How to Start Coaching Problem Solving

by | Oct 20, 2019 | Lean Leadership, Lean Thinking, People Development | 0 comments

Do you ever find yourself stuck being the primary problem solver on the team? Do you wish you could develop expertise in the problem-solving skills of others? And what does coaching problem solving means?

To be a better leader, not only do you need to teach the thinking and methodology behind problem solving, but you also need to develop your own expertise in coaching problem solving.


Set Your Intention to Coach

There is one massive mindset shift required to be an effective coach. And most people don’t make it. Ready for it?

Coaching Problem Solving is NOT about Solving the Problem.

Say whaaat?

Yep, that’s right.

The learner is focused on solving the problem. However, as a coach, that is no longer your focus. Your focus is now on helping the learner develop her thinking skills. Helping her improve the way she thinks about problem definition or root cause analysis or brainstorming countermeasures or design of experiment or working through iterative PDCA cycles.

For you as a coach, it’s not about the problem!


Coaching Problem Solving: Stop Giving the Answers

You can’t help yourself. You learned from a young age that having the right answer is a good thing. You learned that solving problems and fixing things gets you promoted. You learned that your job as a leader is to remove obstacles for your team, even if it means giving them the answer of what to do next.

But all that we learned is wrong in the world of coaching problem solving.

To allow for the learner to develop his problem-solving capabilities, we have to stop giving the answers.

How to Start Coaching Problem Solving

Coaching Problem Solving: Start Asking Good Coaching Questions

If we aren’t giving answers, then what are we doing? We’re asking good coaching questions.

Good coaching questions have four elements

  • Open-Ended
  • Non-Leading
  • Non-Judgmental
  • With an Intent to Coach

Sometimes we find ourselves saying things like:

  • I wonder what impact X factor is having on this problem.
  • Isn’t it happening because of ___?
  • Maybe ___ is contributing to the problem?
  • Have you thought about trying ____?
  • I wonder what would happen if you tried ____

In all of these cases, we’re playing a game of Jeopardy. We’re giving the answer in the form of a question.


Instead, we can ask questions like:

  • What problem are you seeing? (Tell me more about that)
  • What makes this problem important to you? (or the team or the customer)
  • What’s at risk if we don’t solve this problem?
  • What do you think is causing that? (What else?)
  • What factors do you think are you contributing to the problem? (What other factors?)
  • What have you thought about trying? (What else have you thought about trying?)


The questions you ask will depend on the thinking process and methodology you’re teaching the team.

But the goal is to transition the thinking from yourself to the learner.

Related: 8 Tips to Transition from Problem Solver to Problem Solving Coach

Asking good coaching questions that develop the problem-solving capabilities of others is a skill. It’s a skill we have to practice to master.

Want to dig deeper into the Art of Asking Good Coaching Questions so that you can stop being the primary problem solver on the team and instead can develop the problem-solving capabilities of others? Join this FREE Mini-Course.

Meet Jamie

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I’m a recovering Command-and-Control Manager who’s now on a mission to make the world of work more human. With a soft spot in my heart for Ops Managers, this Lean blog gives you the straight talk combining Lean, Leadership, and the real challenges of operations management.





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