While one-to-one coaching is highly effective for working with people who wish to transform their lives, it has its limitations.
As a coach, you can only reach so many clients in the time you have available.
So how do you help more people improve their relationships, health, and work stress, and still ensure your financial security as a coach without working unsustainable hours (Rivera & Rivera, 2019)?
The answer is group coaching. 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.
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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.
Individual customers entering group coaching are likely to be highly motivated to engage and implement new learnings. They are paying to find the coaching knowledge and tools to move forward in a particular direction and have made a personal financial commitment to change.
20+ Benefits of Coaching in Groups
There are many benefits to running group coaching sessions (Brown & Grant, 2009; Rivera & Rivera, 2019).
The client can benefit from:
- Shared wisdom of the group
- Working toward common goals as part of a structured, step-by-step program
- Fixed timings that are easier to manage and plan around
- Positive effect of social facilitation (Baron, 1986)
- Increased awareness of psychodynamic processes within a group
- Development of support and trust within the group
- Improved conflict resolution
- Heightened emotional intelligence
- More affordable value
Specifically, as part of structured development within an organization, group benefits can include:
- Development of coaching and leadership skills
- Increased organizational and systemic awareness
- Creation of high-performing teams
- Improved knowledge transfer
- Increased commitment and accountability
- Enhanced capacity to develop and improve the system, services, and processes
- Better team functioning, maturity, and capability
- Sharing of knowledge within and among teams, and across levels and generations of employees
- Fostering a culture of learning and a growth mindset
- Encouraging collaboration and the breaking down of silos
There are many benefits for you as a coach personally and for your business such as:
- Better use of your time
- Increased and more predictable income
- Capacity to reach more clients
- Faster business growth
- Better value for your clients
- Less complicated scheduling
- Possibilities of up-selling to next-level coaching programs
While each coaching benefit is valuable, when combined, they can positively impact individual, team, and organizational performance.
Structuring and Formatting the Sessions
It is crucial to have a clear and complete understanding of the purpose, content, and structure early on in setting up a group coaching program.
Answering the following questions can help:
- How many are going to attend the group session?
- What content do you have already? How do you plan to share it?
- What do the clients expect from the sessions?
- What are the goals of the sessions?
The answers to these questions can inform the planning and design of the coaching sessions.
There are several options for structuring a group coaching program; three are included below (Beene, 2020):
1. Cohort model
Participants sign up in advance, start and finish on the same days, and work through the steps as one cohort.
This approach provides an ideal way of piloting a program before investing further and scaling up. Crucially, you don’t require a large number of clients to get the group coaching up and running.
2. Program model
More common for online training as the clients sign up when they want. The program is over a specified length, starting at any time, and clients follow a predefined schedule.
This model is more technically complicated to set up as you will have clients starting and ending at different times. Coaching is likely to include pre-recorded webinars and videos, combined with one-to-many communications.
If you or your team have the right skills to set it up and are ready with a proven program and a potentially large audience, this is a scalable and potentially financially rewarding approach.
3. Membership model
This approach runs each year on the same recurring schedule and combines many of the cohort and program model benefits.
Clients can start on any of the multiple dates throughout the year, then work with others on the same schedule.
While there is some complexity in setting up, the membership model can be highly scalable online and is likely to attract repeat customers returning for next-level training.
Perform research and analysis to understand:
- Pricing of the program
- Duration of each session and overall program
- Number of clients in each cohort
- Recorded, live, or a mix of content
- Level of support outside of each session, including availability for contact and supply of additional reference material
- Ground rules, such as actively listening, attendance, confidentiality, and respect
You must understand your group participants’ goals and your approach to meet their needs.
Time spent brainstorming and designing your content is crucial and probably enjoyable, but do your research first. There is no point in creating content that is not of interest to anyone.
Interesting Training Opportunities
Many providers offer training in group coaching and other coaching courses.
Find a group coaching course that suits your goals, timing, and budget, such as:
- Group Coaching Basics
This six-week course offered by Wellcoaches explores how to create and market group coaching and learn the logistics of managing group sessions. Training includes an opportunity to coach and be coached to gain insight into a client’s perspective of group environment dynamics.
- iPEC’s Coaching Certification Program: Group Coaching
Essential training and certification are provided with this program along with access to a library of supporting resources. There is a particular focus on group coaching’s key elements including establishing trust and emotional safety within the group, creating an engaged and cohesive community, and setting a tone to ensure a memorable group experience.
- Certified Group Coaching Facilitator
This five-week online course explains the many benefits of group work, along with learning how to plan, create, and promote group sessions.
- Team Coaching Training
Provided by GrowthOps. This four-week part-time course offers certification and points toward International Coaching Federation credentials. Training covers how to work with organizations to apply existing individual coaching techniques in a group situation and create high-performing teams.
A Look at Group Life Coaching
Life coaching creates a partnership between coach and clients and can help individuals realize their potential.
According to Joeel Rivera and Natalie Rivera in The Ultimate Group Life Coaching Blueprint (2019), many coaches end up leaving life coaching because they can’t make enough money and are overwhelmed by seeking paying customers.
The answer is to transform life coaching from a one-to-one process, continually worrying about where the next client is coming from, to a group model.
The following questions can help prompt a clear understanding of what you wish a group to learn and the content you want to share with them:
- How can you deliver a transformative learning experience?
- What is your process? What are the steps and ingredients for leading change?
- How can you break them down into a set of materials and individual sessions?
- What makes you different? What is your secret sauce?
- What are the outcomes that the group can expect at the end of the course?
Life coaching in a group setting can be incredibly positive. Participants take more accountability, are energized by one another, and gain access to invaluable life coaching tools. It is also a valuable opportunity to learn life lessons from the group’s collective wisdom involving networking, brainstorming, and learning from shared experiences.
Leading a life coaching group can be very enjoyable for the coach and offers an exciting (and somewhat unpredictable) alternative to one-to-one sessions.
A Note on Online Group Coaching
Online group coaching is becoming increasingly popular, as it allows the independence of time and location and the flexibility to work around a busy schedule.
Costs are often lowered and financially beneficial for both the client and the creator of the content.
An article appearing in Forbes offers some practical advice that may kickstart your journey to creating a thriving online coaching business (Perez, 2019):
- Define your income, lifestyle, and contribution goals, such as monthly revenue, hours you want to work, and your legacy.
- Know your audience: who do you want to help?
- Understand what makes you different. How are you going to stand out from the crowd?
- Find a price that offers value for money while preserving your worth as a coach.
- Start getting your clients now. Use your existing network and start telling them the results you will achieve for them.
- Scale up your operations to free your time to self-promote, writing articles, posting regularly, and doing interviews.
- Get help when needed. Experts are out there – use them.
A Take-Home Message
The group coaching model can be hugely beneficial to both client and coach. While the client can benefit from reduced costs and a shared learning experience, the coach can reach more people and significantly scale up revenue.
Within an organizational setting, it is crucial to achieve buy-in and agreement over a common set of goals. In a personal coaching context, attendance is voluntary and based on a willingness or need to transform. In either situation, trust and intra-group communication must be built early on.
Be clear on how you want to deliver your group coaching program and the value you wish to offer your clients. At both an individual and an organizational level, people are looking to change, transforming their old self or group into who they want to be.
Losing experienced, enthusiastic coaches through an inability to secure a sustained income is a loss to the profession and the clients who are yet to be helped. Considering a move to a group model of coaching may secure your future and allow you to reach more clients, transforming their lives into the ones they wish to lead.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Anderson, M. C., Anderson, D. L., & Mayo, W. D. (2008). Team coaching helps a leadership team drive cultural change at Caterpillar. Global Business and Organizational Excellence, 27(4), 40–50.
- Armstrong, C., Wolever, R. Q., Manning, L., Elam, R., Moore, M., Frates, E. P., … Lawson, K. (2013). Group health coaching: Strengths, challenges, and next steps. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 2(3), 95–102.
- Baron, R. S. (1986). Distraction-conflict theory: Progress and problems. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 1–40.
- Beene, P. (2020). How to structure a group coaching program. Nudge Coach. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://nudgecoach.com/blog/how-to-structure-a-group-coaching-program
- Brown, S. W., & Grant, A. M. (2009). From GROW to GROUP: Theoretical issues and a practical model for group coaching in organisations. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 3(1), 30–45.
- Flückiger, B., Aas, M., Nicolaidou, M., Johnson, G., & Lovett, S. (2016). The potential of group coaching for leadership learning. Professional Development in Education, 43(4), 612–629.
- Goldsmith, M., & Morgan, H. (2000). Team building without time wasting. In M. Goldsmith, L. Lyons, & A. Freas (Eds.), Coaching for leadership (pp. 103–109). Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
- Hackman, J. R., & Wageman, R. (2005). A theory of team coaching. Academy of Management Review, 30(2), 269–287.
- Kets de Vries, M. F. R. (2005). Leadership group coaching in action: The Zen of creating high performance teams. Academy of Management Executive, 19(1), 61–76.
- McDowall, A., & Butterworth, L. (2014). How does a brief strengths-based group coaching intervention work? Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 7(2), 152–163.
- Perez, I. (2019). 7 Steps to build a thriving online coaching business in 2019. Forbes. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ignacioperez/ 2019/01/29/7-steps-to-build-a-thriving-online-coaching-business-in-2019/.
- Rivera, J. A., & Rivera, N. (2019). The ultimate group life coaching blueprint – A complete guide to creating a group life coaching business. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.