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Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Martin Goodyer (United Kingdom).
Coaching ‘one to one’ is both a skill and an art; it takes many hours of training in the use of communication techniques and understanding important aspects of human behaviour and psychology. Coaching ‘one to many’ is even more of a skill and requires an artful approach that walks a fine line between coaching and other facilitative disciplines. It’s confusing – even for coaches. Ask twenty coaches the difference between team and group coaching and you may well get twenty different answers. The confusion isn’t helped by business professionals buying the service. Recently I received a phone call that went something like this:
“Hi Martin, it’s John here. You coached my colleague Sarah and she speaks very highly of you so, I was wondering if you did anything with teams and team building?”
“Good to speak with you John; do you mind me asking…what specifically are you wanting to achieve from a team event?”
“Well, I’ve got eight people in my team and we need to do something to improve performance.”
The distinctions are fuzzy
After a ten minute chat with John it became apparent that he didnot need a team build or indeed team coaching, but what he wanted was some activity that involved all the eight team members. He needed something that brought them together, that had them focus on their own goals and share experiences; and he wanted the same kind of benefits he’d seen his colleague Sarah experience through coaching. In my opinion he wanted ‘group coaching’. It’s a distinction he wasnot aware of; and he’s by no means alone because it’s a distinction about which most coaches are either unaware or unclear.
Coaching is still relatively new. It’s not surprising then that some distinctions are as yet undefined – at least in terms that are generally accepted. The most obvious distinction and the one that causes the most confusion is that between team and group coaching. They are not the same thing. The terms are not interchangeable and the approach to coaching one or the other is not the same. So let’s address that right now because without clarity we risk chaos:
Technical definitions can be a mouthful – but are a good foundation for understanding
I define team coaching as; ‘The simultaneous facilitation of more than one person toward the achievement of a clearly specified and jointly held goal using coaching techniques’. As opposed to group coaching which is; ‘The simultaneous facilitation of more than one person toward the achievement of each person’s goals using coaching techniques’.
All effective coaching should be based in effective sequential questioning. Regardless of coaching one-to-one or one-to-many the coach must engage with the agenda of the coachee, have the coachee define at least an outcome goal and a session goal, have them establish the current circumstances and possible barriers to success, have them determine choices of approaches or actions and finally make it easy for the coachee to identify and commit to actions that take them closer to their goal. When coaching one-to-one that happens as a matter of course; but when faced with one-to-many it’s not quite so straightforward..
Just because they’re called a team does not mean they are one
Typically management teams aren’t really teams at all. They may share an overall goal but each will be judged on their own performance. The most successful of all team coaches was the late John Wooden. He was successful not because he had his team celebrate their successes and share in their failures as a unit, but because he did precisely the opposite. He successfully coached more successive championship wins and an unbeaten run of eighty-eight games on the bounce than has yet to be equalled; and he achieved it because he recognised that a successful team is made up of high performing individuals. Of course they have to play with and for each other, but success is far more than that. Success comes from each person having specific ‘game by game’ goals. Success comes from improved individual performance.
Yet when it comes to coaching a team, all too often it’s assumed that focusing a bunch of people who happen to work together on the challenge of becoming collectively more productive will achieve amazing results. It is assumed that somehow they will break free of their ego and become absorbed into a high performing collective – just by experiencing some team building activity in the presence of a coach. My experience suggests this is unlikely. At best they may uncover and agree issues that may improve performance. At worst it’s just an ‘different’ day out of the office. It usually depends on how effective the follow-up is afterwards as to how many of the commitments made on the day turn into real actions that make a difference.
Team Coaching works when they all share an easily definable short term goal: If the team event is ring fenced by a specific project then the overall focus of each individual is predicated by the event: “We are meeting to thrash out project x”. The overall goal is predicated by the project: “The project launches on Jan 1st and we need to be ready”. The session goal can then easily be established with the team: “We agree that by the end of this session we each have a plan of action that puts us on track for the Jan 1st launch”. The coach may then ask questions of the group that establish the reality of their situation and circumstance; barriers are identified and team members support each other through participation. Inevitably they will help each other identify opportunities and conclude a successful event with a commitment from each to take appropriate actions. Collectively the team improves performance by recognising and overcoming their shared barriers to success.
Group Coaching requires the coach to blend some facilitation skills with sequential coaching: The team members share an overall objective but each has a different challenge and hence will have something different on their mind: “We know we have to improve divisional performance but it’s a challenge to see just how.” The overall goal is overshadowed by the goal of each individual: “What’s important to me is that I achieve x by z”. Each person must therefore be allowed to establish their own session goal as part of the event. This requires some creativity from the coach to have team members working in smaller groups or pairs; sharing resources, information, needs and desires; then perhaps reporting back on behalf of each other: “This will have been successful for my colleague when she has a plan to address issues A and B.” Typically a coach will then pull together themes and subject headings from what’s been said to stimulate possible actions for evaluation. Inevitably individuals commit to actions relevant to their own situation and the achievement of their own goal. Collectively the team improves performance by each member of the group performing better.
They are different and it does matter what they are called. Being effective at coaching one-to-many starts with recognising these distinctions and the challenges of being a great all-round coach.
Martin Goodyer MBPsS MAC
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