How to Master the Art of Group Coaching

 Sai Blackbyrn/ 29th September 2021

I’ve spent a lot of time around different coaches, everything from Fitness and Life Coaches to Holistic Health Coaches. And the one common issue they all seem to face when trying to grow their business is this – scalability.

When you start off as a coach, every new client you get is an achievement, a milestone. You have a lot of time and energy to put into every client individually through one-on-one sessions, while also finding time for yourself.

But as there will come a time when you will hit a wall. Afterall, there are only so many hours in a day, and only one of you. There are only so many clients you can see by yourself when you’re coaching them on a one-on-one basis.

This not just limits your business growth, but also puts a cap on how much you earn through coaching. And as someone who runs a business, that’s a big negative.

So what can you do?

There are three possible paths you can take to break through this metaphorical wall.

One, you start charging your clients more. Now I don’t need to tell you how risky this move is. There is a chance you may lose your existing clients, and while that might be offset by the new clients you bring on who pay more, it will be a challenge.

The second thing you can do is hire more hands. This means you start moving away from the day-to-day work and start focusing on the more managerial aspects of your coach business. However, not everyone is ready to hand the reins over to someone else.

The third and most feasible solution is to start Group Coaching.

An incredibly lucrative field, you can get paid a lot more to coach groups in the same time frame as one-on-one coaching. And as more and more companies look to maximize the value of teams within their offices, the avenues in corporate or executive coaching are never ending.

Group Coaching can be a lucrative way to expand your business without changing the overall way it is already functioning. However, what may work when you’re coaching one-on-one may not necessarily work when you’re coaching groups.

When you’re training to be a coach, a lot of what you’re taught revolves around coaching clients on an individual basis. This means before you shift gears and make a beeline towards group coaching, it is a good idea to take stock of your coaching style and see if it meets the criteria for running successful group sessions.

But where do you start?

I believe I can be of help. As you keep reading, I’ll try to help you get a better idea of what group coaching entails, how you can grow your business and a few other tips that can help you get started.

Let’s get started?

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What is Group Coaching?

A lot of people might think Group Coaching is just an extension of taking one-on-one sessions. Afterall, what works for one person should work for many, right? Not really.

In a traditional one-on-one set up, direct learning and conversations take center stage and the entire relationship is based on a strong connection between the coach and the client. However, when you’re coaching a group, it is a whole different ball game.

As an individual, each and every one of us comes with our own ideas, competencies and capabilities. When with a group, your role as a coach is to provide a learning space where this collective knowledge can be helpful to the group at large.

This means, a Group Coaching session is only limited by what each person in the room is willing to give and how much they are willing to share.

What is the difference between Group and One-on-One Coaching?

It can be quite a transition, going to coaching individuals to running group sessions. However, if you’re aware of a few basic differences between Group and One-on-One Coaching, you’ll be better prepared to transform your coaching business and grow it exponentially.

1. Group Coaching is scalable

Private coaching sessions, as the very model dictates, need more personalized attention as well as time. This means, it not just takes a lot out of you as the number of clients grow, but also limits how much you can grow your business.

Being scalable, that’s not the case with Group Coaching.

By coaching multiple people in groups, you can make a difference in the lives of many more people while using less of your time. This also means you can earn much more by putting in the same investment in terms of time and effort, and maybe even free up some “me time” for yourself.

2. Group Coaching is practical

When you’re coaching an individual, the connection between the coach and client involves a much bigger emotional quotient. This means your sessions are not limited to the field you coach, but also involves taking stock of emotional blocks and thought patterns.

However, due to the one-to-many model of Group Coaching, it tends to be more practical and tactical in nature. Don’t get me wrong, group sessions do touch upon the mindset of the participants, but it is much more fleeting.

This is one of the areas where one-on-one sessions have an advantage. Because of the close relationships between the coach and client, you will be able to see flaws in your client’s thought process and help them correct it. But it is much harder to do so when coaching groups.

3. Group Coaching is more systemized

Like is mentioned earlier, Group Coaching sessions tend to be more practical in nature. This means it is easy to break each goal down into smaller steps much easier, while each participant also giving you a standard to check the progress of everyone else in the group.

So what may take 6 months to achieve through private coaching sessions can be achieved much quicker by creating a systematic Group Coaching plan.

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What are the different approaches to Group Coaching?

Just like private coaching, an approach that works for one group may not necessarily work for the other. Depending on the objective, the participants and even your own coaching style, you will have to change the way you approach Group Coaching sessions to get the most out of every group.

While every coach might have a different approach to different scenarios, I thought I might list down a few common approaches coaches take while conducting Group Coaching sessions. This will give you a better idea of what’s expected of you as a Group Coach, while also giving you thought starters on how you can mold your own coaching approach.

1. The Buddy System

The most crucial element of coaching in which Group Coaching sessions lag behind is the connection between coach and client. However, by assigning two or several partners in a coaching group, you can inculcate trust, intimacy, and connection within the group.

This helps enrich conversations while also helping individuals stay motivated towards meeting their goals.

2. Focussed Coaching

While Group Coaching works for many people, you will find certain individuals in every group who might not enjoy the full benefit of your sessions. This may be because of various reasons, but they lead to the same outcome – an unhappy client.

In such cases, it is important to add quick 5-10 minute one-on-one coaching sessions between group sessions where individual group members can ask questions related to a topic of their choice or one that is connected to what the group is discussing.

Quite effective in smaller groups, you can use this approach while coaching larger groups as well. Offer focussed coaching sessions when you start with a new group, and any client who wishes to take you up on the offer should be scheduled private sessions at a later time.

3. Peer Coaching

Peer coaching and group discussions are the main driving force of any Group Coaching session. The more the participants talk to each other, share and question, the more they will get out of their coaching.

You can include peer coaching as one of the elements to your approach to coaching, or make it the primary way you handle groups. Whatever you choose, this is one aspect you should not ignore no matter what type of Group Coaching you provide.

4. Private Reflection

In situations where participants are more introverted or unable to effectively express their thoughts verbally, this private reflection is an effective approach to help them structure their thoughts and reach and point of understanding.

Ideal for groups that involve a lot of diverse participants, participants are asked to write down their thoughts in a journal, and then share it with the larger group in order to give them a voice and let their thoughts be heard.

You can choose to use one, or a combination of these approaches, while tackling your own Group Coaching sessions. It is important to take stock of what you’re hoping to achieve, and then align the right approach to it to ensure you sessions are successful and create a positive impact on your clients.

To help you narrow down which approach you need to take, here are some questions you can might want to consider:

  • What is the primary purpose of the group?
  • What type of people are in the group?
  • How will you evaluate their progress?
  • How many meetings will there be?
  • What time period with the Group Coaching session cover?
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4 skills every Group Coach needs

In a world where everyone is always second-guessing what they should say or do, Group Coaching provides an important space for conversation, dialogue and expression that is away from away from any type of judgement.

Now I understand that every coach is different and so is their style. But I believe there are a few core skills you need, irrespective of your own coaching ideals, that can help establish the foundation for a successful coaching business.

What are these core skills?

I’m glad you asked.

So let’s get right to it.

1. Creating a shared foundation

When you start coaching groups, it is quite possible that you will find people with drastically different personalities and thought processes in one group. Here, it is important to establish a shared agenda and shared expectations that the participants will achieve as a group. This is what will act as a common ground for bringing together such a diverse set of people.

Right from the beginning, it is essential that a few core areas and expectations are identified and ensure everyone involved in the group session is on the same page.

This includes understanding aligning everyone’s expectations from the group session, identifying the common themes to be explored, creating shared group agreements and figuring out how everyone will work together.

2. Setting Goals

The foundation of any Group Coaching session rests on its goals. There will be a shared set of goals to be achieved as a group, while each person will also have their individual goals.

As a Group Coach, you should be able to help clients create these goals, while also breaking them down into achievable milestones to keep them motivated and driven towards their target. Individual or collective, goals are what give your coaching sessions direction and you should be able identify and set these goals as clearly as possible.

3. Communicating Concisely

Communication is the hardest when handling a group of diverse people. Some may find themselves in their element, talking to a group of people, while others may feel that they fade into the background in such situations.

As a coach, it is important that you have the skills to identify which forms of communication your participants are most comfortable with, and encourage them to find ways to express themselves through these avenues.

This could be in the form of writing, verbal or even visual. So if you have a group and they need to respond to a question you posed, they could do it as as a flow chart, a drawing or even a collage.

No matter what they choose, it is your job to help them streamline the way the communicate with you, and with the rest of the group, so they can get to the core of what they want to share effectively.

4. Understanding the group process

When you move from private to Group Coaching, the most important thing that you need to be able to understand are the dynamics of the group you are coaching. Keeping track of what’s happening, what’s working and what’s not, deepening understanding within the group – all this

is a part of the group dynamic and needs constant attention.

3 tips for your first Group Coaching session

So you’re taking your first Group Coaching session. I understand how this can be an overwhelming feeling. As a coach, you’ve only had to work with one client at a time so far. And managing a group is quite different.

That’s why I would like to give you a step up towards effective Group Coaching with 3 tips that I think you can implement right away.

1. Create a safe space

The most important thing in any Group Coaching session is trust. Being around complete strangers and opening up about your deepest emotions is almost impossible unless you feel that you’re in a safe, supportive space.

And when the members of your group don’t feel this, they will be more cautious and less open with you, and with the group. Needless to say, this will drastically affect the entire group experience. So the first thing you need to inspire in your group is trust.

When I say trust, I don’t just mean between you and your client. I also mean trust between all members of the group. An easy way to this along is to hold ‘Introduction’ sessions when you start with a new group.

Here, group members can introduce themselves, talk a little bit about their goals, their lives. By sharing a bit of themselves with the others, each member of the group will feel a little bit closer to everyone else. This will help develop a positive dynamic within the group and you will be able to run more effective sessions.

2. Set the rules

The biggest difference between group and private coaching sessions is the fact that, because of the sheer number of people involved in the coaching process, it is very easy for a group session to devolve into chaos and confusion.

And it’s easy to see why. Different people, different points of view, different goals. Everyone wants to be heard as well.

So what can you do to make sure your very first Group Coaching session is also not your last? Simple. Just set rules.

It really is that easy.

Everyone who will come to one of your Group Coaching sessions is primarily driven by the need to improve on themselves or achieve a particular goal. By putting down some rules, you establish the guidelines within which they will reach where they want. And what is made clear is that any deviation from the set rules is going to impact the entire process.

So to create an effective, result-driven group coaching environment, set some rules right from the beginning.

How long will each session last? When do the group members talk about their challenges? What order does everyone get to speak in? Do you give them a chance to speak to you in private after a session?

3. Dig into the dynamics

What do I mean when I say “dynamics”? In this context, it means a fundamental way group members interact, communicate and connect with you, as well as each other.

And when you start, it is important to focus and understand the dynamics at play within the group you are coaching.

You might notice that there are some people who don’t pitch in as much as the others. They might have clear opinions and ideas, but they just don’t seem to add anything unless called upon.

There might be others who are completely comfortable in the spotlight. They will the ones who will ask a lot of questions, or be the first ones to answer one of yours.

What I’m trying to say is, you will find a diverse set of people in almost every Group Coaching session. By understanding the group dynamics at play, you will be able to stay focussed on what’s good for each member, and for the group as a whole.

This will allow you to coach each member of your group to the highest level and get them closer to their goals.

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