Is Coaching just a one-on-one experience?

Before we can challenge whether Coaching is just a one-on-one experience, we first need to define what Coaching is. 

Group Coaching

What is Coaching?

Coaching draws its roots from sports and is typically a one-to-one relationship between a coach (the person helping) and a coachee (the person receiving the help). However, when you look at sports, the problem is that this type of Coaching is subjective, and the coaching techniques used are really for helping high potential athletes to become elite.

More commonly, when people think of Coaching, they link it to something they are familiar with, such as children’s football. The problem with this is this type of ‘coaching’ is more akin to teaching.

In elite sports, the coach develops the coachee (athlete) who is highly motivated. The nature of the development takes time and effort, meaning their relationship is generally a long-term one. The coach will observe the technical aspects of a particular routine and provide feedback to the coachee. 

The coach will also work with the coachee’s physical and mental performance. The high-level goal of the coach is to improve the coachee’s performance level and prepare them for competition. 

So, what’s the same, and what’s different, outside of the world of sports?

According to the CIPD, “Coaching aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also impact an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction and confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period of time or forms the basis of an ongoing management style.”

The CIPD acknowledge that a universal definition is hard to come by due to a lack of agreement among coaching professionals. That said, the CIPD suggest common characteristics for coaching in an organisation. These highlight coaching as being:

    • A non-directive form of development
    • Focussed on improving performance and developing an individual
    • Directed more on performance at work, but may include personal factors
    • Something that works with both individual and organisational goals
    • An opportunity for people to assess their strengths and development areas better

A skilled activity best delivered by trained people who could be line managers and others trained in coaching skills.

Group Coaching

Coaching; valuable but problematic

Coaching in organisations can be powerful if done correctly, but it has its limitations. Typically, the line manager will be the coach as there is an existing, hopefully strong, relationship. However, their agenda can dominate the discussion, risking them becoming overly focused on the impact on their own goals and less on the development of the individual (coaches). 

Let’s also face reality; line managers don’t have time. As a result, they often spin many plates simultaneously as they attempt to satisfy their manager’s and their people’s needs. However, we expect line managers to find the time and to make it quality time when they coach their people. 

Whilst line managers get the intellectual argument, they may lack the skills to coach effectively and, more often than not, they lack time to do it right. Time pressures and authority-biased stakeholder demands inform where they choose to focus their time. 

Additionally, managers may ignore their top performers because they believe (wrongly) that they’re alright and often choose to focus on improving their weaker performers. The contradiction is that this will not give them the best return on their efforts. 

Coaches can only work with one person at a time, and coaches who are line managers most typically attend to performance issues; this combination feeds a belief that ‘coaching’ is what you get when you are underperforming. 

Time pressure causes further conflict for managers and coaches; do they do the tasks where the output is visible and often demanded by others, or do they coach? 

It is much easier to defer the coaching conversation as the payoff is rarely immediate. But, on the other hand, a task with quick, visible results creates a dopamine rush that validates their decision to put off the Coaching, slowly moving the coaching activity down their priorities.

Group Coaching

The alternative Coaching approach

At Thinking Focus (the people behind WWYD), we fundamentally believe that developing people through Coaching is essential to any organisation’s development toolkit. 

We also challenge the assertion that Coaching is purely a one-to-one relationship; you can easily use the same skills to facilitate group development as you would develop individuals.  

Developing skills and behaviours in groups requires three core elements – the skills (including confidence) to run the session, a defined outcome (what is the purpose of the session) and a structured process to follow. 

You will likely have a skills matrix and behavioural template to drive the outcomes you want to develop in your session. Still, we would suggest that you ensure any session includes the following pillars:

    1. Psychological safety enables individuals to feel comfortable being vulnerable among their peers.
    2. Encourage individuals to access their experiences against the development topic. 
    3. Create a shared pool of understanding for what works, doesn’t work and why – this will lead to better answers/results.
    4. Collective buy-in to the way forward.
    5. Peer pressure to do the right thing in the right way.
Group Coaching

Reasons for building group coaching into your development portfolio

Creating sessions with these five elements delivers a host of individual and organisational benefits:

    • We know that the time pressures are not going away any time soon. However, group coaching is highly efficient. You can develop more than one person at a time by leveraging peer pressure to help accelerate the adoption of knowledge and skills. This approach gives you (or your managers) a return on time, effort and training investment.
    • You can also bring mixed ability groups together to share their different experiences, creating a deeper pool of shared understanding for everyone. When we learn from each other’s experiences, it vicariously reinforces the desired behaviours and actions. This collaborative sharing means that groups are likelier to adopt the desired behaviours.
    • Sharing experiences in purposeful discussion and debate is powerful. Still, when you underpin it with purposeful Coaching, it delivers a shared perspective of the situation. This common understanding leads to collective buy-in to the ‘best way’ for your team, department or organisation. This approach gives you more durable changes in behaviour.
    • Developing people in a group forum is more inclusive and psychologically safer when set up correctly. As a result, contribution levels are higher, robust challenges are more likely, and outcomes are more effective.
    • Group Coaching removes the stigma of coaching as a performance management tool with those negative connotations.
    • When groups work together on shared goals, it creates an endowment effect which means they are more likely to be committed and see it through. In addition, this collaborative approach means projects are delivered more efficiently and effectively.
    • Group coaching fosters knowledge transfer between the team, which means the group share the unwritten rules and undocumented practices that somehow make the company function. Sharing these ‘Spanish customs’ means reduced mistakes by people learning through error, which can be embarrassing and disengaging when they realise everyone else knew!
    • When you bring cross-functional groups together, they develop broader systemic awareness of how to work together more effectively. They appreciate how they impact each other, and problems are owned and more quickly solved.
    • Improved collaboration and cooperation mean organisations save enormous costs at the time and build enduring cross-functional relationships, breaking down silos and leading to issues being resolved more quickly, with less wasted time, effort and money.

Group coaching is not as well-known as traditional Coaching and rarely utilised in development. Perhaps the reason is that there is little development available to acquire the skills, so we decided that we wanted to help managers, coaches, and organisations realise the benefits of group coaching.

Group Coaching

Finding a Group Coaching Solution

In 2017, we researched what was available for group coaching and found very little – and less that was practical in organisations.

This gap in the organisational toolkit inspired us to find a solution. We developed a product that would bring group coaching to the mainstream. Our goal is to enable coaches to coach more than one person at a time; to make group coaching practical, relevant, and easy to deliver a greater return than one-to-one Coaching.  

We built a structured process, which supports and guides any coach, and combined it with contextual and relevant subject matter.  

We harnessed social learning to enable organisations to raise the level of mixed ability groups simultaneously. As a result, reflection is in-built not just to land critical learning but also to transfer it to the day job.  

‘What Would You Do?’ (WWYD) is our plug-and-play, group coaching solution that creates conversations that change behaviour.

WWYD is available online and offline, from small groups to conferences. Social learning and group coaching are built-in to deliver durable behavioural change and improve results. It comes preloaded with ready-made content contextualised to the workplace. 

Scenarios frame a facilitated discussion among peers. The inclusion of game mechanics creates an environment where participants feel safe and openly share; the same mechanics include progress and jeopardy, and friendly competition maintains interest with the inclusion of scoring and league tables, all of which make for an engaging learning experience. 

So, back to the original question – is coaching just a one-to-one experience? No, absolutely not! We firmly believe there is a place for both, but the benefits of group coaching as a core development strategy are compelling.

Our desire to build on this has led us to create a unique product to support managers and coaches. However, just because Coaching has historically been a one-to-one experience doesn’t mean that that’s the only way, or indeed the best, of utilising it!