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Coaching to Flourish #084: All About Group Coaching

August 03, 2023 by Coach Training EDU

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In Coaching to Flourish #084, host Raj Anderson is joined by our guest Brittany MacDonald, Master Coach and CTEDU Coach Trainer. They discuss many aspects of group coaching, including how it’s different from one-on-one coaching, how and why to transition into this niche, and ways that our skills as coaches are stretched differently in the group coaching environment.

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[Raj Anderson] We are live! Welcome everyone to the Coaching to Flourish podcast, and I am your host, Raj Anderson, executive life coach and coach Assessor. And I am really excited because I am here today with Brittany McDonald, who is one of our incredible MCC coaches at Coach Training EDU. 

And for anyone that knows her, you know that she has an extensive background also in not just coaching, over 14 years experience in coaching, but also a background in training and consulting. And I was looking at Brittany's bio earlier, because Brittany has a very special place in my heart. I've always looked up to her and really admire her, even on my own journey towards MCC, and she was describing herself as real, honest, and authentic. And I would say that that has been my experience of you, Brittany. So I'm excited to hear from you today, but what would you add to that introduction for our listeners? 

[Brittany MacDonald] My goodness. Well, first of all, Raj, thank you for those incredibly kind words. I feel so honored and privileged to be here with you, and I have looked up to you and your leadership in coaching, so it's just a privilege to get to be here together. I think what I would add to the coaching background and experience I've had, you know, over the years, as I think is true for many of us coaches, there's a lot of development in what our coaching looks like and where do we focus, and who do we work best with, who do we enjoy our clients to be? 

I've been really privileged in the last two years to hone in around coaching authentic sales. And that's looked like a couple of things. It's looked like being able to connect with sales leaders and high performers who are wanting to live more authentic and balanced lives. And then it's also looked like connecting with the authentic and amazing coaches that we all get to know, but who maybe don't feel like they have the confidence to sell themselves or their products. And so in both areas, I love the intersection of what I call coaching and relational sales. And that often looks like supporting coaches who are entrepreneurs, but it also often looks like supporting sales leaders who are just wanting to be and experience more of who they are, in an addition to their work and not be only defined by their work. 

[Raj Anderson] I love that. Thank you for sharing that, Brittany. So I know that you have this experience, you said, working with leaders and entrepreneurs. And as you know, we get a number of different questions in the Coaching to Flourish podcast. And we've had some questions around different types of coaching, or scenarios, or transitioning for example, for new coaches. Or entrepreneurs who've been seasoned coaches that might want to transition, for example, from one-on-one coaching to group coaching. And I know that you have experience working with businesses and groups, you've just talked about sales leaders. So how would you describe what group coaching is? 

[Brittany MacDonald] Oh, that's a great question. So group coaching, I think of as really a coaching conversation that happens with multiple people. And I would differentiate it a bit from team coaching, whereas if you're coaching a team, you are working together to define their group goals and outcomes, their team goals and outcomes. Whereas in a group coaching scenario, you might have many individuals from different backgrounds who are coming with their own individual goals and outcomes that they're looking for. So you're still bringing coaching competencies and coaching principles, just to multiple people at the same time. And I'm curious if that's been your experience as well, Raj. 

[Raj Anderson] Yeah, that's a great explanation, because I think sometimes there can be a bit of confusion, can't there, between what is team coaching and what is group coaching? 

I've had a lot of experience and I run, I've talked about, running women in leadership programs, I'm particularly passionate about. And we do include group coaching in all of those programs. And similar to what you are saying, what the group coaching looks like is a group environment, they're a cohort, they potentially work together for six months or a year. We design an alliance in that space, creating that safe space, everyone feels comfortable. And then, the coaching's happening in the group, but I am coaching individuals. It's like they've got their own little mini coaching session happening, but in the group setting. Is that how you would describe it? 

[Brittany MacDonald] I think that's spot on. And there can be differences in how that looks, where maybe I'll ask one coaching question and everyone in the group will have the opportunity to answer that question. Or perhaps there's an opportunity where one particular person brings a challenge, or a scenario, or a growth area that they want coaching around, and there might be - I don't usually see, personally I don't usually see a full coaching session in the group context with just one person, but maybe there's an opportunity to ask 3, 4, 5 questions of one person, and then move on to the next. 

[Raj Anderson] Yeah, absolutely. What have seen as being the benefits of that approach? 

[Brittany MacDonald] You know, so Raj, I think I mentioned to you beforehand, I've coached some pretty diverse group coaching, had some pretty diverse group coaching experiences. And the common denominator is always that people are learning from each other, right? That there's this opportunity to pick up from what somebody else said, and said, oh, that resonates with my experience and I'll share more. And so there can, while it takes a good bit of time I think, to build that trust and that safety, like you said, when it's done well there is an opportunity to go deeper, than perhaps even you might in an individual session.

And I say that, it's almost, there's a counterpoint to that. Because at the same time, I may not be asking as many questions of one person, or I might not be going as deep. And yet there's this learning from each other, and this group awareness that happens that does take the learning deeper, even if I'm not necessarily as a coach being the one to drive in that deep. The individuals themselves are learning and taking things away from that conversation.

[Raj Anderson] Yeah absolutely, I agree. And often I will see other individuals, even if they, as you said, haven't been asked the same question. Or perhaps there hasn't been opportunity. Because you may have asked two or three questions of one person, or ended up going a bit deeper, where you see people writing the question down for themselves to journal on perhaps later.

[Brittany MacDonald] Absolutely. I've noticed that as well. And then I've also seen where people just connect outside of the group, right? So they come in this group environment, there's a safety that's created, but maybe they find another person that they really resonate with. Or they say, I loved it when you shared this and I'd like to hear more about that experience. So then, even though they may not be bringing coaching competencies in the way we think about it, they're almost bringing that support to each other to go deeper on those topics as well. 

[Raj Anderson] Yeah. So what would you say are some of the key differences then between one-on-one and group coaching?

[Brittany MacDonald] The space you hold as a coach is very different. So when I'm here one-on-one with you, there can be an acknowledgement of the space. There can be an awareness that I can hold space and wait and listen for you, and you can say whatever you want. Or if you're the coach, you're holding the space for me. 

When you're in a group setting, I really think it almost challenges us as coaches to go to that level three listening. Where I'm not just observing myself and the participant and the space between us, I'm observing the whole space. And I'm noticing that, you know, when Jane over here said something, Susan had a reaction. And that as we've gone around the circle, so and so over here hasn't said anything for a couple times. And I'm tuning in, because I want everyone to have an opportunity to speak, and also, I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable if they're intentionally holding back just because they're not ready to share. 

And so there's so much, I really hadn't put it together until now, but I think level three listening, where you're having to tune into so much more that's happening in the space. So much more awareness. 

And there's this very, I think, delicate dance of being able to include everyone, make sure everyone feels included. Because in a group setting, you could so easily exclude someone, albeit very unintentionally, and that would not create a great experience for them or for the group dynamic. And also, if you just call on somebody randomly and say, oh, well what do you, you haven't shared anything, go ahead and share your deepest secrets and fears or hopes and dreams, and they're not ready for that, that can also feel damaging to the space, or difficult to navigate. 

So I think there's just such an in-tune-ness that has to happen in group coaching, I know it really stretches me as a coach. It makes me go to that next level, it makes me practice that level three listening. And it's a beautiful and wonderful opportunity. And it's also so very, very stretching. 

[Raj Anderson] That's a great perspective. That's actually helped me to put it together as well. So I'm hearing you talk about that Level three listening, that delicate dance, leaning into intuition. I'm also hearing presence, intentionality, and, you know, you are reading the room in a different way than you would be in a one-on-one situation.

[Brittany MacDonald] Absolutely. And I love when you mentioned earlier the design the alliance as well. That is so important. And it may even be, I'd love to hear your additions to this, but it may even be that you design the alliance multiple times, right? You kind of set the tone for the space and get agreement and alignment around that, but maybe you designed the alliance a little bit every session. Maybe you have checkpoints, you know, two, three months in if it's a six month program. And there's opportunity to say, let's redefine this alliance, because now we've gotten to know each other, and what we might feel will serve us best as a group when we're three months in is going to be very different than this is day one and we all just met each other. So just knowing that there's lots of opportunity to design that alliance, I think is so crucial. How has that looked for you? 

[Raj Anderson] Yeah, that's a great question. Thank you Brittany. I'm thinking about, how has that worked? What does that look like? So we've done, created that bigger design the alliance at the beginning of the program. Yet we do, I do every session - because there is a month between the sessions as well, we are revisiting that design the alliance. 

And also for me, I share that we are transitioning. Because my role in that space is also a facilitator, so there is development training and material that we will cover initially. And with coaching questions, there's always coaching questions there. And I do co-facilitate with women that have been through the program, so there isn't just me in that space. So we meet beforehand to revisit our alliance, every time - we're gonna go into this space, what does that look like, roles, all of those things.

And then for me, it's that transition point. So now we are shifting, and being very clear with everyone - we are gonna shift now from the training and development piece into our group coaching. And here's a reminder of what that's going to look like, just so that we've set the tone, and there aren't any blurry lines between, alright, we have now gone into coaching so people know to expect perhaps curious questions, or we might be holding up the mirror. Or as you said, you learn personalities, don't you? And I know that there are always people in the group that are open for more direct communication. What are your thoughts on that? 

[Brittany MacDonald] It's so true. And I love the clarity that you bring to the distinction between a training or, you know, perhaps what we might call consulting, and then moving into that group coaching space. And I have seen that be done really well. There's some really powerful spaces that happen when it's like, now we're going to have those open questions, those curious questions, there's going to be a lot of sharing.

And something I might share as well is I've also kind of gone the other direction, just with organizations I've been affiliated with. Especially let's say in the sales coaching space. So, talking about high performing teams and like lots of energy, you know, those sessions are like 50 to 60 minutes with four to eight people. And so they're very focused, and there is that initial design the alliance, is very set on group participation. Like, if you need to pass you can, but the expectation is that you're going to contribute and that you're going to be thinking about ideas, and you're going to be ready to be called on. 

And then there's also some integration that happens, where we do perhaps a bit of training, and then there'll be an open discussion. And then we do a little more training, and there's open discussion.

And so I think what I'm realizing is just how much of it does go back to that alliance, right? Because that's the expectation for us in those sessions, so people know it's this quick back and forth between - here's a concept, let's coach, here's a concept, let's coach. There's training and coaching really blended, and we've established that agreement. And then you're sharing that you've created this beautiful distinction, where the training happens separately from coaching, and that creates an entirely different space where people can show up. 

And then I think as well, you know, I've coached young adults who are looking for their life purpose. And for those sessions, you know, even if I only have three or four in a group, I'm planning longer, maybe 90 minutes to two hours. Probably two hours, because they're dealing with such big questions. 

And so I think there's just an awareness and perhaps an attunement to who is your audience, and what is the alliance that has been designed at the beginning, and how can you continue to revisit and remind people of that? Because it can look so different based on the group, the dynamic, the organization, and the people in it. 

[Raj Anderson] Thank you, Brittany. Those are some really great tips there, that I'm just listening to your language and I just wanna play back to everyone listening. So if you are starting to think about, well, how do I transition from one-on-one coaching, I'm really interested in group coaching, I'm hearing some tips here from Brittany around awareness, attunement, and audience. So, you know, how do you build that awareness, what is it that you need to be attuned to? What can we even continue to grow within ourselves that helps us fine tune attunement - two tunes there - and then thinking about who our audience is? And I know we've only got a couple more minutes with Brittany, so I'm gonna have to invite Brittany back on again in the future, because it's gone too fast and I could just keep listening to you. Yet to close off, what words of wisdom might you have for our listeners who wanna transition to group coaching? 

[Brittany MacDonald] The first thought that comes to mind is start small. Managing a group dynamic is very different than managing a one-on-one session, so don't be afraid. If you wanna try it and you only have three, four, or five people, that's a great place to start. And also, do a lot of it. If someone is just starting out and wanting to branch into group coaching, I would rather, I think, encourage that coach to have four groups of four rather than one group of 12, or something like that. Try a lot of it. See how different group dynamics work. Play in the space. And in that playing, I think you'll start to very quickly find what works for you, what works for your audience, and you'll start to tune in to what you need to be able to do and focus there.

[Raj Anderson] Thank you, Brittany. There's such great words of wisdom, fabulous guidance. I just can't wait to talk to you again in the future. I'm really grateful to have you on today, and grateful to our audience for listening. Are there any final words you wanna share with us before we close out today? 

[Brittany MacDonald] Just that I will happily come back anytime, so let's do this again soon. 

[Raj Anderson] Yes, absolutely. So please send us your questions that you have, email the questions in, post them in the social media platforms. If you have a particular question for Brittany as well, let us know. Keep us posted on how your one-on-one coaching's going, or your group coachings going. And I have got lots of inspiration and borrowed insight from Brittany today. 

[Brittany MacDonald] Thank you, Raj. I've learned a great deal from you as well. It's been lovely to be here. 

[Raj Anderson] Thank you. So bite-size session today, but we will have Brittany on and we will see you again soon! I think we're gonna close out now. Thank you everyone.

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