Organizing an Effective Group Coaching Session: 20 Techniques

Group coachingMany coaches who’ve been in the business of one-on-one coaching for a while quickly find themselves eager to try their hand at group coaching, and for good reason.

As a coach, group coaching allows you to expand your reach and help more people in less time.

For your clients, it provides an opportunity to connect with others pursuing similar goals and learn from the experiences of like-minded people.

So, if you’ve been thinking about making the move to group coaching, why wait?

In this blog post, we’ll explore a range of impactful techniques developed by expert coaches around the world, which you can use to craft insightful and engaging group sessions for your clients today.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

How to Coach in Groups: 3 Tips

Whether you’re working with individuals or in groups, some coaching skills will stay the same. For instance, the ability to stay focused on a client’s goals, maintain flexibility, and practice active listening are critical skills that remain central in any coaching context (Britton, 2009).

Nonetheless, group coaching is its own beast, with its own set of critical skills and competencies that a coach must master. Here are three that are arguably among the most important:

  1. Ensuring confidentiality
    Communicating expectations about confidentiality, while important in a one-on-one coaching relationship, is especially critical for all group coaching work. In short, group members should be made aware that “What’s said within the group, stays within the group” (Britton, 2009, p. 73).

  2. Crafting opportunities for collaboration
    Effective group coaches are skilled at tapping into the group’s wisdom to drive discussion rather than driving the conversation themselves. Therefore, be intentional about structuring group activities to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction, such as by breaking out into small groups of two to five (Britton, 2009).

  3. Combating groupthink with clever questions
    Any form of group discussion, particularly in the context of executive and professional coaching, is vulnerable to a phenomenon known as groupthink. Groupthink refers to “the tendency for cohesive groups to become so concerned about group solidarity that they fail to critically and realistically evaluate their decisions and antecedent assumptions” (Park, 1990, p. 229).

 

Top 3 Techniques Used by Group Coaches

Group Coaching TechniquesBesides requiring unique skills and competencies, group coaching also involves different coaching techniques than one-to-one coaching.

For instance, unlike in one-on-one coaching, there is a need to integrate the different perspectives and experiences of group members to make each group member feel listened to and understood.

Here are just three techniques that many group coaches note as being particularly helpful:

  • Express sincere belief in those you are coaching

As a group coach, you must check your cynicism and frustration at the door before commencing any group session. Instead, communicate an authentic belief in your group and its capabilities.

For instance, you might express this belief by positioning yourself as an ally in helping the group uncover the knowledge or answers that you know they already possess, rather than as the group’s ‘guide’ (Britton, 2013).

  • Brainstorming

The foundational technique of brainstorming has broad applicability in a group coaching context. To brainstorm, simply provide your group members with a question or prompt, invite them to offer responses, and write them down.

Brainstorming, in this context, can be helpful for everything from establishing a coaching focus and anticipating opportunities or challenges to determining a plan of action (Britton, 2013).

  • The Delphi technique

Commonly used in professional contexts and as an alternative to brainstorming, the Delphi technique helps groups systematically arrive at a consensus.

In short, the process begins with a facilitator defining a particular problem, and then over the course of multiple rounds, group members provide their views on the issue anonymously. The group then undergoes a process of systematically identifying commonalities across these viewpoints (Hsu & Sandford, 2007).

 

Ideas and Topics for Your Sessions

The themes of group coaching can often be similar to those in one-on-one coaching. However, some topics particularly lend themselves to a group context.

For instance, group coaching has been shown to be particularly effective in an organizational context when there are opportunities to involve participants at different levels of the organization. This is because involving a diversity of organizational members generates commitment to decisions, as group members feel they have been involved in arriving at those decisions (Locke & Schweiger, 1979).

In this context, the topics for a participative group coaching session might include an idea-generation session surrounding a new product or service, or a session forming part of an appreciative inquiry approach, centered on making better use of a firm’s existing strengths.

Looking beyond an organizational context, coaches working in broader fields, such as wellness or life coaching, might find the following topics particularly well suited to a group coaching model (adapted from Inspire Shift, n.d.):

  • Impactful communication
  • Networking
  • Relationship building
  • Branding/marketing
  • Conversational skills
  • Health and lifestyle change
  • Mindfulness
  • Parenting

You’ll notice that several of these topics center around interpersonal themes or involve the way a person engages with or presents themselves to others. This is because conducting sessions on interpersonal topics in a group enables members to receive feedback about how they are perceived by their fellow group members and apply their learnings in a practical setting.

 

10 Questions to Ask Your Clients

Questions to askEffective group coaches will leverage powerful questions to overcome blocks and help get group members to consider all aspects of a session’s theme.

Here are some examples that can help prompt your group members’ thinking, clarify group members’ objectives, and shed light on aspects of the learning process itself (Britton, 2009):

  • What is motivating each of us to be here today?
  • Which teaching/learning styles do each of you prefer?
  • What aspects of today’s topic have we not spoken about yet (i.e., what might we have failed to consider)?
  • What has been a key insight you’ve taken away from today’s session?
  • What’s one thing you’ll do differently following this session?

One trick put forward by Jennifer Britton (2013) in her book From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching is to pose questions that intentionally cater to the diverse sensory styles of the group.

The purpose of phrasing your questions in this way is that you can tap into the preferred sensory styles of group members. These styles may be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (Gilakjani, 2012).

While perhaps seeming trivial at face value, the right phrasing may elicit a response from a group member who was previously reserved.

Here are some examples (adapted from Britton, 2013):

  • What feeling do you get as you read this passage?
  • How do you imagine that situation looking?
  • How does that decision sound to you?
  • What would an ideal situation look like?
  • How do you feel about what [peer] just said?

 

2 Best Group Coaching Activities and Exercises

Quenza Wheel of Life

Exercises and activities are a fundamental component of group coaching and workshops.

They are an opportunity for your clients to deepen their learning, reflect, and help connect theoretical principles to their experience of the real world, making them more memorable (Britton, 2009).

To that end, here are two exercises you can use in your own group coaching sessions, both of which are adapted from tools commonly used in one-on-one coaching.

Before we dive in, note that you can access ready-made digital versions of these tools via the online coaching platform Quenza. If you’re interested, be sure to check it out for yourself by taking advantage of the site’s 30-day trial for just $1.

 

The Wheel of Life (Adapted)

The Wheel of Life is a staple in many coaches’ toolkits. This simple tool allows clients to assess their satisfaction with the different domains of their life, including their health, family, and financial situation.

To adapt the Wheel of Life for use in a group setting, try swapping out the labels of each wedge with those that apply to the focus of your group. For instance, if you’re running group coaching sessions with managers, you could replace these labels with different leadership competencies, such as emotional intelligence and strategic planning.

Alternatively, if you are running sessions on the theme of career coaching, you could include competencies related to professional development, such as resume writing and interviewing (Britton, 2009).

Note that in a group setting, it’s typically best to invite clients to complete the wheel as pre-work leading up to the group session. You might then ask everyone to repeat the exercise as the coaching sessions progress, allowing clients to assess their growth and improvement over time.

For a customizable tool for the job, consider adapting the pre-prepared Wheel of Life activity, available via Quenza’s Expansion Library.

 

Metaphors

Metaphors are powerful tools for clarifying abstract ideas to clients via likeness or analogy. Likewise, they are versatile and can be woven throughout almost all the work you do.

To leverage metaphors, try inviting clients to draw, build, or design a representation of their leadership, wellness, or startup journey (whatever the coaching focus may be). Doing this can be particularly powerful in the context of organizational group coaching, where participants must arrive at a shared mental model, such as a brand image or operational procedures (McCusker, 2020).

Alternatively, you might wish to use metaphors to drive the instructional, lecture-based components of your group coaching sessions. For some inspiration, look at the activities listed under the ‘Metaphor’ tag of Quenza’s Expansion Library. Particularly appropriate for a group coaching context are the Scoreboard Metaphor and the Chessboard Metaphor.

 

Organizing Your Session: 2 Useful Templates

It is essential to have a concrete plan in advance of your coaching sessions. This is especially true when conducting sessions with groups, as having a plan decreases the risk that your group will stray from its goals or go off on tangents.

Here are two useful session templates you can use across a range of group coaching contexts to help your clients achieve their goals. Both are particularly useful for tapping into the power of metaphor.

 

A Value Tattoo

The Value Tattoo Activity will give your group members the chance to delve into their values and creatively explore what provides meaning in their lives.

  • Session objective
    To help clients identify their values via the symbol of a tattoo.

  • Materials
    The Value Tattoo Activity on the client’s Quenza account.

  • Verbal introduction
    Introduce the session by defining values as the “principles and fundamental convictions which act as general guides to behavior… the standards by which particular actions are judged to be good or desirable” (Halstead & Taylor, 2000, p. 169). Explain that in this session, you will invite everybody to explore their values by designing a tattoo for themselves.

  • Mini-lecture
    Explore the benefits of living congruently with our values by being intentional about our behaviors and short-/long-term goal setting. Highlight that while acting in congruence with our values may not always be easy or comfortable (e.g., we may risk disappointing others), behaving in ways that are incongruent with our values will often come back to bite us, making us feel uncomfortable in the long term.

Following this explanation, you might present examples of hypothetical scenarios in which a character must choose between acting in ways that are congruent versus incongruent with held values.

  • Activity
    Allow participants 20 minutes to complete the Value Tattoo Activity on their smartphone. Alternatively, you might bring art materials along to your session and invite participants to design their tattoos on paper. Invite group members to share their tattoos and the values they represent with the group.

 

The Acceptance or Avoidance Route Metaphor

The Acceptance or Avoidance Route Metaphor allows your group clients to explore how fear might be unnecessarily preventing them from living their ideal life.

  • Session objective
    To help clients understand that fear needn’t block goal achievement and that they can choose to take action despite fear.

  • Materials
    The Acceptance or Avoidance Route Metaphor activity on the client’s Quenza account.

  • Verbal introduction
    Introduce the session by presenting participants with an image featuring a route leading to a mountain in the distance. On the path to the mountain is a sign indicating danger and a traveler who has stopped at the sign.

    Explain that the route leading to the mountain represents a valued direction for the traveler—the life they really want. However, the sign represents the fear of this person, which risks preventing them from continuing in this valued direction.

  • Mini-lecture
    Introduce the idea that fear need not stop us from pursuing our goals. Proceed with a discussion of the Growth Zone and how pursuing healthy challenges despite fear can have many benefits. For instance, we may successfully reach our objective and achieve our goals, strengthening self-efficacy. And even if we fail, it’s a chance to practice bouncing back, strengthening our resilience.

  • Activity
    Allow participants 10 minutes to complete the Acceptance or Avoidance Route activity on their smartphone, considering one ‘route’ that they have previously or are currently afraid to travel. Invite group members to share their reflections about the exercise.

 

Online Group Coaching: Best Software & Platform

Quenza devices 2

Many coaches running group sessions are getting creative with their session structure and turning to online resources.

Doing so enables us to remain emotionally connected even when physically apart.

Thankfully, there are many useful online platforms to facilitate this kind of group work remotely. For an in-depth breakdown of different online coaching tools, be sure to check out our dedicated post.

Throughout this post, we’ve looked at several templates available through the platform Quenza, which is gaining increasing popularity among coaches and other helping professionals around the world.

Quenza is a comprehensive platform that allows coaches to customize and design digital psychoeducation activities, reflections, and more.

Coaches using the platform can enjoy the flexibility of creating their own materials from scratch or saving time by selecting from an ever-growing library of pre-made activities that coaches around the world love.

Coaches can then assign these activities to their clients, who complete them using their Apple or Android device.

Quenza’s pre-loaded activities, metaphors, and lessons include a range of illustrative graphics. Coaches looking to run group sessions online can pair the platform with a group video conferencing tool, share their screen, and give lessons with beautiful accompanying visuals. Then, the coach can walk through the exercises with group members together, making for a memorable and engaging session.

No matter your coaching focus, you’re bound to find something useful for your practice within the platform, so be sure to take advantage of the platform’s $1 trial today.

 

Helpful Tools From PositivePsychology.com

For some more useful tools to boost your group coaching practice, check out these three free worksheets and activities that your group participants can complete in pairs.

  • Blindfold Guiding Exercise
    In this exercise, one person takes the role of ‘walker’ and the other the ‘guide.’ The guide then gently leads the walker around the room using only spoken instructions, helping to build trust while warming up a group’s communication skills.

  • Creating a Care Package Worksheet
    In this exercise, participants take turns to select just 10 items that they would keep if they had to restart their lives. They then systematically explore how their choices may reflect their underlying values.

  • 500 Years Ago Worksheet
    In this exercise, one person attempts to describe a modern-day phenomenon to their partner, who pretends they have no knowledge of the modern world because they are from 500 years in the past. By doing this, participants get a chance to practice their empathic communication and perspective taking by tailoring their language to their listener.

  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

 

A Take-Home Message

For many one-on-one coaches, the move to coaching groups feels like a natural next step.

Indeed, while there are more variables to account for in a group coaching session, such as participants’ unique personalities, goals, and learning styles, the pay-off for both the coach and their clients is almost certainly worth the work.

We hope this post has inspired you with a range of useful questions, techniques, and lesson plans that you can use to craft informative and energizing group sessions. And if you’ve used any of these tips and tricks yourself, be sure to let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 370 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.

  • Britton, J. J. (2009). Effective group coaching: Tried and tested tools and resources for optimum coaching results. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Britton, J. J. (2013). From one to many: Best practices for team and group coaching. Jossey-Bass.
  • Gilakjani, A. P. (2012). Visual, auditory, kinaesthetic learning styles and their impacts on English language teaching. Journal of Studies in Education, 2(1), 104–113.
  • Halstead, J. M., & Taylor, M. J. (2000). Learning and teaching about values: A review of recent research. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(2), 169–202.
  • Hsu, C. C., & Sandford, B. A. (2007). The Delphi technique: Making sense of consensus. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 12(1), 1–8.
  • Inspire Shift. (n.d.). Group coaching & workshops. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://www.inspireshift.com/organizations/group-coaching-workshops/#
  • Locke, E. A., & Schweiger, D. M. (1979). Participation in decision-making: One more look. In B. M. Staw (Ed.), Research in organizational behavior (vol.1) (pp. 265–339). JAI Press.
  • McCusker, S. (2020). Everybody’s monkey is important: LEGO® Serious Play® as a methodology for enabling equality of voice within diverse groups. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 43(2), 146–162.
  • Park, W. W. (1990). A review of research on groupthink. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 3(4), 229–245.

About the Author

Nicole is a behavioral scientist and writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Her research interests lie at the intersection between wellbeing, personal energy, and positive psychology, and her work appears in several top business journals, including the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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