Group Coaching continues to increase in popularity for coaches and clients alike. Grounded in our core coaching competencies, group coaching brings the coaching conversation into a small group context. It is an intimate conversation space, focused on goal setting, deepening awareness around key issues, taking action, and accountability. For a group to be considered group coaching the ICF has set the upper threshold group size at 15. Most groups are much smaller, particularly those in the virtual environment.
Over the past few years, coaches have continued to expand the boundaries of group coaching. Whether you are a coach designing your own programs for parents, small business owners, those exploring work-life issues, or you are working with groups in an organization, group coaching offers many benefits to coach and client alike. Group coaching is both a virtual and in-person modality. Many coaches and clients enjoy the connections formed virtually with other participants, who may be several time zones and countries away.
The Benefits of Group Coaching:
Group coaching clients benefit from the peer learning with others, commonly referred to as 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 a powerful 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.
Organizations may find benefit due to the scalable nature of the process, opening up communication between silos or group members in different parts of the organization. Over time these relationships create a valuable network across an organization. Group coaching can also be positioned as a training follow-on, supporting learners to with the transfer and application of their learning, creating an on-going accountability structure. Group coaching is an on-going conversation, which supports change over time.
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. The group coaching conversation can feel "wide and broad" rather than the deep, deep dive of an individual coaching conversation.
Example #1: A group coaching program for female leaders exploring work life issues - ongoing in person corporate sessions over several months.
Example #2: Group coaching for new managers as a follow-on to leadership training, with conversations occurring monthly over a year.
Example #3: A three month bi-weekly program offered virtually (by phone) for business owners, with a mix of small group and individual coaching calls.
What creates the foundation for masterful programs?
Lead from your core coaching skills - Group coaching is an extension of the coaching process. Coaches will want to lead from their core coaching skills, as well as remembering the importance of curiosity, holding your clients resourceful and complete, focusing on action and awareness along with accountability.
Spend time getting to know your group members - Just as in one-on-one coaching, in group coaching the relationship between coach and clients (plural in this case) is foundational for success. In group coaching there are multiple agendas at play, rather than just one.
In the lead up to my group coaching processes, I usually hold pre-program phone conversations with each group member. I use this call to answer any questions they may have, as well as to learn more about them, find out what brought them to the program and learn about their goals and success measures for your work together.
If you cannot connect with people before the start of the program, you will want to ensure this happens during the first group coaching conversation. The first group coaching session should also identify, or confirm, the topic or theme areas the coaching will look at, or use as anchors. 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 leaders an anchoring theme may be strengths as a leader. These common themes anchor and focus the conversation.
Recognize that different group members will have different styles. There will be multiple personalities and style preferences within your group. Consider where preferences lay in terms of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, or those that learn by seeing, hearing or doing. You will also want to learn about individual group members preferences in terms of how they prefer to process (verbally, in reflection, fast or slow). Vary your approaches accordingly.
Questions for you to consider after reading this article:
As you consider your own work, what might group coaching look like? What do you think the benefits will be? What considerations will you want to incorporate?
Contributing Author: Jennifer Britton is the author of Effective Group Coaching (Wiley,2010). A thought leader in the realm of group coaching she has been working with teams and groups since the late 1980s. Jenn supports coaches in designing their own group coaching programs through the CCE-approved Group Coaching Essentials program. For many more tips and ideas visit the Group Coaching Ins and Outs blog.
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