Updated: Sep 24
A brief primer for those who panic at the idea of group coaching.
The value of group interventions has been accepted within the world of therapeutic recovery and self-help behaviour change. In the context of alcoholism, for example, no intervention has proven as effective as alcoholics anonymous (AA) — where the power of the group and social bonds has proven itself to be powerful.
The idea of meeting as a group can feel daunting to many coachees, who often feel anxious at the thought. Sometimes this is eased if the group is their own team — although not always, as the team itself can be the source of stress. When the group is new and all members are anonymous, I witness the stress level increase. When the group is already formed and a coachee is offered a new opening, resistance hits its peak.
It’s at these points that I open up with potential group coachees about my experience of groups and the power of a group experience, in terms of effecting personal change and growth.
There is a concept, that is sourced from an area of Psychology referred to as ‘Gestalt Psychology, that states:
the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
In short, this belief holds that humans experience at a deeper and more meaningful level when the constituent parts of an experience are perceived as a collective, a whole.
Take, for example, music.
If each note or bar were to be played in isolation, we would be unlikely to find it enjoyable or perceive the noise as music. However, when all of the notes, instruments, and voices are presented as a whole — as a song — then we can be emotionally stirred.
This is true for us in many ways — but also in how we perceive others and how groups respond to us.
The power of the Group
The power of a group is that it magnifies this tendency to want a complete picture whilst also seeking to fill in the gaps.
Often coachees arrive with a sense of vulnerability and isolation. It is a very lonely place, in our own heads, when we are trying to get past a problem that seems too big to grasp. This sense of isolation can be quickly sedated by making contact with others who share the same problem.
Validating your need as real, and not a failing of yourself.
This point is very important to repeat and expand upon!
It is very common for people to beat themselves up for their own failures. To be harsh and judgemental of themselves, rather than compassionate. When meeting others who share their issues and emit distress, we respond with compassion. Rarely do we berate somebody else for revealing their pain.
A group coaching session taps into this natural trait, for most of us. When we hear another person talk about their issue (that is also ours) our hearts open up to them and we are compassionate. When we are invited to talk, the group’s hearts open up also. The giving and receipt of compassion is instinctive and permits us (or even trains us) to open up in this way for ourselves. Certainly, a talented coach will be working for this to happen.
The power of compassion is further supported by the resource provided by a collection of people who can think and problem solve. It can often feel easier to see where someone else might need help, rather than ourselves. A collective and supportive group can be aided, by a coach, to recognise that ideas and attempts to grow are the source of all success. Failing is expected and the route of all learning, rather than a source of further self-attack.
The coach’s job
The work of the coach is to listen out for deep meaning in the group conversations, to draw the group’s attention to this and to enable the group to respond to this with increased curioisty. The overpowering or shy group members are facilitated by the coach to reflect more or speak more, enabling the group to focus on the work and not the dynamics of the group. This is often a fear for potential group members I speak to, I reassure them that this is the concern of the coach and will be managed by the coach.
It is important to add that this is not therapy! Group coaching can touch on deep experiences but group coaching should capitalise on awareness, strengths, creativity and humour. Laughter should be common and a future of possibility invited!
Having led many groups of many sizes, along with being a member myself — I am a firm believer in the power of the group in supporting growth for all types of people (patients, staff, entrepreneurs, teams, leaders…). There are definitely times when 1 to 1 coaching is preferred or more appropriate — but if group coaching (or affinity groups) is the option made available to you, it should not be seen as less. In truth, for many people it is more.
The whole group is greater than the sum of the individuals within it.