As a career coach, you understand the power of personalized strategy for your clients. You know you can’t approach two people the exact same way. But what happens when you’re running a group coaching session?
In this setting, you are working with multiple clients at once, and you can’t focus on each person individually as you would in a one-on-one session. To help you effectively lead a peer-to-peer group, we asked 14 Forbes Coaches Council members for their best tactics and strategies for this type of coaching environment. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Create A Psychologically Safe Environment
Running peer-to-peer groups can easily end up as stilted and unauthentic discussions without a clearly established, psychologically safe environment. Peers will be hesitant to share freely and speak the unspoken hard truths. Clearly define the group as a safe place to share honestly and note that confidences will be held, retaliation is not an option and questions come from curiosity, not condemnation. – Tonya Echols, Vigere
2. Help Them Find Common Ground
One of the most important tactics a coach can use in a group is bonding the participants by showing them how much they have in common. When they see they are not alone and that others are striving for the same goals, they become a true mastermind. They begin to help one another and see others’ success as being as important as their own. They check in with each other and are more motivated to do the work. – Rebecca T. Dickson
3. Set Some Ground Rules
The biggest challenge to group work is when participants resort to certain behaviors—namely, donning a victim, persecutor or rescuer mindset. Create ground rules where members speak only from their own experience and listen not only to understand, but also to hear even the unsaid. The human mind creates meaning, and often that process gets in the way of total understanding. – Lori Darley, Conscious Leaders LLC
4. Assess Each Participant Individually Before The Session
Even though all leaders have common needs, group coaching is a synergistic experience for individual progress. Before the group begins, each participant should be assessed on their strengths and development opportunities. Create an individual coaching plan in alignment with their leader. This way, each participant has goals and measurements of success that are specific to them and their shop. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC
5. Take A Back Seat And Let The Group Lead
People join peer-to-peer groups because they want to learn from their peers. Obvious, but true. Consequently, the coach must resist the temptation to jump in and contribute or shape the conversation. Often the best tactic is to seed ideas, trigger conversations, provoke thinking and then take a back seat and let the group do the driving, intervening only to keep the conversation on track. – Gaurav Bhalla, Knowledge Kinetics
6. Create Positive Vulnerability Through Stories
Bonds are created by positive sharing and vulnerability. By sharing powerful stories, peer-to-peer group leaders can create bonds that matter between people. This willingness to share openly in an environment that emphasizes unconditional acceptance will create much more meaningful group experiences, empowered by the collection of stories connected to the heart of each person. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
7. Encourage A Structured Interchange
Productive peer-to-peer sessions should be structured and agenda-driven. Rules of engagement should be carefully defined as a foundational component to maximize the desired outcome. For instance, the information and discussion should not be used to “one-up” a colleague. The sessions should be grounded in positivity and approached from the standpoint, “How can we help one another and the team succeed?” – Deborah Hightower, Deborah Hightower, Inc.
8. Stick To An Agenda And Encourage Participants To Ask Questions As Needed
I’ve run hundreds of groups, and the best method I’ve found is to focus on the overall goal. Teach an agenda you know they need and let each person reach out when they have a question as you go through it. At big concepts that are complex, pause and ask if there are any confusions or clarifications needed. This ensures the major points are covered, yet gives the individual attention they need. – Tracy Repchuk
9. Be Prepared To Be Flexible
There’s a saying that flexibility is the key to power, but preparation is the key to flexibility. Preparation is the most important element of coaching peer-to-peer groups. More than preparing yourself, it’s preparing the participants so they understand how to engage and their voices can be heard. Without sound preparation, some in the group will have a louder voice and sway the conversation. – Kyle Brost, Spark Policy Institute & Choice Strategy Group
10. Put Your Ego Aside
Teams require facilitation and a coach who is on board to direct conversations, provide tools, create a safe space and facilitate an environment for success. But to attain success with peer-to-peer groups, the coach has to leave their ego behind and orchestrate from the background. While it wouldn’t happen without the coach, it’s the team members who need to do the work, speak up and take action. – Laura DeCarlo, Career Directors International
11. Get A Sense Of The Base Skill Level
Assess the skill level and resources of the peer-to-peer groups. Are the employees at a foundational skill level? If so, they need to be coached to a higher level of competencies. Understand what might deter a particular group from sustaining momentum. Are there specific training sessions, mentorship relationships or a group culture that need to be cultivated? Consciously track progress and gain consistent feedback. – Cheryl Leong, Leading with Consciousness
12. Honor Different Paces And Styles
When coaching a peer-to-peer group, it’s important to recognize and adjust to the various styles and paces of the participants. Some people take a while to warm up, and others might jump in and potentially drown out others. As the coach, you should pull those who are quiet and possibly reticent into the conversation at a pace that will be comfortable for the individual. – Lisa Barrington, Barrington Coaching
13. Read The Group’s Body Language
The coach must be attentive to the signs coming from the group dynamic. It’s not what they say, it’s why. Define an objective. Structure is key in group coaching. Listen to the silence and read body language. Peer-to-peer group members can talk for themselves, but not about others in the group: “How I feel or think about the topic.” This is the way to avoid confrontation and keep the focus on the objective. – Carlos Davidovich, Optimum Talent
14. Be The Catalyst For Curiosity
Peer-to-peer groups can be transformational when the coach is the catalyst for change. What this means is the coach asks the powerful questions, remains objective and does not offer help or solutions. When coaching one-on-one, we occasionally offer suggestions or options when someone is truly stuck. But when it’s peer-to-peer, they absolutely have the answer in the group—they just need to get curious. – Frances McIntosh, Intentional Coaching LLC
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