Why consider group coaching? Find your ‘why’ with Matt Dechaine

Coaching takes many forms and is used in different ways. The term ‘coaching’ can be ambiguous, depending on how it is applied. The work I do sits within a coaching framework but also leans into mentoring when appropriate. The crux of it is that it is a confidential and non-judgemental space which is rooted in action and development. This is true of both 1:1 and group coaching.

For me, the essence of coaching is that it gives people an opportunity to explore their challenges and opportunities in a non-judgemental, non-directive and thought-provoking way. This is underpinned by a commitment to change and action, both professionally and personally.

As a coach, I take a person-centred approach, thereby enabling people to bring both long-term and short-term goals, as well as what’s keeping them awake at night right now. This is coupled with my view of a coach being an ally who walks alongside the person they are coaching, whilst using questioning and challenge to support and open thinking.

What is group coaching?

Group coaching brings people together either as colleagues or peers. It gives individuals the opportunity to explore professional issues and share their experiences. The group offers support and challenge through listening and questioning to help individuals determine their own actions.

Groups meet every couple of months, usually six times, with check-ins to consider progress against actions. An ideal number is 6–8 people who meet in a confidential and quiet space, free of distractions or interruptions. Groups can happen in person or virtually – both can work well. One positive outcome of the pandemic is that geographically diverse groups have been meeting virtually, thereby extending professional networks and connections.

One of the main aims of group coaching is to enable individuals to develop the skills to problem solve for themselves. However, there is great power in sharing challenges and securing allies. This is particularly important for leaders who, at times, may feel isolated or overwhelmed with the burdens of leadership and responsibility. Also, public commitment to action is powerful in bringing personal accountability.

As with 1:1 coaching, questioning and challenge is central to supporting individuals to consider alternative approaches to their issue. This method also enables group members to apply their actions and reflect together at the next meeting.

Challenges to success

Naturally, group coaching requires the allocation of resources including finances and time – and commitment is essential. Group coaching within schools or organisations needs careful consideration and it’s crucial to choose an experienced facilitator who will maintain the focus and momentum of the group. As coaching is a confidential and safe space, hierarchy may inhibit this, if not managed carefully.

Without careful facilitation, the group could be at risk of not working towards actions and solutions and instead become a vehicle to reinforce negative viewpoints, whereby issues and challenges are merely accepted as being ‘part of the job.’ However, with a structured and well-planned approach, individuals can benefit from the support, knowledge and viewpoints of others.

Peer group coaching does not face these issues, as groups are constructed with people from different schools or organisations who are working at similar levels, e.g., a group of headteachers from different schools across the country. This kind of group counteracts the underlying competitiveness which can happen between geographically close schools and can help to alleviate insular viewpoints or feelings of isolation.

Peer group coaching also needs careful and considered facilitation. Again, the facilitator should be a qualified coach, adept at encouraging participation from all, whilst ensuring the sessions are not dominated or steered by individual participants. They should foster a culture of collaboration, challenge and support, through careful contracting and clear expectations. School leaders are not always good at putting themselves first, which is often the nature of leadership. However, strong and effective relationships with other leaders only brings benefit to organisations. Leaders need to invest in themselves as they do with their staff teams.

Successful coaching arises if the coach is committed to improving their practice through self-reflection and supervision. This is where an external professional coach can be crucial. An authentic coach who is genuinely interested in supporting the participants in their development, strengthens the likelihood of effectiveness.

Coaching can be uncomfortable, but it is a dynamic and transformational space which can bring significant and sustained change.
Coaching isn’t a panacea; however, it is a powerful and transformational space when done well. It’s important to think about the ‘why?’ and then do your research. Reach out to coaches and ask questions – they’ll be more than happy to answer them. Group coaching takes investment in time and money but the potential benefits are enormous. The opportunity to come together with colleagues or peers in a supportive, confidential and challenging space cannot be underestimated.

Top tips and questions

Internal groups

• Why coaching? How does it fit with your own or your school’s learning and development strategy?
• Is there commitment from the team?
• Choose your facilitator carefully – are they a good fit for your organisation? Will they be external or internal?
• Ensure you cover any ethical dilemmas – confidentiality and its limitations, group dynamics, conflict resolution, hierarchy, active participation and commitment.
• Careful contracting – what is the purpose of the group? What should everyone expect?
• Is there an expectation of feedback from participants to the organisation?
• Ensure everyone is clear about the process, how it will work and the role of the facilitator.
• Ensure all participants are in a confidential and quiet space, free from distractions or interruptions whether face to face or virtually.
• Ensure this is protected time.
• All participants should be encouraged to share, and all voices need to be celebrated.
• Build in a feedback process for the facilitator.

Peer group coaching

• What do you want to gain from coaching and how committed to it are you?
• Choose your group carefully – will you be able to be honest and open with the other participants?
Have a call with the facilitator beforehand if you are worried or unsure.
• Do you want a geographically diverse or close group? What would be the benefits or drawbacks from either scenario?
• Ensure the facilitator has a clear contracting session which outlines any ethical or moral dilemmas which might arise.
• If it forms part of your performance management, be clear about how you could meet any attached targets – the benefits of coaching are not always quantifiable.
• Demonstrate commitment to the group – you’ll reap the benefits.
• Ensure it is in your diary and that time is protected.

Author

  • Matt Dechaine

    Matt is a qualified Leadership and Executive Coach working with school and trust leaders as well as other organisations. He also the Chair of Governors at a local infant school. He trained as a Primary School Teacher and he has a background in education and charity senior leadership.
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