The Ultimate Guide to Group Coaching
The perfect resource for L&D professionals looking to learn when and how to use this powerful leadership development approach
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The Ultimate Guide to Group Coaching is full of strategies and insights to help learning professionals understand exactly what group coaching is (and isn’t!), and delve into how it fast-tracks learning and behaviour change.
In this guide, you’ll discover what group coaching brings to the table that one-to-one doesn’t. L&D professionals can pick up a handy framework to help connect leadership behaviour to organizational strategy. You’ll also learn three macro success criteria and see when it makes sense to bring in a group coaching program. And lastly, get tips on how to clearly demonstrate the ROI of your group coaching program.
In this Guide
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Group Coaching vs. Individual Coaching
Today’s organizational environments are more fluid and faster paced than ever before. And, adding to the complexity, there’s more pressure to stay lean and agile. So, how do you help your organization meet its strategic imperatives without burning people out?
One-to-one leadership coaching can be powerful, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. Knowledge sharing is —all too often — the most overlooked and untapped resource available to companies today.
But first, let’s get clear on what is meant by group coaching and individual coaching.
Group Coaching Defined
A collaborative approach to coaching often between a small group (6-10) of cross-functional leaders to address situational challenges and facilitate personal and professional development.
Individual Coaching Defined
Tailored leadership development by an external coach for senior executives, other leaders and high potentials.
When to Use Group or Individual Coaching
Typically, organizations find group coaching beneficial:
One-to-one individual coaching, on the other hand, is used:
Watch as I tease out a few more considerations for one-to-one coaching vs group coaching and be sure to download this handy PDF download to help you decide which one is right for you.
Group Coaching vs. Team Coaching
Now that we know that group coaching is a “collaborative approach to coaching often between a small group (6-10) of cross-functional leaders to address situational challenges and facilitate personal and professional development,” what is team coaching?
Team Coaching Defined
Team coaching is facilitated coaching for individuals who are all aligned and headed to a shared purpose, goal or outcome. Typically, team size is no more than 10 members.
Team coaching is used:
There can be a lot of confusion around the terms peer coaching, group coaching, team coaching.Download a handy reference glossary of terms as a quick reference guide.
Group Coaching vs. Individual Coaching Benefits
Group coaching is a way to cascade learning across an organization, and help leaders cultivate their leadership skills with each other. It has five significant advantages over one-to-one individual development.
Group Coaching Drives Continuous Learning
As one of our clients expressed so well, “When you bring in someone from the outside, they feed you for one day. When you give us the tools to feed ourselves, we will continue to grow.”
By giving your own leaders the tools to teach, coach and learn from one another, you are providing them with the skills they need to be successful as leaders.
There is so much “untapped wisdom” in our organizations, leaders who have mountains of experience to share but no platform to share it through. They can learn from each other and share best practices. They can build their coaching skills while broadening their understanding of the business. Group coaching is really a vehicle to help cascade a culture of learning and development throughout your organization.
Group Coaching Offers Context
Rapid, constant and disruptive change is now the norm. In this complex environment, understanding organizational context and culture is a challenge for even the most skilled external 1-to-1 coach. We need to provide platforms and opportunities where they can engage and exchange ideas; where they can broaden their thinking about the business in real time…not in some isolated classroom or with an external coach who doesn’t understand the context of their job.
When leaders from across the organization gather in peer groups, it gives them the unique ability to adapt their learning into the context of the business and the situation they’re facing. Not only will a person receive encouragement and helpful advice, but it comes from a from a place of understanding about the culture, values and mission of the business.
Group Coaching Accelerates Collaboration
Today we are in the Age of Collaboration; we require leaders to be able to work together, to engage with peers, to harvest ideas. The need to innovate and collaborate will separate the industries that thrive from those that cling to survival. Leaders need to storm the boundaries of mindsets, silos and processes to keep their organizations relevant.
Peer learning and coaching communities allow leaders to exchange and connect together to share fresh perspectives and new ideas. It breaks down turf wars and fiefdoms to tap into the intelligence available across their organization and beyond company’s walls. As an added bonus, in addition to building cross-functional bonds, these collaborative relationships and peer support are two key ingredients in both employee and organizational resilience.
Group Coaching Develops Soft Skills
Soft skills are non-negotiable, but they are also the hardest skills to develop and hone. Our ever-changing, fast-paced workplace demands that leaders have strong communication and collaboration skills, high EQs and the ability to coach their teams to new heights.
Individualized coaching in particular doesn’t give your leaders the opportunity to practice and further develop their skills. Saying “our people aren’t ready to coach each other” is a lame excuse that simply limits the potential of your managers. Believe me, they’re ready and they need to have multiple opportunities to practice so that they increase their confidence in the arena of coaching.
Group Coaching Deepens Engagement
Engagement – that touchstone of everything HR-related. Everyone seems to be worrying about how to engage their top talent, from the newer Gen Z employees to older GenXers and Boomers. Engagement gives people a sense of purpose and belonging. As I write this, we are slowly, hopefully, emerging out of a pandemic and, especially, in these times of uncertainty, our capacity to stay grounded in a sense of purpose is of the utmost importance.
Learning and Development, as a whole, simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to help employees discover and connect with the drivers that fill them with their greatest sense of purpose.
This is where group coaching can step in, and go beyond what traditional one-to-one individual coaching can do.
During group coaching sessions, leaders outline their challenges, ask questions and offer up thoughtful feedback, allowing each person to reflect and ultimately find their own answers. In short, they help each other discover and deepen their own sense of purpose. When people have a purpose and work has meaning, your talent becomes more deeply engaged and happier in their roles.
Is Group Coaching a Good Fit for Your Organization?
Now, how do you know when group coaching is the best option for your organization and your talent?
At The Roundtable, we typically see four common challenges that are ideally suited to the nature of peer-to-peer group coaching. If you can answer yes to any of the question below, group peer coaching is a good fit.
Supporting Diversity & Inclusion
Mergers & Acquisitions
And, once you’ve determined the need, how do you know if you’re ready to bring in a program?
To make it easier for you, download this handy checklist.
Why Group Coaching Sticks
Forward-thinking organizations know that they need to build strong, collaborative cultures where an environment of continuous learning and development can thrive. You may be finding that one-off training and coaching initiatives don’t always deliver the ROI you were hoping for.
And, honestly, with all the money spent on employee development why is it that managers return to their work, and keep on keeping on? After over 20 years of leading teams and working with thousands of leaders, I’ve come to one clear conclusion: leadership isn’t learned in a binder… we learn it by doing.
While humans are wired to learn, in our daily lives we are continually overwhelmed and bombarded with emails, Zoom meetings and expectations that sometimes seem impossible to meet.
Have you ever been on a day-long training program, only to wake up the next day with only a foggy recollection of what you learned and little idea of how to apply it?
You’re not alone. It’s called the Forgetting Curve. Through his experiments and studies, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that without any reinforcement or connections to prior knowledge, information is quickly forgotten—roughly 56% in one hour, 66% after a day, and 75% after six days.
The way in which we take in new ideas and other information plays a huge role in how much we retain. Neuroscience research on how humans learn tells us that five key factors need to be in play for what we take in to stick.
Say it Out Loud
A study published in the journal Memory, confirms that the action of processing new ideas and information out loud means that we are much more likely to remember them. Group coaching requires active involvement. Participants actively discuss issues, share ideas and offer feedback. All of these acts of verbalization increase a conscious awareness of actions, behaviours and new concepts, and increase the odds that learned information will be retained long-term.
When we can anchor information and tie learning to a personal experience, it improves the transfer to long-term memory. By its very nature, group coaching helps us make purposeful connections and associations to new thoughts and insights. It gives leaders the space and time to take stock of workplace challenges, mull over solutions or make sense of experiences
We all recognize that change is a journey, not an event. It’s filled with those little eye-opening realizations that challenge our beliefs along the way to our destination. When everything suddenly becomes crystal clear. Those are the moments that change us, forever. In this talk, Britt Andreatta, PhD, author of Wired to Grow, says that these a-ha moment are when neurons connect and that “when people have a moment of insight, where they see something in a new way it is unforgettable.”
What are the learning moments you remember the most? The odds are it has to do with a story someone told you – not a framework, a theory or a definition on display in a PowerPoint, but an unfolding narrative, a personal anecdote shared by peer or a mentor. Stories stick because when we listen to them, our brains light up. Studies have shown that a story can increase the levels of oxytocin in a person’s brain, and elicit empathy and subsequent cooperation in the listener. This is why peer group coaching opens us up to deep learning and behaviour change.
“Fear destroys the capacity to learn.” – Bruce D. Perry, psychiatrist and researcher.
Trust is everything. Without it, those four factors above just won’t work. A learning environment must commit to being a safe and confidential space. When leaders feel “psychologically safe” (Kahn 1990, p. 708), they feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable. I’ve often stated that leadership is lonely, and this is one of the many reasons why group coaching can be so powerful. Leaders no longer have to go it alone. When you can create a safe space where members are willing to be vulnerable with each other you exponentially accelerate their capacity to learn and develop.
Connecting the Dots Between Strategy & Coaching
Behaviour, at its most basic level, is what we SAY and what we DO. Organizational culture, therefore, is the culmination of what a group of people SAY and DO collectively.
If one of your company’s priorities is to create a culture of innovation, then you need your talent to not only to talk about being innovative but to also actively be thinking out of the box and be confident to take some risks.
One of the challenges we find as HR leaders is that we have to help our people think about the strategic needs of the business. Sometimes it can be really tough to then tie those needs back to the behaviours that will move you closer to your organizational goals.
What we’ve found to be successful at the Roundtable, and what I share in my book, is that small shifts can produce big results. One of the ways that we work with leaders is to encourage them to choose one “big bang for your buck” behaviour goal — the one behaviour that will make the most impact on success in the organization. This helps them to set goals that are situational and aligned to the needs of the business.
To help figure out that one key behaviour change, we ask leaders to reflect on questions using three important filters:
Business Context Filter
Download this handy assessment download that you can give to your leaders to help them gain greater clarity into goals and behaviours that will move the needle in your organization.
In this video, I outline the CECITM Model, The Roundtable’s behaviour goal setting process which helps our leaders identify their “big bang for the buck” behaviour.
Group Coaching Success Macro Factors
For HR and L&D people who are thinking of bringing group coaching into the organization, the model is a little different. It involves three macro success factors: strategy, structure and commitment. Tune in as I outline each one of those success factors.
Key Group Coaching Considerations
What’s your focus?
Knowing what your objective is will then help you recruit the right people for your group coaching program and set the right focus. You may have more than one objective, but try to isolate the PRIMARY objective and then the supporting objectives.
What do you want to accomplish?
Here are just a few examples of the types of goals that you may feel like group coaching can support:
Who you would like your peer group program to be for?
A VP who is 58 is going to have a very different take on leadership learning than a VP who is 33. Think about stage of career, not title. For example:
What issues and challenges face professionals who are just beginning to carve out their career? Often, they are juggling young families, new marriages and high performance pressure at work. What else is on their radar?
People who are in the later 40’s and 50’s are often thinking about how to maximize their final career years. What else would be relevant to this group?
Are the group members committed?
Not everyone is interested in developing themselves and one of the biggest death knells to a group coaching experience is with people who don’t want to be there.
How will you vet your prospective members to ensure they want to learn and develop? An interview? An application?
What’s the mix of qualities that are most desirable for the success of your group? Listening skills? A self-directed mentality? Candor? Make a list.
How can you reduce potential tension in your group?
Think about how to minimize situations where peers who work together, and could ultimately be competing for the same job, find themselves shoulder to shoulder.
As you assemble your peer group, ask yourself:
- Are the peer group members a good representation of cross-functional teams?
- Is there diversity within the group?
- Are there any group dynamics that could lead to conflict or a lack of trust?
If you’re focusing on high potentials, what’s your definition?
Sometimes it’s easy to confuse high potential and high performance. And, in peer group programs it’s okay to have a mix of both but be aware of the balance.
Jack Welch once made a comment about the difference between “A” players and others. He said, “A players just care more.”
How are you defining “high potential”? Do your peer group members exhibit a natural curiosity about the world that extends beyond their roles? High potentials tend to soak up group coaching experiences because they see how they can learn from someone who might be in an extremely different role and how to apply the learning into their work.
What are your metrics?
Once you know what you’re trying to achieve and who you want to be involved, it’s time to set some specific metrics for your leaders.
Which metrics will you monitor?
How many group members and how often will you meet?
The final component to establishing your group program is then to really decide on the size and frequency of your group sessions. The bigger the group size, the more time you will need to devote. The shorter the time frame, the smaller the group size needs to be.
There are lots of different models out there. Often CEO groups of 15-20 will meet once a month for a half or full day session, while a Mastermind group of six people might meet for three hours once a month.
What’s the right size and frequency of your group coaching group?
At the Roundtable, we often facilitate groups of eight who meet every six weeks for three hours. Eight people offers a good diversity of thought and robust conversation, and six weeks provides you with time to integrate the learning back on the job and is also, in this time-starved world, not so frequent that it feels like a burden.
Top 3 Group Coaching Pitfalls to Avoid
If you’re about to introduce a group coaching program to your organization, be sure to avoid these three pitfalls that can undermine the success of your program.
Not Having the Right People in the Room
A successful group coaching program requires a space for participants to feel vulnerable. Depending on the culture of your organization, if there is low trust, or if there is low vulnerability within the company, you need to be extremely careful about who you put into your groups and the participants selected.
In situations where people might be working shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody you need to be cautious. The group coaching participants need to feel like they can talk to each other and not be penalized for points of view. It’s is probably going to be very uncomfortable for someone to sit beside a colleague when they both report to the same person. It’s not a safe environment to talk about an issue that they may be having with their boss, with their colleague or co-worker next to them. So, when choosing people for the group coaching program, try to ensure there are no conflicts of interest.
Not Having Executive Support
The second thing that will be really get in the way is if the senior leadership isn’t fully aligned and supportive this slow-drop “over time” group coaching approach. We’re very conditioned to think of training and development — in a particular leadership development —as one-day or two-day workshop (often sitting in a classroom setting). Yet, as soon as we pull a group together, it’s easy for executives to fall back into this style of training mindset. So make sure you’re not compromising your outcomes by trying to appease an old mental model as what development has to look like, specially if you’re trying to shift behaviours. Because, to enable successful behaviorial change, you need time.
Our programs typically run 12 months to 24 months. And, don’t get bullied into being told that “our managers are too busy.” In our experience, very busy managers they would much rather spend three hours every six weeks than three days back-to-back in a leadership development program. Learning practitioners need to think about how to refrain that “busy” argument. If you try to jam everything in for the sake of ease, you are not setting up your group coaching cohort participants for success.
Not Having the Right Coach
Group coaching is its own skillset; it is not executive coaching. To be a good group coach you need a much broader skillset. Here are three questions to ask your potential coach:
- What’s your experience, and are your group coaching credentials?
- How many group programs have you facilitated and what’s your approach to group coaching?
- How are you being coached? What peer groups are you in? And, what sort of supervision have you had for group coaching?
More often in training a small group, we still run into that “sage on a stage” approach, with the coach at the front of the group and everyone sitting around listening. That is NOT group coaching. Make sure you really understand their process and how they approach group coaching.
PRO TIP: Groups are incredibly complex. So, it’s important to ensure that your coach is also getting supervision on their coaching due to the complexity of the work.
The ROI of Group Coaching
If you’re an HR leader or senior executive, you know the pressure to show the ROI of any development initiatives. But those softer outcomes can be a more challenging to quantify. However, you can glean the success of a program on internal 360 reviews, employee engagement surveys, speed to promotion and reduction in involuntary turnover rates.
Quantifiable outcomes are easier to gauge when you can influence factors that impact costs, like improving employee promotability and retention as well as reducing reactive coaching.
Here are some ways that you can keep the momentum going post-program to really maximize your return on investment.
When recommending a new leadership development program, one of the biggest challenges L&D and HR professionals face is convincing senior executives of its value. Without a way to measure the return on investment, it’s very easy to dismiss a new development initiative as being too costly, too time consuming or too disruptive to the already-stretched high potential leaders.
Often, the excuse is that it’s difficult to measure the impact of learning programs. That simply doesn’t hold water anymore.
Align Development to Strategy
While leadership development programs are commonplace, an effective way to measure a program’s impact is less commonplace. Investing in your high-potential and top talent is inherently good, however you need to be able to connect the dots between learning and strategic impact. When establishing your group coaching program, it’s critical to start with the outcomes you want to measure. All learning initiatives should be aimed at solving a problem.
Typically, there are three broad areas of pain points that learning professionals are looking to improve: unclear expectations, misaligned executive team and unstable leadership bench. These are just a few of the ways that these show up in organizations around the world.
Misaligned Executive Team
Unstable Leadership Bench
Measurement & Evaluation
In some circumstances, there is a clear business measure, for instance excessive turnover of critical talent or a decline in productivity. Many learning professionals key in on performance indicators that produce revenue, reduce costs, or sidestep future costs.
Yet those fuzzier, and absolutely mission-critical skills and behaviours like empathy, listening, leadership confidence, inclusiveness can be hard to tie to a dollar amount. However, they play into KPIs like creating a better organizational culture, improving employee productivity and driving up the retention of key talent. When mapping out how you will measure your L&D initiatives’ effectiveness and impact, a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data can tell a powerful story.
And, don’t forget about the “knock-on effect.” The biggest bang for your buck with leadership development isn’t just the effect on the leader, but also on the productivity, retention, morale, etc., of their direct reports. Keep in mind you are sending one leader through a development program and it impacts the 10 people who report to that person. You’re paying for one and influencing many.
STEP 1: Assessment
What are the one-to-two business needs, the current performance gaps, and the skill requirements that you need to impact over the next 12 months with your leadership programs?
STEP 2: Measurement
What are the performance metrics? The first step in performing learning analytics on any given L&D program is to get clear on the intended business outcomes and identify the most appropriate ways to measure them.
Once you’ve identified what you want to impact, then you can frame those impacts into clear, trackable metrics. Think about what the measures of success will indicate progress or completion and then the impact this progress or success will have on the organization.
For example, here’s an organization that was struggling with moving their new supervisors quickly through to a performing level. Individuals were leaving before completing their probationary period or, they were investing heavily in individual coaching which was putting a strain on their management team.
Metrics they set for themselves
What metrics can you measure in your program?
Once you’re clear on what you’re trying to accomplish you can map out the value of the program you’re undertaking and have a baseline to measure against.
For the organization above, they could calculate it cost them $45,000 for each new hire that didn’t make it through the probationary period. By putting a hard dollar figure against the cost to the business, they were able to see how their group coaching program could save them close to $1.3 million dollars annually if executed well. It wasn’t hard to receive approval for funding once they could share that with the key decision makers.
What value would your program create for your organization?
Step 3: Evaluation
Don’t leave evaluating a program until the very end, when it’s finished. Surveys or interviews should be conducted and data points or key performance indicators (KPIs) captured before, during and after a program.
Chances are slim that program sponsors and other key stakeholders will be satisfied with “smile sheets” showing a facilitator is well liked or participants enjoyed the learning experience. In today’s business world, benefits must outweigh cost. Has learning transferred? Is it being applied on the job? Is it having an impact on business?
Download a handy ROI worksheet that you can fill out.
See it in Action!
Read this PepsiCo case study that includes some of those hard numbers, like:
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