. Just because you are on video chat doesn’t mean you can’t go see the work being done. In fact, going to see remotely is super easy. Have the person you are coaching flip the camera angle on their phone or tablet and carry you to the work you are going to observe. They can also prop up their phone or their computer so you can participate in huddles and meetings to see what’s going on in the gemba over time.

Don’t forget to look around during these “go see” coaching sessions. Ask questions about what you are observing and check if anything looks out of the ordinary. This will help the person you are coaching and develop your own powers of observation at the same time.

5. Stay Connected

Use technology to stay connected when you are not conducting remote coaching sessions. Text and WhatsApp are great platforms for staying connected between coaching sessions. If the person you’re coaching gets stuck, or has a quick question, they can send you a message and you can quickly reply.

They can send you pictures of what they are seeing, they can forward their progress on their A3s or data collection, or anything else they are working on. This keeps the personal connection strong between coaching sessions and speeds up progress on the problem the person you are coaching is working on. You’ll be engaging in Single-Piece-Flow for remote coaching.

Use technology to stay connected when you are not conducting remote coaching sessions.

The world is changing. Technology is advancing and customer needs are shifting. We, as coaches, need to keep up. If we are going to help the people we are coaching overcome all the “I can’ts” that prevent them from creating new and better ways to serve customers, then we have to overcome our own “I can’ts” as well.

If you are not sure about remote coaching, then here’s my suggestion: Give it a try! Because although we believe we can think our way into a new way of behaving, the opposite is actually true—doing things differently changes our thinking. Give these 5 Tips and Tricks a try, and let me know how they work for you. I’d love to hear!

Karyn Ross

Karyn is the Shingo Award-winning coauthor of The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations. Her business, Karyn Ross Consulting, was created to help businesses flourish, thrive and grow by focusing on service excellence. An internationally experienced consultant, coach and lean practitioner, she has taught organizations of all sizes in sectors as diverse as insurance, HR, transportation and retail how to use creativity combined with Toyota Way principles – a combination she calls, “Practical Creativity.”
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