Coaching People in Groups: the three dilemmas
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.