A Guide to coaching groups – rather than individuals.

One thing that new coaches learn very quickly at the beginning of their careers, is that there is a ceiling on how much you can earn when you are only coaching individuals. By coaching groups you essentially multiply your income and make your hourly return a much higher ratio.

Besides this, coaching groups is extremely rewarding. You are also impacting more lives with your time. So here is an essential guide to coaching groups. 

Do you remember that coaching is considerably different to training and mentoring? Read this explanation about the difference between coaching, mentoring, counseling and other modalities to be clear.

Coaching groups is rewarding for you and enables you to positively impact more lives.

I’m going to be using some coaching jargon, but I will do my best to explain in a way that new coaches can understand as well.

Although some of the principles of coaching remain the same when coaching a group of people instead of an individual person, like for example the 3 Critical Coaching Skills (rapport building, retaining coach position, and asking questions like a professional coach) – what fundamentally changes is how you coach goals and how you work to allow each member of the group to find solutions.

Here are some of the changes you need to plan for in advance of coaching a group:

 

  • SHARED THEME:

    It’s almost impossible to coach a group that has different goals, therefore your group must have at least a shared topic, theme or long term vision. For example, you might coach a group that has a common interest like weight loss, raising toddlers, aspiring authors, cyclists, meditators, etc.

  • MORE TIME:

    You will need to allow for more time that an individual session. Groups always take more time to complete exercises.

    Group discussions always take considerably more time than individual discussions. A minimum amount of time I feel for coaching a group, would be two hours, but three is better. Especially if you want each individual to take away real value from the session.

  • ENGAGEMENT:

    Plan ways to keep your group engaged. Use coaching skills, especially coaching questions and coaching thinking processes to keep the group interested and engaged.

    Coaching is not public speaking or teaching, therefore you need to facilitate maximum group involvement in discussions that will help each individual move forward towards their goals.

  • INDIVIDUAL EXPECTATIONS:

    When coaching an individual, we usually set up what is called a coaching contract early on in the session. A coaching contract is an agreed upon specific outcome for the time frame of the meeting. It is something that can be achieved or done during the coaching session.

    It is important when coaching a group, to extract and to hear each individual’s expectations for the session, which is similar to contracting, however, you will need to balance the individual expectations with what is best for the group. If you have more time, like for example a six-hour full day coaching session, and if you have a small group of less than 20, you can work to achieve the individual expectations.

    But if you have a large group or less time, you will have to be creative with your coaching to achieve common denominators.

  • GROUP SIZE:

    I don’t recommend coaching very large groups. Quality coaching demands personalized attention and assuming you have more than 12 clients it becomes difficult to provide individualized attention. Therefore I recommend group sizes of 3 to 12 Max.

Make sure to coach a group that has a shared interest, theme or goal.

I would still recommend adapting the ILS 3 Step Coaching Method for coaching groups — which involves, Step 1 contracting, Step 2 solution excavation and obstacles work and Step 3 action planning.

Use any of the following activities to keep the group coaching session engaged and valuable for your clients:

Group discussion — where everyone contributes to a conversation.

Remember to keep the conversation spiral up, which means focus towards solutions and positive progress.

Because coaching is focused on positive forward movement, we gently redirect conversations that tend to spiral down into the pain, the problem or the past.

With group discussions, keep in mind that some personality types may feel comfortable sharing in front of a large group, but for others sharing in front of groups larger than four can intimidate them.

If you notice somebody that is shy or less engaged it’s important not to openly challenge or embarrass that person.

Rather create smaller breakout groups where shy people will feel more comfortable sharing.

You can also use nonverbal ways for groups to participate. For example, asking for a show of hands to indicate an answer to a question.

Breakout groups — where you divide the group into smaller groups for them to have more intimate solution focused conversations.

If you have the space to facilitate breakout groups these are very effective. Make sure to manage your time, and to give the groups clear time deadlines to return to the main group.

Even allowing people to move their chairs into small groups of two or three can work.

Make sure that everyone is well briefed on the activity of the discussion so that they don’t feel confused about what they are meant to do.

Also make yourself available to educate and gently guide the breakout groups. Make sure that you spend time with each group.

You may or may not have time after the breakouts for group feedback, but some kind of checking in or summary after the breakout group activity is usually important.

Written exercises – where individuals or small groups get time to fill out coaching worksheets, the mind map and make notes.

Assuming you have a pen and paper for the group members or worksheets (our coach students receive over 50 ready to use professional coaching worksheets) you can facilitate written exercises.

Make sure to give everyone enough time to think as well as to write — some group members will be faster than others, so try to find a happy medium. Brief the group about how much writing is necessary — most of the time it’s important to tell them not to write long essays.

If what they have written is very personable, don’t make people share unless they are comfortable sharing.

You can combine a written exercise with a small breakout group exercise.

Coaching thinking exercises – where the whole group participates in a guided coaching exercise that you facilitate.

Coaching thinking exercises are at the heart of InnerLifeSkills coaching — that’s why we train our students in over 50 coaching processes. We call these powerful question frames or PQF’s.

For example a group Disney Strategy or ILS Power Formula, which are both popular coaching exercises for groups.

Groups love coaching processes (as do individuals), they keep coaching interesting and challenge clients to find deeper resources within themselves.

For group coaching you will need to do more explaining than when coaching an individual.

Remember that you won’t always be able to dialogue with the group in the way you would dialogue with an individual client. So you will not know where everyone is in terms of their progress. This means that you have to coach creatively and keep considering all of the individual needs in the group.

Therefore, try not to go for long stretches without some kind of feedback or dialogue from the group.

Don’t facilitate for example a 30-minute thinking exercise and only start talking to the group at the end of 30 minutes. Someone might have had a problem early on that you didn’t pick up on, and by the time 30 minutes has passed it’s too late.

I enjoy starting a group on a thinking exercise together, then briefing them to complete a coaching process in breakout smaller groups, so that I can go and individually help the smaller groups.

I use my InnerLifeSkills worksheets because the worksheets have clear instructions on them, and facilitate for me.

Creative exercises – where the group participates in some kind of creative activity that is related to their theme.

Drawing, painting and collaging, even singing, dancing and other creative art forms can work well for certain types of groups. If you’re going to introduce a creative activity, make sure that it fits the temperament of the group and the topic.

Create vision boards

Naturally, some preparation will be required to ensure that the creative exercises go smoothly.

A popular creative exercise in the world of group coaching is to facilitate the group creating vision boards. Each group member gets a stack of old magazines, scissors, glue and paper so that they can collage words and images of their vision for the future they aspire to. This is about setting intentions and working to manifest their dreams.

The person gets to take their vision board home afterwards, where they keep it somewhere that they can see regularly.

You will need at least one hour for this type of activity — especially if you include dialogue and sharing.

Visualizations and meditations — where you facilitate that guided visualization and meditation for the group.

If it suits the group, guided visualizations and meditations can be very powerful. Make sure of course that you know how to effectively guide the visualization or meditation. For example, you will need to adapt your tone, to speak slowly and in a style that helps people to relax and to access parts of their consciousness that is not readily available to the surface mind.

  • Visualizations can be about the desired future as a form of setting intentions and manifesting dreams.
  • Meditations can be explorative or deeply transformative. They can focus on visuals or on feeling body awareness.

Our top qualification ILS Master Coach includes many visualization and meditation processes for our coaches to use.

Games and competitions — where you facilitate a game or friendly competition for the group.

There’s nothing like a friendly competition or game to make a group have fun while they are developing themselves. There doesn’t even necessarily have to be prizes involved — although chocolate is always a win – people tend to just enjoy the friendly atmosphere of competition.

Make sure that you know exactly how to facilitate the game or competition and keep in mind that these take time. And of course, make sure that the game with competitions helps your clients to move forward towards their goals and is not just arbitrary.

Report backs — you invite individuals or small groups to present feedback to the big group.

After breakout groups or individual exercises, it can be helpful to ask the group to report back. 

When I facilitate group coaching sessions and companies, I always use smaller breakout groups and then ask the groups to present the key insights to the big group afterwards.

This ensures that they take the exercise seriously, because of the positive pressure of the eminent presentation. It also enables the group to learn from each other, which is invaluable.

Final message on group coaching

Finally, ask yourself “What would you enjoy in a group coaching session?”

It goes without saying that you should use your coaching skills. That you should stay in coach position – which is neutral and professional without a personal agenda and free of judgement. That you should be asking spiral up questions — which keep the group focused on solutions rather than problems and on the future instead of the past. And that you should sustain rapport — which means speaking and listening in a way that builds trust and true connection.

Finally, create a safe enriching space for the group to overcome their inner obstacles and access their inner wealth — the InnerLifeSkills way.

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