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Best Practices for Facilitating Group Coaching Sessions

December 09, 2022 by Amanda Reill

A group coaching setting brings an entirely different dynamic to the coaching process. It means dealing with different perspectives and emotions, all at once, and juggling them with the care you would for just one client. You are not only focusing on entering one person’s world with deep listening, you now seek to be present for a number of people and help them all reach their collective (and sometimes individual) goals.

Best Practices for Facilitating Group Coaching Sessions

Know your audience

It is important to know what you’re getting into before your sessions begin. For instance, if you have been hired to coach a corporate group and some of the participants aren’t enthusiastic about participating, this will influence the dynamic of the group. If you’re coaching a group that you know has had difficulty working together, you’ll be likely to approach that group differently than a group of strangers. These are incredibly important things to consider, because not having a plan can mean the difference between a successful group coaching, and one that is not successful.

If you’re new to coaching groups, take some time to examine any fears or hesitations you might have about the process. Begin to imagine how you will approach any negativity that comes up in the group. Visualize yourself maintaining your confidence in who you are as a coach as well as your confidence in the coaching process.

When coaching groups who have never met one another before, consider what it will take for you to create a safe environment. Doing early inventory on each person’s Enneagram, Core Motivation or other personality profile may give everyone some insight into where each person is coming from. You can begin to be curious about who might be more reticent to speak up, and encourage the group to do the same.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network and get insights and tips from others who have done group coaching. CTEDU’s alumni network is an incredible resource filled with coaches in many niches who range from single person coaching, to groups. You may find that something that works for them doesn’t make sense for you, or maybe a tip they have would work great if you tweaked it for your group. Whichever the case, it’s a good stepping stone when new to group coaching.

Know your purpose

Having a clearly designed mission for the group and revisiting it frequently will aid in keeping conversations from derailing and ensuring you’re providing value for your clients. If there is an existing problem, such as if you have been brought in to coach a dysfunctioning corporate team or are coaching a struggling relationship, it might be good for each group member to identify the problem they believe the group or relationship is facing.

If group members do not appear to be on the same page about the heart of the issue, encourage them to hold space for the unknown for the time being. Try to help them find something that they can agree on and work toward that end, recognizing that the details will likely come out in the wash.

Know your execution

What group coaching techniques will work best considering who you have around the table and what they’re trying to accomplish? What will the format look like? Are you trying to unravel a major issue together, or does it make more sense to have pre-determined topical modules before you begin?

For any group coaching session, some short reminders on active listening will help you set the tone and prepare participants’ expectations. You can train your group to listen for when someone is finished with a thought, rather than just finished with a sentence.

It may be good to establish some ground rules together as a group. Some of these could be:

  1. Permission to bottom-line. Participants give the coach permission to ask them to hone in what they’re saying to a “bottom-line” statement. This could be a question like, “Can you restate your thoughts in one sentence so we make sure we’re all getting to the heart of the issue here?”
  2. Code words. The “ouch and oops” method can be used to give participants an easier way to communicate when they feel someone has said something unintentionally harmful. Another participant can say “ouch” when they perceive this, making room for the speaker to say “oops” and apologize, re-word, or further clarify what was being said. This tool opens a door for conversations that participants may otherwise not bring up, because it can feel risky or confrontational to do so in a group setting.
  3. Timekeeping. Having a designated person to keep the time and help the group re-direct can be useful. There may be a member of the group who confesses a tendency to over-talk, and they may be a good candidate for this role. This gives them something to focus on other than their own response to the group, and frees the coach up to be fully present developing a line of questioning.

Know your role

In group coaching, you’re taking on additional moderator/facilitator roles which will flex even more coaching skills. You may want to create some kind of reminder to periodically ask yourself whether you’ve jumped out of the coach posture. This could be a note at the top of the page you’re writing on, a rubber band you wear around your wrist, or any other reminder that you think will ground you. A group dynamic brings in a lot more unknowns than one-on-one coaching.

A strong group coach will be ready to pivot and identify when the true “aha” moment of the session is coming out, whether or not it’s consistent with what was planned.

Be ready to learn

With any new coaching endeavor, you’ll have a lot to learn! You may feel less nervous about the changing dynamic if you start with the positive stress of anticipation. Do as much homework as you can about your group members and whatever issues they may be dealing with, but also be ready to set those things aside when new insights arise during the session. Whether or not group coaching becomes a part of your regular coaching services, there is a lot that can be learned from the additional challenges presented in this environment.

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