“People need people – for initial and continued survival, for socialization, for the pursuit of satisfaction. No one – not the dying, not the outcast, not the mighty – transcends the need for human contact.” The acclaimed and insightful psychiatrist Irvin Yalom was referring to group psychotherapy. Regardless, the same principles apply to group coaching activities. We need each other to create individual success.
Renowned coach and author of Group Coaching: A Comprehensive Blueprint defines group coaching as “a facilitated group process that is led by a professional coach and is formed with the intention of maximizing the combined energy, experience, and wisdom of individuals who choose to join in order to achieve organizational objectives and/or individual goals.”
This differs from team coaching because, while there are opportunities for collaboration in both, people who join group coaching are not connected to a common team goal. In fact, those individuals join a group coaching program to solve their individual challenges rather than a team one.
Nevertheless, the overall aim of group coaching activities is similar to any one on one coaching. Essentially, a coach works with the group to discover what goals each person brings. They then facilitate peer discovery to meet those goals. With the appropriate group coaching model, coaches go on to build a sense of belonging and connection within the group.
Whether in-person or through online group coaching, the power of being in a group lies in the support each person receives from others. By feeling heard and understood, each of the group members is motivated to change the required behaviors to meet their goals.
As this Forbes article on how group coaching impacts leaders explain, through group coaching activities, participants feel that “they’re not alone”. Not only do leaders feel connected to others but they also realize that their experiences are normal. In short, they’re not doing such a bad job and their next steps gradually feel more attainable.
Those next steps will be different for each individual but the coach will frame the group discussion around a common theme. For example, work-life balance or leadership development.
While there are common themes for both group and team coaching, there are key differences:
- Team versus individual goals. Team coaches focus on a common goal to improve the overall efficiency and performance of a team to support business objectives. In contrast, while group coaching might also support business objectives, each participant will have their own individual goals.
- Individuals as opposed to people already connected. In a group setting, most people usually come together without knowing each other. On the other hand, team coaching groups not only know each other but also have a common mission. Often this revolves around improving their efficiency as a team perhaps through communication with a language coach as an example.
- Enhancing collaborative skills rather than individual performance. A group coaching session might incorporate something about collaboration. Generally, though, it’s about what the individual can learn from the group to grow their development. On the flip side, teams might need individual support, but the overall goal is to grow as a team.
Experiencing best practice group coaching
To know what to expect in a group coaching context, it’s worth referring to a 2018 study on the Experience of Group Coaching. It specifically focuses on entrepreneurs but can easily be applied to all leaders.
In short, group coaching traits include, “cohesiveness, commonality, social support, exchange and accountability”. The paper further summarizes that the most effective group coaches ask powerful questions alongside the frameworks they use while ensuring accountability from everyone. With this foundation for group coaching activities, the participants can co-learn and co-create solutions in each group discussion. They do this by leveraging the multiple viewpoints they’re now exposed to.
The real change comes from participants discovering new ways of seeing their challenges. They do this by reflecting on others’ stories and adapting new concepts and coaching tools for different ways of doing things. The process of learning and change continues to unfold over several sessions as the connectedness and social support deepen.
All of this group coaching work takes a skilled leadership coach who can hold the space both for the individuals and the group. They first set expectations and then ensure that each session is grounded in a common theme agreed upon by everyone.
Of course, in some cases, the coach might have gathered multiple themes from their one on ones as part of the pre-work to the group coaching activities. Regardless, each group session starts with a brainstorming and final agreement on which theme will be the focus for that day. Then, the best coaching practice is to guide the discussion so that the wisdom of the group leads to individual a-ha moments.
Examples of group coaching activities:
- Brainstorming. This is a major tool used in virtually all group sessions because it’s a powerful way to explore different angles on major themes. It also allows for shared knowledge and co-reflection. A particularly interesting technique to get things going is the Round-Robin technique. That’s because it’s anonymous and so avoids the traps of groupthink. Once everyone has given their input at least once anonymously, a coach can then open up the floor to an open discussion.
- Vision boards. Most people rarely get the chance to get creative with their hands. So, drawing images or making collages opens up a whole new way of thinking. Those boards can either represent their values, identities or their lives. Essentially, a successful group coaching exercise is one that encourages new ways of thinking. And there’s no better way to do that than to tap into the creative.
- Metaphors. Images and stories help people make sense of their experiences while giving them the opportunity to reflect on different approaches. They’re particularly useful in group settings because they provide a common language. So, for example, a coach might leverage some metaphors from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which is recognized as applicable in many settings, including coaching. They might then talk about crossing a swamp to reach specific leadership goals. The image is a way to help the participants investigate what’s blocking them.
- Life assessment. A well-known tool for all coaches is the wheel of life. This exercise essentially asks people to review how they rate the major areas of their lives. Generally, it’s a great way to start a program and can be easily applied to a group setting. For example, a coach might use this free wheel of life template with its various adaptions and alter the themes to suit the group’s needs.
Group coaching activities to propel your leaders forward
There are many ways for people to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, group coaching adds another level in terms of the social and emotional support it gives people. Furthermore, the best group sessions leverage the collective wisdom of the group to enable individual growth and insight.
When it comes to group coaching activities, you can expect anything from arts and crafts to visualizations and brainstorming. The more creative coaches will be adept at designing group exercises that get people out of their heads. Then can then get into co-exploring and co-creating with others. That’s how leaders can safely explore novel opportunities and new insights. Group coaching can truly inspire them to alternative ways of being.