10. Group Coaching: Benefits and Key Characteristics

In addition to bringing group members relevant new knowledge and a variety of important peer support skills, group coaching improves peoples’ ability to learn.

Group coaching benefits organizations by stimulating constructive change and an entrepreneurial outlook:

  • Encourages the development and improvement of processes, services, and products
  • Increases team functioning and maturity
  • Integrates professional development and performance
  • Develops leadership and management capability
  • Builds and accelerates the organization’s learning capacity: shares intelligence across generations and levels of employees
  • Breaks down the silo mentality among departments
  • Fosters a culture of ongoing learning
  • Encourages peer consultation and collaboration
  • Optimizes goal accomplishment at the personal, group, and organization levels
  • Positively impacts the bottom-line

Group coaching benefits group members by improving their capacity to:

  • Promote systems and strategic thinking
  • Build proficiency in reflection, reframing, questioning, problem-solving planning, and time management
  • Increase dexterity in presentation, facilitation, and communication
  • Balance inquiry and advocacy
  • Enhance group facilitation and process skills
  • Deepen trust and collaboration among peers and across departments as members gain an understanding of the issues, motivations, and intentions of colleagues and stakeholders
  • Improve interpersonal support skills: listening, coaching, questioning, and feedback
  • Develop emotional Intelligence
  • Inspire creative thinking
  • Teach how to navigate the white water of organizational politics
  • Maximize leadership assessments when 360º surveys are completed prior to the start of group coaching
  • Enhance personal flexibility and adaptability; sanctions effective responses to change
  • Decrease dependence on experts
  • Drive individual responsibility for learning and personal development

Six Key Characteristics of Group Coaching

The creation and exploration of knowledge that lead to new behaviors is the primary goal of Action Learning. These characteristics optimize the learning process:

1. A problem (project, opportunity, challenge, issue, or task

Action Learning deals with actual, important work-related challenges that affect team members mentally and emotionally. The more urgent and significant the problem, the more likely the group’s recommendations will lead to action. Complex and unfamiliar challenges best serve the individual and group’s scrutiny during the work of the group.

  • Complex, so that solutions are not immediately apparent; members must explore multiple interpretations and consequences to clarify the root causes and effects.
  • Unfamiliar, to help individuals break out of established mindsets. While the person presenting a problem to a group coaching team knows the problem and context, too much familiarity with its difficulties may decrease innovative thinking and the need to challenge assumptions. Finally, the goal (i.e. the solution to the problem) must be within the capability of the team to understand and handle.

Those best able to help in developing the self are those comrades in adversity who also struggle to understand themselves. Reg Revans

2. An Action Learning group, team, or “set”

Groups are cohorts of individuals that come together to help each other deconstruct, discuss, and resolve workplace concerns. Ideally, they are composed of four to six people who meet for seven or more times over the course of a year. The team takes responsibility for solving their problems by generating learning opportunities, building knowledge, and developing individual, team, and organizational skills. When these partners in learning have diverse backgrounds, they benefit from a variety of perspectives and experiences. To increase diversity, the team sponsor selects members from various functions or departments, includes individuals from other organizations or professions, and/or involves suppliers, customers, and community members. The overall goal is to learn from and with each other in order to take effective action.

3. An emphasis on perceptive questioning and reflective listening

Group coaching tackles problems through an iterative process: 1. Asking questions of the challenge presenter to clarify and specify the problem, 2. Through high gain questions, guiding the presenter to reflect and identify possible solutions, and 3. Taking action. By focusing on questioning and reflecting (rather than on stating facts and opinions or giving advice), participants can stand back and sort out the meaning and implications of their experience. Fresh questions reshape underlying assumptions, create new mental models, stimulate discussion, increase interpersonal connections, support systems thinking, and enhance the quality of learning with regard to both the problem and the problem owner.

The mark of a person is in the questions they pose, not just the statements they make. Reg Revans

4. Taking action

The action of Action Learning begins with reframing the problem and determining the goal, followed by choosing effective strategies and finally, taking action. (The magnitude of the action taken increases the degree of learning.) Group coaching requires that members have the power to take action themselves, or have confidence that their recommendations will be implemented.

If the group is tasked only with making recommendations, it loses energy, creativity and commitment. Meaningful, practical learning occurs when people take action and then reflect on their experience. In fact, action enhances learning because it provides a strong foundation for reflection.

5. A commitment to learning

When employees take accountability by solving their own tactical problems, the company benefits. As the group becomes more able, the quality of its decision-making and action-taking also improves. The greater, longer-term, benefit, however, is the strategic application of the learning acquired by group members on a systems-wide basis throughout the organization.

6. A facilitator/coach

The facilitator helps team members reflect on what they are learning and how they are solving problems. Through skillful questioning, the facilitator encourages group members to consider:

  • Norms for optimizing group interaction
  • How they communicate (listen, ask questions, reframe the problem, and offer feedback)
  • How they approach problem-solving
  • The assumptions that shape their beliefs and actions
  • What they are achieving, what they find difficult, what seems easy
  • What processes they are using, and the implications of these processes
  • The types of questions that work best to clarify and inspire; the insights, themes, and learning (personal and organizational) revealed during the dialogue
  • How to prepare for important events and meetings (mental rehearsal)

The facilitator holds the role for the duration of the group coaching commitment. Over time, the group members adapt the facilitation skills and responsibilities so that in the end, they own the process fully.

As group members become proficient in dealing with challenges, the facilitator encourages them to observe and regulate their own process.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ~Alvin Toffler

Coming up—Group Coaching: It’s not your Traditional Training Experience

Group coaching differs significantly from traditional instructional methods. The next blog highlights these distinctions, and suggests when not to use this form of Action Learning.

In the words of an experienced practitioner, Work-based learning…differs from conventional education in that it involves conscious reflection on actual experience …one constantly thinks about one’s problem solving process. It is not enough just to ask, “What did we learn?” but also to ask, “What does it mean or how does it square with what we already know?” Hence, learning can be more than just the acquisition of technical skills (but) also constitutes the reframing necessary to create new knowledge. -Joseph Raelin, author and professor

 

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