An introduction to Group Coaching

People distinguish between group coaching and team coaching, generally by defining a team to be a group of people whose members all have the same purpose and goals, and work together in the same organisation. In Group Coaching the individuals are generally a disparate group who have come together for the purposes of learning together.
This approach is becoming increasingly popular in organizations where it makes better use of employees’ time and cuts training overheads (Flückiger, Aas, Nicolaidou, Johnson, & Lovett, 2016).

This article explores the group coaching model, its benefits, and what to consider when setting up and running a program.

What Is the Group Coaching Model?
Group coaching is a powerful and effective coaching technique for working with people to improve their health, wellbeing, personal strengths, self-efficacy, leadership qualities, team building, and beyond (Armstrong et al., 2013; McDowall & Butterworth, 2014).

Coaching in organizations has become increasingly common over the last couple of decades, with human resources and organizational development teams (and external consultants) expected to deliver coaching support on an almost daily basis.
Aside from the cost savings, professional group coaching has many benefits, not least is the ability to strengthen team bonds and improve awareness of the decisions made within a broader structure (Anderson, Anderson, & Mayo, 2008).

However, despite research findings suggesting that organizational interventions are best delivered at a group level rather than individually, most companies continue to coach one-on-one (Brown & Grant, 2009).

To effect real change in any organization, both individuals and groups must have a good understanding of the organization and systemic awareness, recognizing that individual decisions can have broad impacts. Attending sessions with peers can open the individual to awareness of that bigger picture.

Group life coaching for the individual (rather than a business) can safeguard your position as a coach while being beneficial for the client. After all, many coaches end up leaving the field or becoming burnt out because they cannot make sufficient money or find enough clients (Rivera & Rivera, 2019).

So, what is group coaching?
It is useful to distinguish between team and group coaching. The former relates to individuals working closely together as a single entity toward a clear and shared goal. The latter, group coaching, involves any group of individuals; they may not know one another and may differ in their needs and ultimate aims (Brown & Grant, 2009).

Group coaching involves one or more coaches and two or more individuals.

While the aim of coaching is typically to effect change in individuals, group coaching has the additional challenge of handling group-based dynamics by putting in place interpersonal and rapport-building skills (Brown & Grant, 2009).

There may be clear differences between one-to-one coaching – sometimes referred to as dyadic coaching – and group coaching, but at times the two can be combined successfully. It may prove useful or even necessary to switch between approaches as the situation dictates (Anderson et al., 2008).

For example, when a specific need arises or something is proving too personal to discuss in a group setting, a one-to-one intervention may be more appropriate.

However, there are instances when group coaching is preferred. Within an organizational setting, group coaching can promote team building and improve leadership effectiveness (Hackman & Wageman, 2005; Goldsmith & Morgan, 2000). Besides, it is more effective when primarily performed by an internal coach, such as a member of the team or team leader, rather than a parachuted-in consultant.

Broadly, the literature supports the idea that a systemic approach enables organizational development. Group coaching can overcome organizational resistance to change by rising above the focus on an individual’s goals and instead encouraging corporate thinking (Brown & Grant, 2009).

And there is value in reaching a consensus within group settings and listening to a range of voices and differing opinions.

However, group coaching must overcome some crucial challenges to be effective, such as consent and willingness. High-performing teams will not be created if staff attending and participating are under duress. It is worth knowing whether there are valid reasons behind a lack of enthusiasm; perhaps there is uncertainty regarding future career prospects, restructuring, or a resistance to change (Kets de Vries, 2005).

Individuals may also have concerns regarding openly discussing personal feelings or issues in front of peers.

For these reasons and others, such as existing tensions within groups, group coaching can be challenging and requires highly skilled coaches to have a chance of effecting permanent and positive change. Therefore, coaching at a group level is most appropriate when its goal closely aligns with those of the attendees.

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