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From GROW to GROUP: Theoretical issues and a practical model for group coaching in organisations

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Despite considerable organisational development research and practice suggesting that interventions in organisations should also be targeted at the group level, most organisational coaching is dyadic (one-to-one) and few models of group coaching have been developed. In Part I of this paper we present an introductory overview of group coaching and compare it to other group-based interventions. We distinguish between the goal-focused nature of group coaching and the process-orientation of group facilitation, and posit that group coaching has important but under-used potential as a means of creating goal-focused change in organisational contexts. In Part II of this paper we address practice issues and we present a practical model of GROUP (Goal, Reality, Options, Understanding others, Perform) coaching that integrates the well-known GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward) coaching framework with Scharma's U process for group dialogue, double loop learning and other theoretically-grounded practices. From a practitioner's perspective, we draw on the extant literature, we compare group coaching to other team and group-based interventions. Although precisely distinguishing between different group-based change modalities is difficult, we argue that group coaching is a more goal directed process than group facilitation, and that group coaching has important but under-used potential as a means of creating change in organizational contexts.
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From GROW to GROUP: theoretical issues and a practical model for
group coaching in organisations
Saul W. Brown and Anthony M. Grant*
Coaching Psychology Unit, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006,
Australia
(Received 25 March 2009; final version received 2 August 2009)
Despite considerable organisational development research and practice suggest-
ing that interventions in organisations should also be targeted at the group level,
most organisational coaching is dyadic (one-to-one) and few models of group
coaching have been developed. In Part I of this paper we present an introductory
overview of group coaching and compare it to other group-based interventions.
We distinguish between the goal-focused nature of group coaching and the
process-orientation of group facilitation, and posit that group coaching has
important but under-used potential as a means of creating goal-focused change in
organisational contexts. In Part II of this paper we address practice issues and we
present a practical model of GROUP (Goal, Reality, Options, Understanding
others, Perform) coaching that integrates the well-known GROW (Goal, Reality,
Options, Way forward) coaching framework with Scharma’s U process for group
dialogue, double loop learning and other theoretically-grounded practices. From
a practitioner’s perspective, we draw on the extant literature, we compare group
coaching to other team and group-based interventions. Although precisely
distinguishing between different group-based change modalities is difficult, we
argue that group coaching is a more goal directed process than group facilitation,
and that group coaching has important but under-used potential as a means of
creating change in organizational contexts.
Keywords: executive coaching; group coaching; organisational coaching;
evidence-based coaching; positive psychology
Introduction
The use of coaching in organisations as a means of enhancing performance and
facilitating workplace learning is now commonplace across much of the developed
Western world. In the US, between 25% and 40% of US Fortune 500 companies
regularly use the services of external executive coaches, with similar rates reported in
Europe and Australia (International Coach Federation, 2007). Within organisations,
human resource and organisational development professionals are expected to act as
internal performance coaches as part of their every-day role (Hamlin, Ellinger, &
Beattie, 2008). However, regardless of whether organisational coaching is conducted
by internal or external coaches or consultants, coaching in organisational settings
continues to be almost exclusively conducted in a dyadic (one-to-one) format (Ward,
*Corresponding author. Email: anthonyg@psych.usyd.edu.au
ISSN 1752-1882 print/ISSN 1752-1890 online
#2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17521880903559697
http://www.informaworld.com
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2008), despite a rich history of other organisational development interventions being
principally targeted at the group level (Brown & Harvey, 2006; Schein, 1999).
A major criticism of the dyadic approach is that it fails to position systemic
factors at the core of the coaching process (ONeill, 2000; Paige, 2002; Wheelan,
2003). Indeed, many leading organisational learning theorists place systemic
awareness at the centre of their learning models (e.g., Scharma, 2007; Senge,
2006). Such individuals argue that, to foster real change and development in
organisational settings, it is critical that individuals and groups have a high level of
systemic awareness and an understanding of organisations, and their various sub-
groups, as dynamic and complex systems.
Extending this line of reasoning, proponents of group-level interventions argue
that group work develops systems thinkingin its participants. They argue that the
group itself becomes a microcosm of the organisational environment, and that
individual and group performance improves due to the broader awareness, alignment
and accountability achieved through the process of dialogue with others (Scharma,
2007; Schein, 2003; Senge, 2006). Because of these and other proposed benefits there
is currently an emerging shift by coaching practitioners and academics towards
promoting and offering group coaching programs (Ward, 2008).
In line with this emerging trend we present an introductory overview of group
coaching, and argue for the increased use of group coaching in organisational
settings, alongside dyadic coaching. We contend that the personal growth and
change benefits of dyadic coaching when combined with the systemic growth and
change benefits of group process, better enables performance improvement at the
individual, group and organisational levels. This argument is based on the emerging
group coaching literature as well as a rich tradition of group interventions within
organisational development.
In Part I of this paper we present an introductory overview of group coaching,
compare and contrast dyadic and group coaching and discuss a number of other
group intervention approaches commonplace in organisations. Finally, in order to
help those coaching practitioners and consultants who are more familiar with dyadic
coaching to make a transition to group coaching, in Part II of this paper we present a
practical group coaching methodology that combines the popular GROW (Goal,
Reality, Options, Way forward) model of coaching (Whitmore, 2002), with
Scharmas (2007) U Processframework for group dialogue.
Part I: theoretical issues
Different approaches to group coaching
As will be observed throughout the discussion that follows, a confounding factor
when discussing group coachingis the fact that the terms teamand groupare
frequently used interchangeably in the coaching literature. However, the meaning of
these two terms differ somewhat. Team coachingcan be distinguished from group
coachingin that team coaching can be understood as relating specifically to groups
where the individuals are working closely together towards a defined and mutually
accountable goal (Bloisi, Cook, & Hunsaker, 2003). In contrast, group coachingis a
broader category that relates to any group of individuals, including but not limited to
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 31
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teams, whether participants are working together towards specific goals or not. In
this paper we primarily focus on the broader group coaching categorisation, but we
draw on literature from both team coaching and group coaching perspectives.
Group coaching involves a coach (or coaches) and two or more coachees, and this
type of coaching stands in contrast to the more commonly-practiced individual or
one-to-one coaching which is conducted in a dyadic form with a coach and a single
coachee. Like dyadic coaching, group coaching tends to be focussed on change and
growth. However, a primary difference between the practice of group coaching and
the practice of dyadic coaching is that group coaches need a strong understanding of
group dynamics or group-based dialogue processes, in addition to the individual
interpersonal and rapport-building skills necessary for dyadic coaching. Thus, in the
same way that dyadic coaching requires the coach to be able to develop good
individual rapport with the coachee, group coaching requires good rapport at the
group level, and an understanding of group dynamics is essential for this to occur.
Approaches to dyadic coaching vary considerably in relation to the way that
coaching is delivered. For example, some approaches emphasise a non-directive
approach to coaching, others focus more on the delivery of expert advice from
consultants, some emphasise the role of the internal coach compared to the external
coach (for discussion see Stober & Grant, 2006). Similarly, the emerging group
coaching literature also presents a number of different accounts of group coaching.
Some approaches use a combination of individual and group coaching, other
approaches focus on coaching individuals on their individual goals within a group
setting. Some focus on coaching the group as a unique entity with a focus on the
group dynamics. Yet others use various combinations of these together.
Anderson, Anderson and Mayo (2008) and Diedrich (2001) coach simulta-
neously at the group and individual level, depending on whether the development
need is one for the group or specifically for an individual. Ward (2008) works with
leaders from different organisations in a single group setting, which is primarily
focussed on the development of the individual within the group, while leveraging
input from a range of varying peer perspectives and experiences.
Kets de Vries (2005) takes a purposefully holistic perspective in his work with
leadership groups and teams. He simultaneously provides coaching, develops the
individual participants own coaching skills, and then facilitates a process of peer
coaching to maximise insight and overcome group and individual obstacles to
growth. Finally, participants are then encouraged to cascade a similar approach
through their own teams using the coaching skills and approaches they have learnt.
Some authors such as Anderson et al. (2008), Diedrich (2001), and Ward (2008)
have emphasised the role of the external coach who comes into the organisation to
provide group coaching services to functional group and senior executive teams.
In such approaches the emphasis is often on the goal-focused nature of coaching. In
contrast, the work of Hackman and Wageman (2005) has tended to emphasise the
role of the internal coach, proposing that team coaching should ideally be one of a
subset of acts of leadership which is conducted by either the formal team leader or
a member of the team rather than by external coaches or consultants. Others take a
more inclusive position and argue that group coaching aimed at facilitating
team building or leadership effectiveness can be appropriately implemented by
either an external coach or a team leader acting as an internal coach (Goldsmith &
Morgan, 2000).
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The question then arises, regardless of the coaching modality and whether the
coaching intervention is aimed at the functional team or at the broader group level,
why should coaching be conducted in team or group settings?
Why coach in groups?
The emerging group coaching literature outlines a long list of purported benefits of
group coaching (e.g., Anderson et al., 2008; Ascentia, 2005; Kets de Vries, 2005;
Ward, 2008):
.Understanding of and self-regulation of acceptable group behaviours;
.development of greater insight into the psychodynamic process of the group;
.improved likelihood of durable changes in behaviour;
.development of trust and support within the group;
.improved listening and communication;
.constructive conflict resolution;
.appreciation and alignment of individual goals, strengths and values;
.greater commitment and accountability;
.development of coaching skills;
.increased emotional intelligence;
.leadership development;
.improved systemic awareness of the organisation;
.prevention of organisational silo formation;
.knowledge transfer and management;
.improved group energy levels;
.creation of high performance teams; and
.better organisational results.
As can be seen, the list of assumed benefits is comprehensive and impressive.
However, to date much of the reported benefits are anecdotal, and there is very
little solid outcome research delineating the effects of group or team coaching. In
examining the group and team coaching literature, such as it is, Hackman and
Wageman (2005) note a lack of evidence that addresses all links in the coaching
intervention team process team performance sequence(p. 271). Their research,
based primarily on the training literature, finds little robust evidence that coaching
interventions focussed on improving interpersonal relationships reliably improve
performance. Their recommendations for future research and practice of team or
group coaching is that it should explicitly focus on the attainment of specific tasks or
desired outcomes, and they recommend making these goals as concrete and tangible
as possible. Their goal-focused approach is reflected in their understanding of team
coaching, which they define as a direct interaction with a team intended to help
members make coordinated and task-appropriate use of their collective resources in
accomplishing the teams work(p. 269).
Systemic perspectives facilitate learning in groups
Despite the current shortage of robust scientific evidence that explicitly links group
coaching interventions based on interpersonal or group dynamic perspectives with
increased organisational performance, there is longstanding support for a range of
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other interventions at the group or system level (e.g., Argyris, 1991; Brown &
Harvey, 2006; Schein, 1999; Senge, 2006). Indeed, systems-level thinking stands out
across the coaching literature as both a common benefit of group interventions and
a criticism of dyadic coaching. ONeill (2000) sees systems perspectives as being
central to effective executive coaching. Paige (2002) views the inability of the
individual coachee to make changes within the existing organisation culture or at a
systemic level as one of the major limitations of dyadic coaching.
In a similar vein, the broader organisational development and change literature
supports a systemic approach to change and growth. Wheelan (2003, p. 187) writes
about the importance of educating leaders on group development, the character-
istics of effective teams, and the importance of taking a systemic view of group
problems. Kets de Vries (2005) views group coaching as more effective than dyadic
coaching because it deals with both cognition and affect within the organisational
system rather than focusing merely on individual goal attainment. Kotters (2007)
work on organisational change stresses the importance of a guiding coalition and the
need to plan systemically because of the natural tendency of the organisation to
resist change.
From a systemic theoretical perspective the argument for coaching to take place
in a group with broader representation of the system itself and with the benefits of
multiple perspectives is certainly compelling. However, group coaching has several
limitations: For group coaching to be effective and appropriate, individuals must be
willing participants. Kets de Vries (2005) discusses the importance of participant
consent, and voices ethical concerns regarding participants who are required under
duress to participate in group coaching programs, particularly where discourses of
a personal nature may occur. Of course, confidentiality is also an important
consideration for all coaching interventions. Certain sensitive or personal issues may
best be addressed in dyadic coaching, just as individual therapy is more appropriate
in certain circumstances than group therapy.
Group coaching is challenging
Even where the coaching issues are not overtly personal, there may be reluctance to
step outside the customary topics and explore issues normally avoided by the group.
Such breaching of group norms is likely to raise anxiety at both an individual and
group level but, when well handled by the group coach, the discomfort that comes
with disclosing within the group may well be the catalyst for change and for
overcoming complex organisational challenges. Conversely, when these tensions are
handled in an unskilled fashion the result can provoke unhelpful defensive reasoning
(e.g., Argyris, 1991) and the group can end up pouring much time, effort and energy
into justifying their own and others behaviour rather than constructively exploring
the tensions that surface.
Without a doubt, many participants find group coaching highly challenging and
often personally difficult, yet paradoxically it is often this discomfort that fosters real
change. Because of these issues, it may be that a judicious combination of individual
and group coaching is optimal, and this has been recommended by many of the
proponents of group coaching (e.g., Anderson, et al., 2008) as well as some members
of the broader organisational development community (Schein, 1999). Thus, group
coaching may be more appropriate wherever the goal is at the group level or where
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individuals would benefit from broader perspectives, support and accountability and
where participants agree to take part in a group process. Of course, group-level
means of enhancing performance and well-being are not new. Group coaching has
been long utilised within the sporting arena. Further, within the mental health field
a wide range of approaches to group therapy are well-established, and group
approaches to therapy are generally found to be at least as effective as individual
therapy for a wide range of problems including anger management, substance abuse,
social skills training and depression (see for example, McDermut, Miller, & Brown,
2001).
Within organisations, group-level interventions have been an integral part of
organisation development (OD) approaches since the 1950s. Organisational devel-
opment as a discipline evolved from several key areas; the laboratory-based work of
the National Training Laboratories which started in 1949; the survey research
methods originated by the Survey Research Centre founded in 1958; and, the work of
the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations founded in 1946. These methods were all
either pioneered or influenced by Kurt Lewin during the 1940s, and all have the
group as the central point of intervention.
Organisational development, process consulting and coaching
Organisation development practitioners and consultants often use process interven-
tions in order to help functional work groups or teams become more effective.
According to Brown and Harvey (2006), 80% of OD practitioners use process-
consulting skills, far more than any other OD skill set. Process interventions assist
the group to become aware of how they operate and how they work together, and
how to use this knowledge to solve their own problems.
Edgar Schein, considered one of the founders of organisational development,
first wrote on process consulting in 1969, out of a sense of frustration that my
colleagues did not understand what I did ...with clients in organisations(Schein,
1999, p. xi). Schein views process consulting as more than a set of techniques; it is as
much a philosophy and an attitude about the process of helping individuals, groups,
organisations and communities, and is based on the central assumption that the
primary role of the process consultant is to help the human system to help itself.
Schein contrasts his process consulting approach to two other approaches to
consulting, namely; the consultant as expert (the selling and telling model), and the
consultant as diagnostician (the doctor patient model). He sees merit in each of
these approaches, and posits that the boundaries between them are flexible and that
there is some measure of overlap. In Scheins view process consulting generally starts
with the development of the helping relationship, then proceeds into a joint diagnosis
phase (consultant and client) and then into various interventions.
The majority of interventions in this modality occur with groups and Schein
refers to these group processes as facilitationrather than group coaching. In
Scheins approach process consultants also work with individuals, and Schein refers
to these individual processes as coaching. Schein explicitly defines coaching as
working with individuals, and sees coaching as a subset of consulting with the coach
moving between the same three stages, expert, diagnostician and process consultant,
as required. He views the role of coaching as establishing behaviours that helps the
client to develop new ways of seeing, feeling, and behaving in problematic situations.
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Schein does consider the possibility of coaching group goals, but not primarily
within a group coaching setting. Rather, his coaching approach is to coach the
individual so that the individual is then able to influence the broader organisational
system.
According to Hamlin, Ellinger and Beattie (2009), contemporary OD and human
resource development (HRD) practitioners see coaching as being a central
component of their professional domains. In their examination of the different
conceptualisations and definitions across the respective literatures Hamlin, Ellinger
and Beattie (2009) observe that coaching, OD and HRD are, very similar, both in
terms of their intended purpose and processes(p. 13) and that their theoretical
underpinnings are, nearly identical(p. 21). They find that central to coaching is the
provision of, ...‘‘help’’ to individuals and organisations through some form of
‘‘facilitation’’ activity or intervention ...performed primarily (though not exclu-
sively) in a ‘‘one-to-one’’ helping relationship(p. 18).
Is group coaching the same as group facilitation?
As can be seen from the above, the facilitation of group processes has long been part
of the organisational learning and development repertoire. The question thus arises:
Is group coaching merely a new term for group facilitation?
The extant literature is somewhat confused on this point, and the lack of clarity
in distinguishing between group coaching and group facilitation echoes the long-
running debate in the coaching literature about the differences between counselling
and coaching (Grant, 2007). This clarity is not helped by the fact that, like coaching,
group facilitation draws on a wide range of theories and approaches which are spread
across various academic and professional disciplines, including; Lewins action
research (1943), Argyriss (1991) double loop learning, Revans action learning
(1979), Scheins (1999) process consulting and Senges (2006) concept of the learning
organisation.
From a pragmatic perspective, Schuman and the International Association of
Facilitators argue that group facilitation is simply about, helping groups do better
(Schuman, 2005; p. 3). Other commentators see group facilitation as being focused
on the group process and participation in such processes, rather than being focused
on specific outcomes. For example, Hunter, Bailey and Taylor (1996) see facilitation
as being about process, how something is done, rather than about what is done, which
they see as the content. Hunter et al. see the main premise of group facilitation as
full co-operation between all people ... values of equality, shared decision making,
equal opportunity, power sharing and personal responsibility are basic to full co-
operation(p. 20). Adding to the conceptual confusion, within the context of
workplace training the term facilitationis frequently used to describe group-based
training processes, and this umbrella approach includes modalities such as action
learning, organisational learning and coaching within a group training context.
Thus, across the literature, group coaching and group facilitation are regarded as
being extremely similar, indeed the terms are often used interchangeably. In
particular, the process consulting approaches described by Schein are very closely
aligned with coaching. As mentioned, when Schein is using his approach with
individuals he calls it coaching and when he is working with groups he calls it
facilitation.
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In attempting to untangle this conceptual muddle, Clutterbuck (2007) presents a
somewhat more nuanced approach and attempts to draw a clear distinction between
coaching and facilitation, applied within a team coaching context. In his view the
facilitator manages the dialogue for the team and focuses them on decision making.
The coach empowers the team to manage the dialogue themselves and focuses on
goal achievement. The coach is more active as a member of the team, providing
feedback and creating a separate space where the team can collaborate in seeking
understanding of the issues(p. 101). The facilitator remains detached from the team
and focuses on the team process. He views the facilitator as a catalystwhile the
coach is more of a reagent, themselves engaged in and changed by the dialogue
(p. 101).
Clutterbucks work provides some important clarity about these concepts, but
even here there is some overlap. For example, he posits that the team coach, works
within team dynamicswhile the team facilitator understands team dynamics,
the team coach shares the learning processwhile the team facilitator manages the
learning process(p. 102). He notes that from time to time both the coach and the
facilitator may move from one role to the other as required, but also suggests that,
clarity of role is likely to lead to greater effectiveness(p. 101). Although some clarity
on distinguishing between the roles of coach and facilitator is achieved here, a level
of overlap and ambiguity still remains.
In summary, we suggest that group coaching, conducted either with teams or at a
broader group level, has important but under-used potential as a means of creating
goal-focused change in organisational contexts. As regards distinguishing between
group coaching and group facilitation, an aggregate view of the different perspectives
outlined above suggests that group coaching is more goal focused than the process-
orientation of group facilitation and that the roles of coach and facilitator are
subtlety different. The difference in these roles may best be understood as laying
on a spectrum or dimension, and although theoretically dissimilar, in practice
the boundaries between these modalities are somewhat blurred. Moving on from
the preceding theoretical discussion, we now turn to issues of practice and present
a practical framework for group coaching.
Part II: a model for practice
From GROW to GROUP: goals, reality and the way forward
In order to ensure that coaching conversations stay goal focused, many coaches
purposefully structure the coaching conversation. The GROW model (Whitmore,
2002) is one of the most commonly used methods of structuring the coaching
conversation. Each letter of the acronym GROW represents one stage of a coaching
conversation.
When using the GROW model the session starts by setting a goal for the
coaching session. Coach and coachee then explore the current reality, before
developing options for action and concluding with specific action steps that help
define the way forward. An outline of the GROW model is provided in Table 1
(adapted from Spence & Grant, 2007).
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It should be noted that this process is not linear, but iterative with the
conversation moving backwards and forwards between phases to refine and clarify
the best course of action. Each coaching session finishes with clearly defined action
steps to be completed before the next coaching session. Subsequent coaching
sessions begin by reviewing and evaluating the between-session action steps, before
moving on to set a goal/s for the session; the RE-GROW model (Review, Evaluate,
Goal, Reality, Options and Way Forward; Greene & Grant, 2003).
Of course the GROW model can be used for group coaching as well as dyadic
coaching. However, as already mentioned, an important facet of group coaching is
the explicit inclusion of processes related to group dynamics, and this aspect is not
made overt in the GROW model. To this end we now outline some ideas for a
practical model of group coaching to help guide the practice of group coaching; the
GROUP model, and we present this approach as a more goal-focused approach and
as a possible alternative to other group dynamic approaches or the psychodynamic
approaches described in the group coaching literature.
The understanding others phase: generative dialogue
The GROUP model (Goal, Reality, Options, Understanding others, Perform. See
Table 2) follows the same initial phases of goal setting, reality exploration and option
generation as the GROW model, but these are enacted in a group setting. The
differentiation from the GROW model comes in the fourth phase (the Under-
standing Othersphase). This phase draws on the group dialogue process developed
by Otto Scharma (2007) as a way to design and lead deep collaborative learning
processes.
The ability to truly understand others is a key factor in successful group
coaching. A group can only be truly transformed to the extent to which its members
Table 1. The GROW model.
Acronym Description Example Questions
Goal Coachee is asked to clarify what they
want to achieve from each session.
Determines the focus of coaching.
What do you want to achieve this
session?
How would you like to feel afterwards?
What would be the best use of this time?
Reality Raise awareness of present realities.
Examine how current situation is
impacting coachees goals.
How have things gone in the past week?
How have you handled any problems?
What worked?
What didnt work?
Options Identify and assess available options.
Encourage solution focused thinking
and brainstorming.
What possible options do you have?
What has worked for you in the past?
What havent you tried yet that might
work?
Way
forward
Assist the coachee to determine next
steps. Develop an action plan and build
motivation.
What is the most important thing to do
next?
What might get in the way?
Who will be able to support you?
How will you feel when this is done?
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understand their fellow group members. The word understandingmeans to grasp
the significance, implications, or importance of the information conveyed. Interest-
ingly it has been reported that, for Thomas Edison, the term understandingmeant
to stand under. Edisons idea is that it is only by acknowledging that one stands below
someone or something else that we become open to obtaining and retaining
information from it (Understanding, 2008), and this sense of humility and openness
characterises this phase of the GROUP model.
The Understanding Othersphase is designed to foster a shift in individual and
group awareness, which then enables generative solutions at a systemic level rather
than the more common reactive responses on a symptom level. This is a
sophisticated, subtle, yet profound process that requires appropriate set-up, group
commitment and skilled coaching. We contend that the result is often increased
awareness of previous individual and team blind spots, and the creation of new
possibilities and solutions.
The notion of generative dialogue is central to the Understanding Othersphase.
It is important to recognise that there are vital differences between the constructs of
dialogue and discussion. In short, the root of the word dialogue stems from the
Greek words dai and logos, with dai meaning throughand logos meaning wordor
meaning(Isaacs, 1999). Thus dialogue can be understood as a flow of meaning, a
conversation in which people think together. This is a conversation in which the
participants are genuinely open to possibilities, are truly prepared to let go of the
Table 2. The GROUP model.
Acronym Description Example Questions
Goal Group is asked to clarify what they
want to achieve from each session.
Determines the focus of coaching.
What do you want to achieve this session?
How would you like to feel afterwards?
What would be the best use of this time?
Reality Raise awareness of present realities.
Examine how current situation is
impacting groups goals.
How have things gone in the past week?
How have you handled any problems?
What worked?
What didnt work?
Options Identify and assess available
options. Encourage solution
focused thinking and
brainstorming.
What possible options do you have?
What has worked for you in the past?
What havent you tried yet that might
work?
Understand
others
Group observes deeply, notices their
internal responses to what is being
said and makes meaning both of
what they hear and their internal
response. The group connects to the
emerging best future.
What is your view on the best options?
What did you understand by her view?
What was your internal dialogue when
you were listening to that?
Can you integrate the broader group
perspective?
Perform Assist the group to determine next
steps. Prototype best options.
Develop individual and group
action plans. Build motivation and
ensure accountability.
What is the most important thing to do
next?
What can be learnt from this prototype?
What might get in the way?
Who will be able to support you?
How will you feel when this is done?
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quest for certainty and the need to be right, and in the process are often changed as
people (for an excellent in depth exposition of these issues see Isaacs, 1999).
In contrast to the synergies found in dialogue, Isaacs argues that in discussion
people see themselves as being separate from each other, they take specific positions
and the conversation goes back and forth like a table-tennis match. Where dialogue
is about generating insights, discussion is about making decisions, and about closure
and completion. Indeed, the word decide means to resolve difficulties by cutting
through them ...its roots literally mean to murder the alternative(Scharma, 2007,
p. 42). Dialogue enables a group to, reach a higher level of consciousness and
creativity through the gradual creation of a shared set of meanings and a ‘‘common’’
thinking process(Scharma, 2007, p. 42).
The role of the group coach in the Understanding Others phase is to help the
group members to suspend judgement, become more comfortable with uncertainty
and ambiguity, to be open, to listen to others, and most importantly to listen to their
own personal internal processes. This kind of mindful engagement in dialogue is not
easy, but in Scheins view is a central element of any approach to organisational
transformation.
The essentially personal aspect of this process is highlighted by Schein (2003)
himself who recalls his own first encounters with dialogue where he found himself
spending, more time in self-analysis, attempting to understand what my own
assumptions were, and was relatively less focused on ‘‘active listening’’ ...dialogue
participants do listen actively to each other, but the path for getting there is quite
different(p. 30).
The performing phase: action design and implementation
In the final phase (the Performingphase), the group moves from option generation
and dialogue and into action design and implementation. Individual and group
action steps are determined within the group coaching setting, and this open
exchange of ideas in the group setting is designed to ensure clarity, transparency,
commitment and accountability across all participants. The term performingin this
context draws from Tuckmans (1965) notion of group stages, and it is important to
note that the performing stage incorporates activities both within the coaching
session and activities outside of the coaching session. This is the beginning of an
ongoing iterative learning process where the best options from earlier stages are
developed as prototypes, and then further refined, tested and ultimately either
adopted or discarded. Scharma (2007) talks about this process as learning from the
future as it emerges and evolves.
The performing phase draws on two key additional schools of thought. Firstly,
it draws from principles of prototypingwhich are common to design industries
(Christensen, 2008). Secondly, it draws on theories of looped learning, and in
particular Argyris(1991) model of double loop learning. Both schools of thought
are well suited to enabling the application of systemic perspectives to problem
solving or innovation which is ultimately the goal of the GROUP process.
The concept of prototypes is central to this phase of group coaching. One of the
key strengths of using the notion of prototypes as a frame of reference for this stage
of the coaching process is that prototypes are always in a continuous evolutionary
process of design, testing, and change. Most importantly, the notion of prototypes,
40 S.W. Brown and A.M. Grant
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as impermanent constructs which are subject to ongoing refinement and develop-
ment, helps participants in the group coaching process to let go of unhelpful ideas,
deal with uncertainly and ambiguity. Failurethus becomes an important part of the
learning process. This phase, handled well, incorporates both double and triple loop
learning.
Argyriss (1991) approach to double loop learning requires that learners examine
and challenge their underlying values and assumptions, in addition to trying to solve
the presenting problem. It is the new perspectives that are created during this process
that allow the emergence of novel ideas; as the adage ascribed to Einstein states,
significant problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.
When the group coaching process is skilfully executed, it may well create triple
loop learning (Hawkins, 1991; Hargrove, 2003). Hargroves (2003) approach to
executive coaching extends the notion of double looped learning, describing triple
loop learning as being about altering individuals way of being and their sense of self.
In his view single loop learning is about altering techniques, double loop learning is
altering peoples mental models and thinking, and triple loop learning is about
fundamental changes in the way people are transformation. Indeed, according to
Senge (2006) this type of transformative learning is critical to solving complex
problems and to genuine innovative thought. Although triple loop learning involves
high levels of ambiguity, uncertainty, and willingness to fail, such vulnerability is
balanced by the positive energy created within the group as new directions and
possibilities emerge from the group process. Of course, transformational change
cannot be prescriptively produced on demand in the coaching session. Rather, given
the right conditions, such change emerges from the group process.
RE-GROUP: the review and evaluate phase
The ongoing process of idea development and refinement continues in subsequent
GROUP coaching sessions. Subsequent sessions follow a process of RE-GROUP
(Review, Evaluate, Goal, Reality, Options, Understand others, Perform). The action
steps performed since the previous coaching session are systematically reviewed and
evaluated before new goals are established or adapted.
Once again, this process should be conducted at two or three levels of looped
learning. The action steps taken since the previous meeting are reviewed and
evaluated (single looped learning). In addition, the group coach encourages
participants to examine their underlying assumptions and mental models (double
looped learning), and where appropriate, encourages the group to identify areas
where personal change or transformation has occurred (triple looped learning).
Caution: a flexible methodology, not rigid ideology
The GROUP model is presented here as a proposed practical guide or template for
the group coaching process. We want to emphasise the importance of coaches using
this model in a flexible and client-centred fashion. This is a methodology to help the
process of group coaching, not an ideology to be strictly adhered to. Our coaching
experience suggests that coaching sessions should generally begin by setting explicit
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 41
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goals for the coaching conversation where possible, and should conclude by
delineating specific actions to be completed by participants.
Of course, all coaching conversations do not follow exactly the same pattern.
Once broad goals for the session have been set, and the current reality of the
situation explored, some groups may be better served by moving into the Under-
standing others phase before addressing the Options phase. For example, if group
members have very low understanding of other group membersneeds, strengths
and recourses, it may be useful to raise such awareness by first implementing the
Understanding Others phase, and then moving into the Options phase. In some
cases, the group may find it hard to delineate specific goals at the beginning of the
coaching session, and in such cases it may be useful to first explore the current reality
before moving into goal setting.
The coachs flexibility and skill in reading the group dynamics are the key factors
here. Clearly, it is important that the coach be attuned to the needs of the client
group, treating each group as a unique entity, respecting and working with the group
processes as they emerge, rather than foisting preconceived ideas or models of
change onto the group. Our experience of coaching both individuals and groups
within organisations reinforces time again the flexibility required in applying this and
other coaching methodologies. Thus, in practice the GROUP model is more of a
mental model than a stepped, linear framework and provides a useful map for the
coach to help him/her navigate groups through the coaching process: Like all maps,
it is only a guide to the terrain, not the terrain itself.
Are there times when group coaching is not appropriate? Of course. In relation
to the question of when to use a group coaching process, as previously mentioned,
it is critical that the group coach should ensure that participant consent exists
before commencing the group coaching process. For issues of a more personal
nature, where disclosure within the group is not possible, or where consent for
coaching in a group does not exist, dyadic coaching may be more suitable. In
some instances a combination of group coaching and dyadic coaching may be
optimal, where group and some individual goals are addressed within the group
setting and the more personal individual goals addressed one-to-one with the
coach.
There will of course be instances where the issues to be addressed are more
therapeutic, where the mental health of participants is uncertain, and neither group
or dyadic coaching is appropriate (for an in depth discussion of mental health issues
in coaching see Cavanagh, 2005). In addition, some group dynamics or commu-
nications might be in such a poor state that another form of conflict resolution
process or mediation might be more appropriate, and we would caution against
coercing the members of such groups into a coaching process. However, where the
goal is one for the group, or individual goals are being addressed and participants
consent to the group coaching process, we believe there are many benefits associated
with the group coaching process.
Summary
Dyadic coaching now has considerable momentum as the preferred approach within
organisations. However, for more than 50 years organisational development
42 S.W. Brown and A.M. Grant
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practitioners have primarily focused interventions at the group level. Therefore, the
emergence of group coaching seems a logical integration of these change
methodologies. We have presented an overview of group coaching and have argued
that it can be an important means of goal-focused change in organisational settings.
In addition, we have outlined a model of GROUP coaching that integrates the
dyadic GROW model with Scharmas U Process and other established group
methodologies. We believe that this approach to group coaching provides an effective
way of harnessing the goal-focused nature of dyadic coaching with the dynamic
energy and systemic perspectives inherent in group processes, thus positioning
systemic factors at the core of the coaching process. In this way, and through
developing systems thinking in their clients, executive coaches and consultants may
better foster real change at the individual, group and organisational level.
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Notes on contributors
Saul Brown is the founder and managing director of 2b Consulting
which designs and delivers performance improvement programs for
organisations, using evidence-based approaches to human and
organisation learning, growth and change. He is an adjunct lecturer
at two Australian business schools, where he teaches management,
leadership and coaching. Saul is a graduate of the Coaching Masters
program at Sydney University, has a Master of Business from the
University of NSW and is currently working towards his PhD in
Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, extending his
work on group coaching into a thesis examining the potential of
coaching to facilitate collaboration for innovation and complex
problem solving.
44 S.W. Brown and A.M. Grant
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Dr Anthony M. Grant is recognised as a pioneer of Coaching
Psychology and evidence-based approaches to coaching. He is the
Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of
Sydney. He has written five books on evidence-based coaching and
has over fifty coaching-related publications in the peer-reviewed and
professional press, including six randomised controlled coaching
outcome studies. In 2007 Anthony was awarded the British
Psychological Society Award for outstanding professional and
scientific contribution to Coaching Psychology (Special Group in
Coaching Psychology), and in 2009 he was awarded the Vision of
Excellence Awardfrom Harvard University (McLean Hospital,
Harvard Medical School) for his pioneering work in helping to
develop a scientific foundation to coaching.
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 45
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