Many coaches who are used to working one-on-one with clients eventually reach a point where they’d like to expand their reach by running group sessions.
A common concern is whether the coach’s existing tools and frameworks, designed for one-on-one coaching, will apply well to a group format.
Fear not. The leap to group coaching is unlikely to be as daunting as you anticipate, and there are many tools and resources that can help.
In this post, we’ll take you through our ultimate guide to group coaching tools, techniques, and questions, focusing particularly on group coaching in an online environment.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your future group clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.
This Article Contains:
- How to Run a Group Coaching Program
- Starting Your Own Online Coaching Group
- Structuring Your Sessions: 3 Topics & Ideas
- 3 Techniques Every Group Coach Applies
- Powerful Questions to Ask Your Group
- 3 Best Activities & Exercises for Your Group
- 3 Valuable Tips and Tools for Group Coaches
- How to Be an Online Coach: Best Platform
- 3 Ways You Can Use Quenza
- PositivePsychology.com’s Resources
- A Take-Home Message
How to Run a Group Coaching Program
To begin, let’s dispel one myth about running an effective group coaching program:
Group coaching does not simply involve dividing your attention equally among a room full of people.
The beauty and true transformation that come from group coaching flow, in part, from the interactions your clients have with each other, not with you.
1. Start with the end in mind
When designing your group coaching program, ask yourself what outcome you want for your clients upon their completion of the program. This may require a little market research or some surveying to understand the needs of your clients, but it is worth taking this time.
By doing so, you can design a program that not only truly meets your clients’ needs, but also best leverages your strengths to offer something unique compared to your competition.
2. Reverse-engineer the process
Ask yourself what experiences your clients must have to achieve their desired outcome. That is, craft the client’s journey from where they are now to the outcomes they are seeking in a step-by-step process.
Depending on your niche and coaching focus, this will probably involve developing and guiding clients through a coaching framework or template.
3. Determine how to communicate
How often will you bring your group together to communicate with each other face-to-face or with you via one-to-one calls? Will members engage with digital materials or self-paced learning between sessions? And what about text-based communication, such as email or instant messaging?
Ultimately, these are channels through which your clients can begin taking the steps toward their desired outcome, so consider carefully which channels will work best to help your group members reach their goals.
4. Establish how to gauge clients’ progress
It is important to check in regularly with your clients one-on-one to understand how they are progressing, such as by phone or video chat, even when working with groups.
The specific questions you ask and the approach you take to gathering the information will depend on whether you are interested in direct or indirect indices of progress. See Powerful Questions to Ask Your Group below for a discussion of the difference.
5. Determine how to re-engage disengaged clients
The benefits of group coaching are, in some ways, a double-edged sword. While some group clients will be inspired or motivated by their peers, for others, it can be disheartening to look on as peers surpass them in their progress.
Often, you can leverage the community of the group itself to help revitalize motivation, helping clients feel more connected to one another to tap into individual motivation.
Starting Your Own Online Coaching Group
How do you get started when you’re working within an online or mixed-mode environment?
If you’re thinking about starting an online coaching group, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind (adapted from Sheldon, n.d.).
1. Study your competition
In face-to-face coaching, factors like location and availability will inevitably constrain your prospective clients’ choices when selecting a coaching program. However, in the online market, your clients have exponentially more options. This makes researching your competitors’ offerings even more important to ensure you are differentiating yourself and providing a similar level of value.
2. Identify one problem and one solution
As part of carving out your niche online, you must craft a clear and compelling message to avoid getting lost in the noise. You must clearly communicate a single problem your coaching will resolve, together with a single solution. See if you can condense your message into something succinct, such as a tagline.
3. Figure out your technology
Determine what platforms, software, and digital channels you and your clients will use, and make sure they are compatible with the types of hardware your clients are likely to own.
For guidance, read this in-depth review of coaching apps and software.
4. Develop plenty of supporting materials
While face-to-face calls will form a key part of your online coaching service, it is wise to have supplementary materials on hand to keep your clients engaged and making progress between sessions.
Consider developing and sending these digitally to save you and your clients hassle working with physical materials. See How to Be an Online Coach: Best Platform below for a discussion of our favorite tool for this job.
Structuring Your Sessions: 3 Topics & Ideas
Let’s now consider how you might structure your group coaching sessions with some example ideas. But before we do, it’s important to be clear about the function of your group.
Similar to therapy groups in a clinical context, coaching groups can perform one of three functions for their members: education, training, or support (Brown, 2018). You can read more about the differences between these types of psychoeducation groups in our dedicated article.
How you structure your sections will depend, in part, on your group’s function, so take some time to consider this carefully. Likewise, it’s particularly important to be clear about a group’s function when participation in a group forms just one part of an overall service, such as if it is a supplement to one-on-one coaching. That way, you can be clear about how group coaching fits into a larger set of developmental opportunities for your client.
Now, let’s dive into a few ideas for sessions you could run with your next coaching group. Note that the digital coaching aid Quenza contains materials that can facilitate these session ideas. If you are interested, you can access and test these out via the platform’s 30-day trial for just $1.
Running a health or fitness coaching group?
Be sure to look at the Creating a Positive Body Image pathway on Quenza.
This pathway takes participants through a series of six activities to discover a new appreciation for their body and its functions. Consider sending this activity to your clients before your sessions then inviting participants to read their reflections to the group.
2. Realizing Long-Lasting Change by Setting Process Goals (activity available on Quenza)
Help your group participants plan toward a goal with the Realizing Long-Lasting Change by Setting Process Goals activity on Quenza. This activity will help your participants develop a process-oriented goal and a plan to achieve it.
Once participants have completed the exercise, you can invite them to share their goals to strengthen accountability or report on goal progress each week.
3. Exploring Flow Experiences (activity available on Quenza)
Whether your group coaching focuses on the fitness, professional, or personal spheres of life, most will benefit from exploring flow experiences in one or more of these domains.
With the Exploring Flow Experiences activity on Quenza, your group participants will discover which activities facilitate the flow experience, pointing to sources of energy and motivation when pursuing their goals.
3 Techniques Every Group Coach Applies
While some techniques used for one-to-one coaching will apply equally to group coaching, you must use an additional subset of techniques to help guide the dynamic of a group.
Here are three you should be sure to practice (adapted from Johnson & Frank, 2002):
- Provide positive encouragement for participation.
In any group, your participants can fall anywhere on the spectrum from outspoken to shy and reserved.
When encouraging your quieter participants to share their views, do so with a smile and open body language, and let them know their contribution is valued by thanking them.
- Shine a spotlight on underlying assumptions.
Sometimes groups working toward an outcome will narrow in on a solution or course of action prematurely.
For instance, a restaurant chain looking to improve customer satisfaction might home in too quickly on menu options as the focus of their solution, when factors about the service or decor may be equally important.
Try to catch when this happens and check your participants’ assumptions before they continue.
- Encourage disagreement and help the group use it creatively.
While you may be tempted to smooth over disagreements between group members, they can often highlight something worth discussing.
Be sure to dig into disputes to help participants discover the reasoning underlying each side of the argument.
For even more ideas, check out our dedicated post outlining coaching techniques most often used by confident coaches.
Powerful Questions to Ask Your Group
You can use many powerful coaching questions to prompt your group members when they hit a roadblock or find themselves in disagreement. Here are just a handful you might wish to try in your next group session (Adou, n.d.):
- Is there anything we’re missing here?
- What assumptions might we be making?
- How do you feel you have contributed toward the success of the group?
- What is making us hesitate to take action?
- How would we approach this situation if we weren’t afraid of failing?
There is another critical question to ask during your one-on-one calls with group members: “How is this client progressing?” There are several ways you can tap in to an answer.
One approach is to ask about direct, observable indices of progress. For instance, if you are coaching a healthy-living group, you might use physical indices like weight or other measurements as indicators of progress.
However, the goal of many coaching groups is to give clients the tools to self-regulate goal progress long beyond the pursuit of any singular goal, such as by improving participants’ self-confidence (Ribbers & Waringa, 2015).
Indirect indices, such as goal striving, wellbeing, and hope, may also be appropriate measures of progress, signaling the likelihood that clients will continue to use their acquired skills to achieve future goals (Green, 2004).
3 Best Activities & Exercises for Your Group
Next, let’s look at three of our favorite exercises you might wish to conduct with your coaching group.
1. The Best Possible Self (activity available on Quenza)
The Best Possible Self is a useful tool to kick off a new group. The exercise invites clients to visualize an optimal future in which they have achieved their goals.
By writing about this ideal self, your clients can energize their subconscious mind to begin taking action, and you can invite your group to read out their reflections to help build shared energy in the room.
2. Creating Shapes Exercise (free worksheet)
Get your participants moving with the Creating Shapes Exercise.
In this activity, groups work silently to organize themselves into formations, helping to build group cohesion and strengthen nonverbal communication. This can be a useful lead-in to sessions with professional teams who rely on effective communication to do interdependent work.
3. Group Circle (free worksheet)
Using a ‘discussion piece’ to signify the speaker’s turn, participants take turns speaking freely about the chosen topic for the circle.
3 Valuable Tips and Tools for Group Coaches
If you’re just beginning your foray into group coaching, consider the following three tips and tools to set you off on the right foot (adapted from Johnson & Frank, 2002).
1. Say less; listen more
You may be tempted to slip into a lecture-style mode of coaching when coming from a one-to-one coaching context. However, in a group context, sometimes your group members will largely carry the session themselves.
This is especially true in the corporate context, where your clients will possess the technical knowledge to lead themselves to their goal or destination, and your role is more that of a facilitator, not a guide. Be conscious of this difference when you first take on groups and intervene only to check underlying assumptions or bring a group back on track when required.
2. Establish a shared purpose early
In other cases, you may be working with a group whose members do not yet know each other. In these instances, take the time to explore what your group’s members share in common.
For instance, by encouraging each participant to share what’s brought them to a new fitness group, you might discover that all members have families they care for. You might then highlight that all members are in some way concerned about looking after themselves so they can be around for their families, facilitating bonding and a sense of community around shared goals.
3. Stepping Forward Exercise
For an easy and interactive way to set expectations early in a group session, check out the Stepping Forward Exercise. This exercise invites your clients to form a circle and take turns sharing their hopes or needs regarding the session. Other participants can then indicate whether they share this need by taking a step forward into the circle.
How to Be an Online Coach: Best Platform
If you’re a group coach who’s thinking about taking your services online, rest assured that there are many digital and online tools to support you.
Further, there is no need to dive in head first. You can take a gradual approach and steadily move more of your services online.
One great platform for this step-by-step approach is Quenza, which we designed in collaboration with the positive psychology community to help you bring extra value to your coaching.
Using this tool, you can organize the members of a coaching group into a virtual cohort and quickly and easily prepare and distribute digital activities to these groups at different stages during their coaching.
As noted, you can get instant access to the platform for just $1 to try out its tools for yourself.
3 Ways You Can Use Quenza
Let’s now look at how you might use the tools on Quenza at a few different stages of the coaching cycle.
1. Progress monitoring and feedback
Quenza is loaded with tools you can use to assess your group coaching clients’ progress and gather feedback about your own coaching skills.
Check out the following activities, available through Quenza’s Expansion Library, for some ideas:
2. Take-home exercises
Want to supplement your group sessions with take-home work or lessons? Here are some take-home activities that invite your group participants to adopt positive behaviors and pursue their goals in healthier ways:
- Consulting the Future Self When Making Choices
- A Mindful Goal Focus
- 20 Guidelines for Developing a Growth Mindset
3. Virtual lessons
If you conduct your sessions over video chat, consider using your preferred platform’s screen-sharing feature to deliver an online lesson.
Here are some pre-developed lessons on Quenza you might use or build on:
For more tools for your next group coaching session, check out the following activities available through the Positive Psychology Toolkit©:
- Strategies for Developing Divergent Thinking
Divergent thinking is a method to generate creative ideas by exploring many possibilities before homing in on just one. This exercise will guide your clients through the process of developing multiple solutions to a problem and help them discover the value of collaboration.
- Active-Constructive Responding
This group exercise is a practical illustration of the difference between four key styles of listening and responding. The activity works by assigning pairs of listeners and speakers who take turns using positive or destructive response styles.
- The Positive Team Timeline
This exercise will help your groups or teams recall and reflect on their collective accomplishments to elicit positive feelings, gratitude, and appreciation for each other’s strengths.
- 17 Motivation & Goal Achievement Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, check out this collection of 17 validated motivation and goal achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.
A Take-Home Message
While requiring different tools from one-on-one coaching, the move to group coaching is rarely as daunting as it first appears.
You can gradually undertake this process by simply moving some of your tools and resources to an online format that you distribute to groups or hosting virtual sessions that are supplementary to your main service offerings.
No matter how you decide to move forward, we hope you’ve found value in the tools throughout this post. And if you’ve tried any yourself, be sure to let us know how it went in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.
- Adou, D. M. L. (n.d.). Powerful coaching questions. International Coaching Federation. Retrieved from https://www.lifecoachcertification.com/files/2814/4782/0036/ICF-Powerful-Coaching-Questions.pdf
- Brown, N. W. (2018). Psychoeducational groups: Process and practice (4th ed.). Routledge.
- Green, S. (2004). The efficacy of group-based life coaching: A controlled trial (Doctoral dissertation, University of Woolongong, Australia). Retrieved from http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3132&context=theses
- Johnson, D., & Frank P. (2002). Joining together: Group theory and group skills (8th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.
- Nawalkha, A. (2019). How to create your first group coaching program [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/sUfIKtm_S3w
- Ribbers, A., & Waringa, A. (2015). E-coaching: Theory and practice for a new online approach to coaching. Routledge.
- Sheldon, S. (n.d.). How to create your online group coaching program. Contentsparks. Retrieved from https://contentsparks.com/55507/create-your-online-group-coaching-program/