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Using Toyota Kata to Overcome Racism

Posted by Dorsey Sherman

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Sep 9, 2020 3:10:38 PM

Businessman looking forward with binoculars cloudy background and graphs, charts around

In support of my friend, Deondra Wardelle and her work to end racism, I participated in a KaiNexus webinar a few weeks ago called “Sharing our Visions and Voices to #RootCaseRacism” (click here to see the recording) and was asked to speak about the obstacles to overcoming racism. 

Deondra was one of the original members of the over 500 women that make up “Women in Lean” – an online community started a year ago by myself, Karyn Ross, and Crystal Davis. The question about obstacles to overcoming racism was difficult to grapple with as I had to address the reasons for my own lack of action. I answered the obstacle question in the few minutes I had to speak during the webinar and have since reconsidered those obstacles in terms of the Toyota Kata model.  

I am a continuous improvement consultant and leadership coach. I started practicing Toyota Kata four years ago and have become such a believer (#katageek) that it is hard NOT to apply either the Improvement Kata or the Coaching Kata pattern. As was the intention of the author, Mike Rother, the patterns are a meta-skill that can be applied in any context. 

The Toyota Kata practice routine is comprised of four steps:


Toyota Kata practice routine
Step 1. Identify a Challenge:

During the webinar, Crystal Davis described working for an automotive plant that was dealing with quality problems. The leadership issued a challenge of getting to Zero Defects. Her first reaction was disbelief, but ultimately the idea made her feel excited and motivated. What if we could do it? Wouldn’t it be great? 

Along those lines, Crystal issued a challenge of getting to Zero Racism. 

If I think about my challenge in terms of the legacy I wish to create, it is to be a person who used her strengths of collaboration, relationship-building, mediation, coaching, lean thinking, as well as her quiet boldness and strength to end racism.

The focus process I will be working on is the only one I can control – myself. My daily behavior, education, thoughts, emotions, actions as they relate to racism.

Step 2. Current Condition (prior to George Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020 and prior to COVID-19):

I am a solo entrepreneur, wife, and mother to two teenagers. A typical day involved working with clients and working on my business. Racism was not a topic I thought much about day to day. I live in an almost completely white community and work from home. After a full day of work, dinner, helping with homework, and driving kids around to volleyball, soccer, cello and choir, I chose comfort and relaxation in the form of a gin and tonic, the British Baking Show, 90 Day Fiancé, a novel followed by a scroll through Instagram or Facebook.

Step 3. Target Condition (achieve by November 1, 2020):

After George Floyd was murdered, and I saw the signs of protestors that read ‘Silence=Violence’ and ‘White Silence is Complicit,’ I realized they were talking about me. 

I wanted to be an anti-racist and an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

A target condition is a condition – a description of a future process or state and not a set of actions. So, if I were to time travel one month in the future, what would I see if I were to observe my thoughts, emotions and actions?

  1. A person who is informed about and continues to seek out and learn more about racial injustice. 
  2. A person who is willing to embrace the discomfort that comes from learning about the impact of racism and asks herself, how can I help?  
  3. I would see a person who is reading, watching and listening to how racism is playing out in our society as well as someone who uses her influence to introduce these topics at work, at home and within her community. 


Step 4. Obstacles (what is keeping me from achieve the target?):

  1. I don’t want to be upset. I don’t want to feel what I think will be sadness, anger, frustration, powerlessness, and also helplessness after I start watching, listening and reading. At the end of the day, I’m tired and I want a break from the stress of daily life, and I know that this desire to be comfortable is an obstacle to overcoming racism.
  2. The second obstacle is the idea pointed out by both Robin DiAngelo in her book, White Fragility and by Austin Channing Brown in her memoir I’m Still Here, I considered racism as an overt act of hatred towards a person of color. I knew that more Black people were in jail than white people, and so definitely recognized the idea of systemic racism, but for the most part when I think of a racist person – I think of a bad person. I consider myself a good person and therefore, not racist. This binary construct of racism kept me from seeing my own racism. This thought also kept me from taking action because ‘I’m not racist. I’m not the bad one. I don’t need to do anything.’
  3. I have been socialized as a white privileged woman to make sure other people are happy and comfortable. The message I’ve gotten is to keep my voice down, my feelings under control, and make sure everyone else is doing fine. That training is an obstacle to racism. Because when a joke, a comment or even an overt racial slur is made, I have stayed silent. I don’t want it to be awkward. I don’t want to make the other person feel uncomfortable – because then I would feel uncomfortable. 
  4. I don’t perceive any immediate, daily physical consequence to being uninformed or to NOT acting. In fact, even with the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, the people I see regularly are not talking about it. I live in a white privileged community with few Black or people of color. There are no teachers of color at my kids’ school. I’ve never had a Black teacher, professor, or boss. While I’ve had Black co-workers, until recently, I’ve never had friendships with Black people. And so, if I don’t watch the news, there is no daily imperative to act.


Step 4. Experiments:

The practice routine of Toyota Kata includes frequent experiments to overcome obstacles. Here are a few that I’ve started along with my hypotheses and learnings:

Action Steps:

    1. Read (White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, Black Man, White Coat by Damon Tweedy, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Known World by Edward P. Jones) 
    2. Watch movies (13th on Netflix)
    3. Listen to podcasts (Nice White Parents and Ibram Kendi’s interview on Brene Brown’s podcast ‘Unlocking Us’)

What did I expect? As I said in the obstacles above, I thought that reading these books and watching these movies would make me feel terrible – sad, hopeless.  

What actually happened? I have read, listened and watched and I don’t feel hopeless. I feel angry, but also empowered and motivated. The more I learn and understand, the more I can see how I can leverage my strengths and my privilege to get involved.

What did I learn? I’ve been avoiding doing more reading and learning out of fear of discomfort, but I actually felt better learning and knowing more about the issues. 


A Parking Lot

In addition to this first round of experiments, I’ve been brainstorming about additional actions I can take. I’ve created a parking lot of ideas that is listed below. These are actions that I will be working through systematically.

  1. Increase my self-awareness as it relates to my own racism. For instance, Henry Louis Gates hosted a special on PBS a few weeks ago that featured many Black scholars, authors and researchers. My husband and I watched, and both commented to each other on how brilliant and articulate the speakers were. I later realized the racism implicit in our thoughts. We made those comments because we were surprised. Neither of us were expecting or used to seeing over a dozen Black scholars speaking with intelligence and authority. We would not have made those comments if they were white.
  2. Talk about what I’m reading and learning to others.
  3. Email our local superintendent and ask about the plan to hire more Black teachers.
  4. Donate to causes that are working to end mandatory minimum sentences and cash bail; get on their mailing lists and take action when they ask me to do so.
  5. Speak up against racist comments even if it’s awkward. Instead of wracking my brain trying to say the right thing (that is polite but also clear and incisive), instead just say ‘No.” “I object.” “That’s not right.” Interrupt white solidarity.
  6. Read and re-read 103 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice 
  7. Donate books/money to support local teachers in building individual classroom libraries that include non-fiction and fiction books written by Black authors.
  8. Discuss opportunities to use my skills as a Certified Domestic Mediator to work with schools that are using expulsion and suspension. Is there an opportunity to circumvent expulsion through mediation? Are schools already using that as an option? Can I help? Thank you to Michelle Pennix for introducing me to the impact of expulsion on Black kids in her blog: ABC’s of Educational Injustice
  9. Make an easily accessible desktop list that includes the contact information for all of my elected officials from local county commissioners to the US Congress.
  10. Schedule time on my calendar each week to work on these actions. 
  11. Sign up for 21-day Equity Challenge sponsored by our local United Way.



Like any improvement, my progress won’t be perfect, linear or earth shattering but will include actions I can take that further my purpose of giving voice to those that have less power than I do.  I am so grateful to Deondra Wardelle and Mark Graban for creating the impetus and the platform for me to come to terms with my own role in the racism that exists in our society. If I hadn’t been asked to contribute to the webinar, I’m not sure I would have worked as hard to look at myself so closely. I hope my insights resonate with others and spur additional action as well as self-awareness.


About the Author:

Dorsey ShermanDorsey Sherman, MHSA is the principal and founder of Modèle Consulting. Her expertise is in Toyota Kata – a deliberate practice routine to learn and teach scientific thinking. She is a regular contributor to the Michigan Lean Consortium and Lean Frontiers’ workshops, conferences and webinars, and the co-host of KataCon 6 in Austin, TX. After over 12 years in healthcare improvement, Dorsey started her own business in 2018. Since then, she has supported improvement in non-profit agencies, manufacturing, construction and government. She is currently pursuing a certificate in Leadership Coaching at the Weatherhead School at Management at Case Western Reserve University.



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