Group coaching is different from it’s better-known cousin, 1-2-1 coaching, but once you know a bit more about it, you might like to give it a try.
I explained in a previous post what coaching is all about. I also outlined what happens in a 1-2-1 (individual) coaching session. In this post, I talk about what is meant by group coaching.
Tell me about the members of the group?
Group coaching involves a group of people who are facing a similar issue. This might be any of the issues that could be addressed in 1-2-1 coaching, for example, time management, influencing others, chairing a meeting.
The individuals are not part of any work team. Indeed, they may have never met before. They may be from the same or different organisations. This lack of prior knowledge of each other can lead to increased confidence regarding confidentiality. It also helps by bringing a wider range of different perspectives and ideas to the group.
The ideal size of a group is 6-8, since this allows everyone to get a turn being coached.
What makes it coaching rather than a discussion?
It’s important that the key aspects of coaching are observed. These include:
*Confidentiality – what is said in the room stays in the room
*Appropriate questions, with plenty of open questions
*Listening skills and observation of body language
*Each group member deciding their individual goal and actions
How does the group work?
There are different approaches. I’ll talk about the one I find most popular. Each group member takes a turn at being coached (in other words, being the coachee). First they describe the challenge they are facing. Then the other group members and the coach take it in turn to ask one question or make one observation. They do not offer advice. During this process, the coachee listens and acknowledges what they have heard but does not say anything. There may be more than one round of questions and when the questions have finished, the coachee summaries what they are now thinking, makes further comments if they wish and decides what they will do next (their action). The group then moves on to the next person to be coached.
The coach notes the questions, observations and responses. They also make a general comment at the end of each person’s ‘turn’ and at the end of the whole session. Other roles of the coach include checking that questions and observations are in line with a coaching ethos, watching out for any discomfort among group members and ensuring that sessions run to time.
Do the group members need any training?
With the approach I describe here, it does help if some information is given beforehand. This might cover, for example, types of questions and listening skills. Different questions can be used to get different types of information. This might include clarification, probing for more information, or to challenge the coachee’s thinking. Listening skills might include, for example, checking that what is said matches the coachee’s body language, or being able to accurately summarise what the coachee has said including using some of their words. Some of this information may be provided in written form before the sessions begin. I sometimes do a practice, playing the role of the coachee so that group members have the opportunity to practice coaching.
What are the advantages of group coaching compared to 1-2-1 coaching?
Group members can be hugely reassured that others have the same, or very similar, problem. When each person is the coachee, some of what they say may prompt other group members to change their own approach to a challenge or to view it differently.
Another benefit is that group members may coach each other between formal group sessions or after an assignment has ended. Feedback has revealed that learning and practicing some coaching skills is valued by group members. These skills and a more enquiring mind-set can be applied in various work settings.
So, as well as tackling their original challenge, group members learn skills that are highly applicable at work.
For an organisation, group coaching may be more cost-effective than 1-2-1 coaching.
Are there any disadvantages?
Each individual is in the spotlight for only part of the time. They do need to concentrate throughout each session and maximise their learning. This requires self-discipline and can be tiring.
Trust needs to be established quickly among group members. The coach needs to ensure this happens. If it does not, individuals are unlikely to be as forthcoming as they might be concerning their challenge and this may limit their learning.
Dates for sessions do need to be booked well in advance at times that suit the whole group. Within an organisation this should not be a problem when group members are consulted about the dates and their managers are supportive.
What about combining group coaching with 1-2-1 coaching?
Yes, this is perfectly possible and is something I offer in my practice.
During a 35 year career in higher education, Jenny Ames led a productive research group, worked with people from a wide range of subject areas and collaborated with organisations from various sectors. She held the title of Professor at 6 universities, graduated ~25 PhD students and mentored ~25 contract researchers. Jenny was also a senior manager for 8 years. As Associate Dean and Assistant Pro Vice Chancellor, Jenny led on Research Impact at University level. In 2017 was she was made Founding Research Impact Lead for University Alliance.
Since 2017, Jenny has been Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. Working with universities in the area of Research Impact is an important part of her business. Jenny’s coaching practice focuses on university researchers and people in career transition. People in career transition may be wondering what to do next or they may have recently moved sector, organisation or job role. Jenny holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice from Oxford Brookes University. She is also a Member of the Association for Coaching (MAC). Jenny was also a facilitator on ‘Entrepreneurial Leaders’, a programme for senior university leaders run by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE).