In my time here at Catalysis I have been able to learn a bit about kata. Kata means a way of doing something; a pattern, routine, or method. When I think about kata, there are some key words that come to mind: routine, alignment, experimentation, and coaching.
These concepts relate well to softball. Here is how I think about the concepts of kata and how they manifest themselves on a typical softball team.
On my softball team, each practice starts with a general body warmup, just to get the blood pumping and the muscles loose. This is usually followed by throwing with a partner as this is a necessary skill for all positions on the team. Infielders, outfielders, pitchers and catchers alike all participate in a throwing progression. As practice continues we might do a series of different drills, etc. All set up to systematically help the players strengthen their bodies and sharpen their skills. Following this routine every practice also fosters structure and stability in a team environment.
Kata is a routine in which specific questions are asked to help train thinking and problem solving. This routine helps to embed PDSA thinking within the team or work group. When a kata coach asks the same series of questions, there is a structure that a team can rely on, a sense of predictability and control. Though the kata coach administers the questions, the team owns the results.
Not only does kata help strengthen PDSA thinking, it also enables teams to keep their problem solving and experiments focused on a specific goal, strategy, or challenge. In other words, kata can help keep the work aligned with the True North of the organization.
Alignment is equally important on a softball team. While each player on the team has a unique role in the game, it is important that we are all aligned for us to win the game.
Practicing kata allows for rapid cycle experimentation and PDSA cycles. The questions are designed to assess how experiments are going as well as keep them progressing. The kata pattern focuses assessing what was learned from the last step and whet should be done next. This encourages experimentation as with a plan to determine whether it was successful.
The softball coach is always getting a wholistic view of how the team is doing during drills. Seeing as how softball is a team sport, a wholistic perspective will select individuals that need assistance, or areas where the whole team needs assistance. Once an opportunity for improvement has been identified, she will stop practice and will assess the situation. There is some discussion as to what should be done to solve the problem, and the solution is implemented. Possibly there is some trial and error, and many different solutions are tested. Adjustments as simple as a slight bend in the knee can make the difference between safe and out.
As coach’s role on a softball team is to help individual players and the team as a whole improve. To do this, coaches must assess things like a player’s form, speed, and thinking. This allows them to give specific situational feedback that is appropriate for each player.
Using the kata questions is a way that managers can assess the thinking of their team or individual staff members and give real-time feedback to help the people develop. This pattern of questions can also help coaches become better at coaching because it helps the coach fight the urge to solve the problem on their own or guide the team to solve the problem their way.
Kata seems to be applicable to many different areas of life, whether it is softball or a job. Routine and predictability of kata can help people stick with the practice until it becomes second nature. I can see myself using kata as both a learner and a coach in the future.
Sabrina Calabrese, Intern
White paper: Kata in Healthcare