Research Paper By Renee Townsend
(Business Coach, UNITED STATES)
Group coaching refers to sessions of three or more individuals in a peer learning environment. Sessions can be conducted in a variety of venues, including face-to-face, teleconference, and/or video chat. Depending on the topic and format, group coaching can be presented in a solitary session or a series of meetings. All in all, group coaching offers quite a bit of flexibility.
Group coaching can provide a wonderful opportunity, not just for clients, but also for coaches. However, it can present challenges. Being able to successful manage a group of participants, while nurturing a conducive environment for coaching is key to creating a beneficial experience for clients.
Group coaching offers some key differences compared to individual coaching. Individual coaching, and even couples coaching, provides opportunities to tailor each session to the current needs of the clients. Group coaching, on the other hand, tends to more structured, with clients receiving coaching on predetermined and focused topics.
Since group coaching happens in a peer learning environment, it creates an opportunity for clients to benefit from the ideas, insights, feedback and experiences of other participants. This method of coaching also presents networking and team building opportunities for attendees. The connections started in group coaching environments have the potential to lead to partnerships and other long-term relationships.
In individual coaching sessions, clients rely on their own reasoning, knowledge and resources at hand. Though the idea is to help clients develop a self-awareness that allows them to make decisions and walk a path that is consistent with their values, it can leave the client in a sort of temporary island. This virtual island can be helpful in delving deep into a client’s values, motivators, and thinking patterns. However, it misses valuable elements that can only be gleaned by tapping into the minds of others. Group coaching helps fill these gaps. It creates an opportunity to build upon the client’s self-awareness by presenting options the client might not have had the knowledge, experience or insight to generate by oneself.
Coach Skills: For the coach, it’s important to be mindful that each participant comes to the session with core sets of values. The group may provide a free-flowing stream of ideas and perspectives, but coaches need to be mindful that some clients may have the tendency to adopt every idea presented in the group. Not every idea mentioned in the group is ideal for individual clients. Allowing the participants time for personal reflection can help the attendees evaluate the options available to them before incorporating stray ideas into their plan.
The coaching relationship plays a major role in any coaching setting. Whereas individual coaching provides for a more intimate relationship and one-on-one sharing, group settings leave clients vulnerable to all the participants in a group. This kind of vulnerability has the potential to negatively affect the dynamics of the coaching relationship and create an environment where clients are less willing to share and participate.
Diverse personalities also impact the coaching relationships. Coaches may find some participants more active and open than others. Highly active participants can keep the session interesting and moving. In addition, some participants feel more comfortable listening and gleaning information. The group environment creates a sort of anonymity for the more introspective participants, allowing attendees time to break through their self-reflection and share when comfortable.
In order to ensure that all the participants benefit from the coaching sessions, there is a balance to maintain. For example, select attendees may try dominate the conversations, leading little opportunities for others to share their thoughts. The less vocal may find themselves drowned out by the louder voices, which can degrade the coaching relationship and impair the ability to maintain a safe environment.
Coach Skills: It is important to addressing and encouraging a safe, confidential environment with the participants. Prior to beginning any program, coaches are responsible for sharing policies regarding confidentiality and other expectations. Coaches may also consider an exploration of what confidentiality means to each participant and their expectations of the group. Coaches can come to the session with established group rules and/or allow the group to create rules which are beneficial and specific to the group. It’s also important to keep in mind that coaches are facilitator. As such, the group takes cues and guidance from the coaches, who are the individuals leading the sessions.
Similarly to accepting clients for individual sessions, coaches should be mindful of clients they take into their group coaching programs. Group coaching is not for everyone. Even those clients who are ideal for coaching, may struggle in a group environment. With that in mind, some characteristics of clients who may flourish in the group coaching setting include:
- Individuals who know what is holding them back from moving forward and want solutions.
- Individuals who are committed to reaching positive outcomes but prefer multiple viewpoints.
- Individuals who learn better in the group setting versus the one-on-one setting.
- Individuals seeking a more educational approach.
- Individuals who prefer the slow and steady pace versus fast results.
- Individuals who are great at setting goals and holding themselves accountable, but sometimes like to share their direction and progress.
Client Skills: Providing an exploration or discovery session prior to accepting a client into a group coaching program can be helpful in determine the right fit. It is the ethical duty of coaches to consider the needs and interest of the client. As such, it is important to be mindful that group coaching may not serve the client. If group coaching is not the right fit, the client may be better served by other options, such as individual coaching or even referrals to other resources.
Pros and Cons (Coach’s Perspective)
Every person on the planet is limited by time constraints. It is no different for coaches. As such, many coaches find themselves balancing the time they have available to coach with the fees they can charge for coaching, while maintaining a “living wage.” Some coaches address the dilemma by increasing the number of individual sessions provided, which doesn’t solve the ultimate problem: Time is limited. Group coaching provides away for coaches to leverage their time and increase their reach.
With the topical approach, group settings allow coaches to create group curricula. These curricula can be packaged as reusable programs, which can create a wealth of opportunities, including teaching others to present the program, developing self-directed studies, and other profitable solutions.
Just as group coaching isn’t for every client, the same concept goes for coaches. The group coaching approach is less individualized. As such, coaches may find themselves in positions where they’re not able to offer the type of attention they’d like to provide to each client. Not having a clear perspective of the outcomes of the coaching program can lead to coaches having unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacies when anticipated results are not achieved.
Coaches may face additional challenges that are not relevant to individual coaching. For example, having enough space (virtual or physical) to comfortably meet a group’s needs, can be present availability and financial obstacles. Coaches also have the burden of filling participant slots. The typical trend is to offer group coaching at a discounted rate of the individual coaching fee. As such, coaches may find themselves in a position where they need more individuals in their sessions to break even. Furthermore, there is no guarantee coaches will have an easier time obtaining enough clients at the lower rate to meet the break-even point versus obtaining one client at their standard individual rate.
Developing a group coaching curriculum also takes time. As mentioned above, individual coaching allows for a bit of spontaneity. Coaches are able to enter the session with the idea that the client provides the topic and direction. Preparation may focus on being mentally prepared to coach. Group coaching, on the other hand, may take more groundwork. Tasks may include developing a curriculum, identifying a topic, and being ready to facilitate a larger audience.
Coach Skills: The key point to remember when deciding to go into group coaching is there is no right or wrong answer. Being aware of one’s values as a coach can help one determine if a group coaching model is the right fit. Outside of coaching competencies, having a well-laid out business plan can be beneficial in creating a group coaching program that is financially feasible.
Pros and Cons (Client’s Perspective)
Group coaching can create valuable experiences for clients, which may not be available in one-on-one sessions. Since the topics are often predetermined in group coaching sessions and the participants vetted, clients may find themselves in an environment with individuals facing similar situations. Clients will be able to learn from the experiences and insights of other participants. For challenging problems, they’ll be able to collaborate and develop solutions in a team environment. Group discussions may help clients spark ideas and find their own creative solutions for their issues. It goes along the lines of the Japanese proverb
If three people gather, they have the wisdom of Manjusri.
That is to say, working together as a group creates an atmosphere of insightfulness.
Group coaching also provides an environment that fosters relationships. As mentioned above, it creates networking opportunities and may even lead to clients gaining resources partners within the group. As clients overcome barriers, they also have a group of peers ready to celebrate the successes and achievements. These same peers can offer encouragement, and even accountability directly and indirectly as one works to save face by keeping commitments.
Group coaching may also be a more affordable options for potential clients who’d like the benefit of coaching but are hesitant to invest in the more expensive individual coaching model. In a way, group coaching provides an opportunity to “try before you buy,” letting clients evaluate a coach’s style before investing in a costlier one-on-one approach.
It’s very important to consider if the group model is a good fit for the client. As group coaching isn’t for everyone and does have its drawbacks. For example, topics are often predetermined in group coaching. A client who is unsure of their problem area or does not need to address the issues of the group coaching program will likely not see a benefit. Accepting such a client into the coaching program would be a disservice.
In order to provide quality experience to everyone in the group, coaches have fewer opportunities to provide individualized attention to clients. For a client who needs the one-on-one touch and/or more accountability, the group coaching model can prove to be a disadvantage.
Coach Skills: It’s important to help clients determine if group coaching is the right fit. Core coaching competencies include creating awareness, while also helping clients understand their values and life purpose. Coaches can use the discovery or exploration sessions to help create the initial client awareness that can help clients decide if group coaching aligns with their purpose, motivators, and values.
Group coaching can provide a valuable experience for both clients and coaching. However, it’s important to keep in mind that group coaching has an appropriate place and is not a one-size fits all model. Careful preparation of the coaching program, as well as vetting the clients, can increase the chances of having a successful group coaching practice.