Coaching People in Groups: the three dilemmas - International Coaching Federation
Now Available: ICF Converge 2023 On-Demand
COVID-19 Resources for ICF Coaches

Coaching People in Groups: the three dilemmas

Posted by Ro Gorell | October 14, 2013 | Comments (9)

Many organizations are becoming savvy buyers of coaching services and focus on where they can derive the biggest bang for their buck. Group or team based coaching is driven out of this need to develop cost effective ways of coaching people. The underlying theme is about helping people cope with and become adaptable to fast moving change so that the business can grow, become more efficient and agile. Productivity is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it is a fact of life for business survival. For the coach who has been practicing individual coaching for many years, this can present a number of challenges and dilemmas. And yet, to sustain a coaching practice in a fast changing economy only those coaches who are able to adapt their skillset will survive.

Three dilemmas surface when talking to coaches about making the transition from individual to group coach:
1. The dynamic of coaching people in a group – will there be a difference?
2. What skills and competences will I need over and above my coaching skills?
3. Will my existing toolset be sufficient?

The Group Coaching Dynamic
The first dilemma centers on the coach’s ability to identify if their client is looking for team based coaching or group based? Team based coaching typically involves all members of a team – project, department or function. In other words, the individuals share a common goal and task and are usually looking for someone to help with the process of working together more effectively to achieve that outcome. The second type, group coaching, is a collection of potentially unconnected individuals who are looking to learn in a group environment. The focus typically, though not exclusively, is on personal development and growth. Clarity around which type of coaching you are entering into has potential implications for the dynamic:

  • How power is expressed
  • How willing people are to listen and learn with others
  • How people express the need for connection
  • How conflict is treated

The category that some find most challenging is power and how it is expressed. Three different types of power are prevalent in almost every interaction we have with others: situational (or positional), personal and systemic. Situational, or positional power, might manifest in the deference shown to certain individuals in the team because of their relative perceived rank within the team e.g. seniority, grade, length of tenure. Personal power could manifest in many ways such as an individual able to influence the group through knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills. The final form of power is systemic power. This power usually stems from the culture within which the individuals ‘normally’ operate, for example the “rules” that dominate choices about behavior particularly when observed by others.

Coaching Skills in a Group Setting
Coaching skills alone will probably not be sufficient to make the transition. It is important to develop group process skills so that you become adept at helping the group navigate the socialization process i.e. how behaviors within the group form and become accepted. This skillset is about how to provide sufficient structure, create boundaries and ground rules. The final aspect that pulls all this together is self-confidence. This is more about a state of being than a skill. You can only work with a group if you are willing to stand in your own vulnerability and see this as a resource to help the group.

Coaching Tools and Getting the Right Fit
Process is as important as the tools you use and Bruce Tuckman’s model, (forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning) provides a framework on which to create a group coaching process. Think of the group coaching process as a tool in itself: the beginning where you explore an outcome, review previous actions and reconfirm the approach and topic, the middle where you explore in detail the topic(s) at hand, and the ending where you check for action, review learning and insights and create next steps. The content of the coaching therefore will dictate which tools can be adapted. Keep it simple and always be open to review your process.

Making the Transition
Any transition starts with self-belief and confidence and by staying alive to the energy in the room you can utilize all of the skills you have acquired and mastered. We all behave differently in a group environment and working with groups requires a degree of wisdom about systemic forces at play. This is perhaps why group coaching is so attractive to organizations. The group coaching process is a substitute for how people work together in the organization to achieve results.

Headshot of Ro Gorell

Ro Gorell

Ro Gorell specializes in performance improvement and talent development, helping organizations leverage talent and effect change through collaboration. She is the author of Group Coaching and co-author of 50 Top Tools for Coaching (Kogan Page).

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Additionally, for the purpose of full disclosure and as a disclaimer of liability, this content was possibly generated using the assistance of an AI program. Its contents, either in whole or in part, have been reviewed and revised by a human. Nevertheless, the reader/user is responsible for verifying the information presented and should not rely upon this article or post as providing any specific professional advice or counsel. Its contents are provided “as is,” and ICF makes no representations or warranties as to its accuracy or completeness and to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law specifically disclaims any and all liability for any damages or injuries resulting from use of or reliance thereupon.

Comments (9)

  1. Aileen Gibb says:

    How do you distinguish between group coaching and facilitation? I have worked as a facilitator of teams and as a coach for individual leaders for over 20 years. Is group coaching different from facilitating results in a team. Everything you describe above would be part of my work as a facilitator. Are we using the term group coaching simply because many coaches are moving from working with individuals to working with teams?

  2. thank you for sharing

  3. thanks for sharing…
    very good site

  4. In Brazil, Coaching in Group has grown lately, as an approach to reduce individual costs for the Coachees.
    My question is: is it really Coach or some kind of training, or workshop disguised as Coaching?
    I understand Coaching is a parternship based on rapport and powerful questions that lead the client to find their own path and solutions.
    How we can provide this in a groupo with diiferents goals, problems and objectives? How can apply a tool that can be used for all participants?

    • Chris Padgett, PCC says:

      Team & Group coaching IS coaching. Don’t confuse facilitation and coaching. Two different competencies and skill sets. If you are reading this and confused or wanting to learn more, I encourage you to join the FREE ICF Team & Group Coaching Community of Practice. They host monthly webinars to educate folks about this very subject. You can find more information about how to sign up and access these programs through the ICF website. I previously co-led it and can attest to its quality and value and did I mention that it is FREE?

  5. Chantal Dette says:

    Great insights. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Live for the true moments. Hello Travelers. I am Libayi the manager of Airlines Reservation. Happiness is a key that can only be found in the way of traveling. Through Delta Airlines Reservations, wander to beautiful places where your dreams go on magical carnival ride. With less money, you can easily complete your traveling goals in your bucket list.

Leave a Reply

Not a member?

Sign up now to become a member and receive all of our wonderful benefits.

Learn more