Group Coaching – A case for inclusion

The Context of Contemporary Leadership

The challenges for leaders have shifted significantly in less than a generation. Globalisation, diverse workforces, and increased competition have changed how work is organised and conducted. Roles are less formally defined and authority relationships more complex. 

Traditional mentoring or coaching relationships within organisations that formed the basis of ‘in the role’ leadership development have been eroded. Roles are increasingly transitional and line manager relationships have become medium term at best. Even with the best of intentions time-poor leaders struggle to create the necessary learning spaces required for genuine development. 

Implications

Leaders now require new capabilities. These include a deep appreciation of how emerging systemic forces impact on organisational success and a capacity to ‘self manage’ within leaner and under-managed organisational structures (Gould 1993). Simply put the new world of work asks leaders to:

  • Manage continuous change without complete information
  • Be attuned to their own and others emotional states
  • Manage their own and others anxieties in relation to change
  • Tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Develop plans that are dynamic enough to change

Leaders have new capacities to learn, less time to learn them and fewer people to learn them from.

Creating the Spaces 

Action learning research has demonstrated the value of creating the right ‘spaces’ for learning to happen. While traditional theory/class room methods still have a place, embedding the new leadership capabilities requires a different learning approach. 

Our work with leaders reveals that participants rate ‘time out, ‘space to think’ and ‘connection with others’ as the critical success factors in our programs. Yet these factors are increasingly difficult to find in contemporary organisational life. At a time when the capacity to ‘think creatively’ is crucial for organisational success, there is a clear need for new learning spaces for this to occur. Group coaching is one such learning space.

Group Coaching – an opportunity for leadership development

Coaching is now established as an evidence based learning approach that results in a range of workplace improvements (Feldman 2001, Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson 2001). While one to one coaching has grown exponentially in the last decade, uptake of group coaching is significantly slower. This is due to a lack of knowledge about the method, its application and lack of group process experience among coaches. 

Kets de Vries (2005) demonstrates that group coaching forms a psychological contract between members that drives behavioural change in their roles and responsibilities to both the organisation and each other. Participants become committed to each other and to help each other change. In his study a higher level of trust and mutual respect developed between executives resulting in greater team cohesion. 

Kets de Vries concludes that although “one-on-one coaching currently has centre stage in the coaching field, my experience has shown that leadership coaching in a group setting has the highest payoff: high-performance organisations: results-orientated and accountable people… and true knowledge management” (2005, p75).   

Outlined below are some of the key elements of group coaching

Composition

Group coaching involves 3-5 people meeting with a coach. Participants may come from similar or diverse parts of an organisation, or from separate organisations. 

What does a typical program look like?

Group coaching involves a series of coach led sessions where participants reflect, think and experiment with new behaviours. Between session, participants’ learning, insights and experiments are tested in their work roles. Learning’s are then reflected on and enhanced in later sessions.

During sessions participants receive feedback in the moment, road test ideas, assumptions and actions. The focus remains on experiential learning. The process is a creative and interactive. Topics emerge from the work issues of participants and the coach may introduce themes/literature/ideas to complement this. 

Advantages of the method

Some of the advantages of the method include:

  • Sessions are ‘easy’ to attend. Usually each session is 1.5 / 2 hours long and can be held at breakfast or lunch
  • Sessions can be timed with peak leadership periods (i.e. performance review cycle).
  • A fresh experience for participants (i.e., ‘not another course’)
  • Groups can be created based on diversity or for commonality
  • Peer networks and support are created
  • There is also a strong opportunity to create self-sustaining groups following completion of a program

Applications

Group coaching can be used in a variety of contexts including:

  • Topic specific groups (e.g. a focus on coaching and courageous conversations and feedback skills
  • Role development – assisting leaders take up their roles with clarity and authority
  • Enhancement for individual coaching – as an extension activity for people completing 1-1 coaching assignments
  • Integrated in mainstream leadership capability programs (e.g. our leadership programs have small group coaching elements embedded into the learning process)

Group coaching is an underutilised method that has great potential for initiating change. As exponents of the method we are surprised it has not been employed more widely in leadership learning.

Read a case study here

Back to Thinking 

Group coaching is an underutilised method that has great potential for initiating change

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