Simply put, group coaching is coaching in a group. However, there are several different ways to approach this. You could have one, some, or all the members of the group do the coaching. For example, a professional coach might coach each of the members of the group and/or the group members might coach each other.
Such coaching could be done in one or several group meetings. It can also be done face-to-face or via teleconferencesover the phone or Internet or a combination of both. As you see, group coaching is as flexible and agile as one-to-one coaching. Group coaching is an on-going conversation, which supports change over time.
The Benefits of Group Coaching
What makes group coaching so powerful is the opportunity to learn from peers and the collective wisdom of the group. This peer learning is often as important as the interaction with the coach. Many clients find the process “less on the spot”, giving them more time to reflect and integrate their insights. Masterful group coaches step back and create a strong process framework for the coaching to emerge from.
Coaches may find that group coaching is also an efficient way to leverage their time and resources, enabling them to work with more clients over less time, potentially at a lower price point per person.
In a recent Forbes article, The Silo Mentality: How To Break Down The Barriers authors Brent Gleeson and Megan Rozo describe the need for leaders to
tear down silos by moving past behavioral issues and address the contextual issues that are present at the heart of the organization. For many organizations, this means that not only do all employees of the company need to row in the same direction, but the executive teams must be engaged and at the forefront steering the boat. It is imperative that the leadership team agrees to a common and unified vision for the organization.
Group coaching in such situations could quickly shift an entire organizational culture as they benefit from the scalable nature of the process, opening communication between silos or teams in different departments. Over time these relationships create a valuable network. Group coaching is also a great follow up to training, supporting participants with the transfer and application of new learning as well as creating an on-going accountability structure.
Some people distinguish between group coaching and team coaching defining team coaching as typically involving all members of a team – project, department or function. Also, these individuals share a common goal and task and want guidance with the process of working together more effectively to achieve that outcome.
The NHS Leadership Centre for Diversity and Work Psychology in Manchester reports that,
During times of organisational change, coaching can provide the impetus for building and motivating teams. Team coaching establishes a group of individuals into a functioning business network. The team is then asked to brainstorm the options available to them and agree an action plan formulated by the group.
The report goes on to stress the critical need to developing a set of ground rules which are acceptable to all team members. This ensures that the group is working to the same agenda. Regular meetings are needed, and team members may also want to structure social time together.
Ina 2005 article entitled, Leadership group coaching in action: The Zen of creating high performance teams, the Academy of Management Executive, advocates the benefits of leadership coaching in a group setting, because
…durable changes in leadership behavior are more likely to occur… and establishes a foundation of trust, makes for constructive conflict resolution, leads to greater commitment, and contributes to accountability, all factors that translate into better results for the organization.
The article suggests that a change methodology centered on leadership group coaching creates high-performance teams, is an antidote to organizational silo formation, helps put into place boundary less organizations, and makes for true knowledge management.
What group coaching looks like.
Group coaching is taking many forms globally, given that it is driven and shaped by the various needs of different client groups.
Example #1: A group coaching program for female leaders exploring work life issues – ongoing in person sessions over several months within an organization or externally organized by an individual coach.
Example #2: Group coaching for new managers as a follow-on to leadership training, with sessions occurring monthly over 6 months to a year.
Example #3: A three month bi-weekly program offered virtually (by phone) for new business owners, with a mix of small group and individual coaching calls.
Creating a masterful group coaching program.
A group rarely functions well automatically; it needs to be facilitated. And not everyone in your group has the same expectations or has the same commitment level to the process. According to a recent study by the US National Library of Medicine,
Two major types of challenges in providing group coaching were identified: challenges with logistics (e.g., client recruitment and scheduling) and challenges associated with managing group dynamics.
While recruitment is a given in any coaching program, group dynamics is unique to group coaching. As a group coach, you need to be aware of what can happen within a group so that you can effectively move them forward to their desired outcome without getting tripped up by a shifting dynamic. As in all coaching, the coach must be flexible and open-minded, however, in groups coaching you must also ensure that these attributes are also present within the group. A successful group coach embodies respect for others and a keen awareness of the many layers of reality in a group and relies on the core competencies of coaching when communicating expectations and direction.
Group Coaching Models.
In a 2010 article by S. W. Brown and A. M. Grant, From GROW to GROUP: Theoretical issues and a practical model for group coaching in organizations the authors outlined a method to transform the one-on-one GROW model (goal, reality, options, way forward) to a multiple-client GROUP model (goal, reality, options, understanding others, perform). According to the article,
The latter model mirrors the former’s process of establishing goals and creating a realistic plan to achieve those goals, but it does so in a group setting.
Remember your core coaching skills – Group coaching is an extension of the coaching process. Coaches will want to lead from their core coaching skills, which include the importance of curiosity, holding your clients as resourceful and complete, focusing on awareness, action and accountability.
Get to know your group members – Just as in one-on-one coaching, in group coaching the relationship between coach and clients is needed to build a strong foundation for success. Identify and invite the multiple agendas at play for each member of the group and see where there might be a common theme.
Many coaches hold pre-program phone conversations with each group member to learn more about them, find out what brought them to the program and what goals and success measures are important to them.
If group members have a similar agenda and vision for the coaching, the first group coaching session could identify the topic or themesof the coaching. Unlike a 1-1 conversation where it is common to have the individual client set the agenda that day, it can be useful to have an anchoring theme each session which group members use to ground their thinking or focus each week. For example, one week of a group coaching program for business owners may focus on business vision, or values. For executives, an anchoring theme may be strengths as a leader. These common themes anchor and focus the conversation each time the group meets.
Differentmembers, different styles. There will be multiple personalities and style preferences within your group. Just as in 1-1 coaching, consider where preferences lay in terms of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles (seeing, hearing or doing) and notice preferences in terms of how they prefer to process (verbally, in reflection, fast or slow). Vary your approaches accordingly.
Attempting to lead without any knowledge of group and institutional process is… equivalent to attempting to cross the Sahara without a compass or a map. With great luck it is possible, but definitely not the best way of going about things, asserts Anton Obholzer, in his book, Coach to Couch, The Psychology of Making Better Leaders.
Noted systems psychologist and family therapist David Kantorechoes a similar caution in his book, Reading the Room,Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders. Armed with the information outlined in the book, coaches and leaders can identify
…the recurring sequences of behavior taking place in a group, understand why differing individual preferences for boundaries and rules affect their conversation, and better understand the reasons why leaders and teams get along—or don’t—when they communicate in a group.
Customizing your group coaching approach.
As we have emphasized so far, it is extremely important to design your group coaching to compliment the specific way that you want to use it. Here are some questions you might consider as you design the group approach:
- What is the primary purpose of the groups?
- Who will be in the groups?
- Will each work on the same topic or each work on different?
- How will they be trained in the coach approach?
- What resources will they need?
- How will they be facilitated?
- How will the coaching be evaluated during and after the groups?
- How many meetings will there be and for how long?
- Who will primarily be responsible for the groups?
- Is there a special coaching model you want to use?