Group coaching for leaders and managers by remote meeting: a practical guide

Not every leader or manager qualifies for the investment required to receive one-on-one coaching. In many organizations, group coaching becomes an affordable alternative for developing managers. In some cases, it is the perfect solution regardless of the budget. Groups of managers can discuss challenges, share ideas, and work together to achieve organizational goals during the coaching sessions.

In addition, group coaching provides a good opportunity for external coaches. You can charge less per person, so that the client organization is happy, and yet you can make more for about the same amount of time. For instance, let’s say that you typically charge $2,500 per month to coach a senior leader (Note: At the Center for Executive Coaching, we suggest you charge one fee for the entire engagement, but here we stick to a monthly approach for simplicity). Normally you might have one session per week, backing down to every other week over time.

Now let’s say that you win an engagement to coach four managers. You could charge half what you charge the senior leader, of $1,250, and receive twice as much for ($1,250 X 4 or $5,000) about the same amount of time or a little bit more. This is only one example, and shows you that you have room to be flexible; you could charge as little as $700 per month per manager and still come out ahead. Remember that it is not about your time spent. It is about the results you can get for the organization, and by coaching more managers you can help accelerate results even more.

Here is a coaching plan for group coaching. This plan assumes you have already been hired, and so it doesn’t include discussions about payment and other terms.

Medium: Any video platform works well. With Zoom, assuming they fix their security issues, Zoom meetings allows you to see each manager on the screen. You can also use the breakout room feature for larger groups and let participants break into groups for peer coaching. You can enter any room to observe and provide support.

Length of engagement: Group coaching engagement length is flexible. The range is broad and spans between six and eighteen months. The longer engagements typically involve some sort of change initiative or performance improvement project that requires a long time period to complete. I’ve seen some organizations require a three month engagement, but it can be challenging to see significant improvement or results over that time.

Frequency to meet: Frequency varies depending on the goals of the engagement, number of participants, how closely the participants work together, and budget. Frequency can also change over time as participants show progress. The coaching process usually is structured to allow for both group and individual sessions; individual sessions give the opportunity for participants to share their unique challenges and issues they might not feel comfortable sharing with the whole group. For instance, with four managers in the group, a good format might be one or two group sessions monthly, and one individual meeting with each participant every month or every other month. It’s quite open, and there is no set standard. Be flexible and creative, so long as you work backwards from the goal and how the client defines value.

Following are the four steps in the group coaching process, along with one activity that is done throughout the engagement….

Step one: Confirm fit and set up the coaching. Before beginning the coaching, meet with the organizational sponsor who is paying for the coaching to get clear on the expected results and outcomes of the engagement, including how to track and measure results (more on tracking and measuring results below).

Also, confirm that the sponsor will support your expectations for participants (e.g., rules of the road), discuss how to screen and select participants, and agree on how to invite participants so that they understand that they have a wonderful professional development opportunity. Be absolutely sure that sponsors and participants agree that attendance without distractions is critical to success.

Meet separately with each participant, too, to get clear on their individual goals, assess the coach-ability of each participant to be sure they are excited and ready to get started, and confirm mutual expectations.

When you set goals with the organizational sponsor and participants, be sure to create goals that are well worth your fees. I ask this question: “What outcome do you want to see from this engagement that would be worth 5 – 10 times my fees and your time?” If the group works together as a team, you can set both individual goals and a goal for how the team performs more effectively together.

A strong set up leads to effective coaching.

Step two: Hold an orientation. Hold an orientation webinar to introduce the coaching to the group, share goals, set up assessments to complete, and even get started with the coaching.

Reinforcing the rules of the road is important during the orientation. Examples: show up on time and with no distractions; be positive; maintain confidentiality excepting cases where a participant threatens harm or shares that they are doing something illegal in the organization (and with the caveat that participants should also use discretion, because you can’t guarantee confidentiality); do your assignments; and let everyone participate.

Step three: Assess. Just as in an individual coaching engagement, conducting assessments is an important part of the process. The assessment you do depends on the situation and goals.

Generally I have participants complete one off-the-shelf, highly validated assessment that shows their thinking and communication style, behavioral traits, and interests. Each participant reviews their assessment individually with the coach, and uses the assessment to identify how to use their strengths to improve performance. If the group happens to be working together as a team, I can convert each individual assessment to a team assessment that shows each manager’s traits on a single page, so that the group can really get to know their fellow participants and how to work best with them.

With one-on-one coaching, I also like participants to complete a 360-degree verbal assessment to understand more about the impact they have on others. With group coaching, if the number of participants is large, it is challenging time-wise to conduct all of these interviews for each participant. One alternative is to ask participants to ask five colleagues a pre-set list of questions about their strengths and opportunities to do even better; one learns a lot about someone by their willingness to ask for feedback/advice and how they receive it. A second alternative is to have participants complete an online 360-degree assessment. I’m partial to the Checkpoint 360 in the Profiles family as well as the Genos International EI assessment. There are many options.

Step Four: Conduct group and individual coaching. As with individual coaching, group sessions start by getting clear about the goal for the session. Then you might check in with each participant about what they’ve tried since the last session, successes, and challenges. When challenges arise, group coaching gives you the opportunity to have participants provide peer coaching and advice to one another, which makes your job even easier. With group coaching, you can sit back and let participants guide the process even more than you can with individual coaching. Step in when it brings value, by asking high-level questions, finding out what participants want to discuss, asking about insights, and confirming accountability between the current and next session.

Within this format you have lots of flexibility. For instance, in more of a coaching/leadership academy format, the coach might structure a more formal agenda, leaving time during each session to introduce a new leadership concept or framework (The Center for Executive Coaching provides over two dozen tools and frameworks that offer robust content for group coaching sessions that include content about improving one’s leadership). That way, participants can discuss it and apply it to their current situation. In other cases, if a member has an especially big challenge that is relevant to the group, you might get permission to have the group focus on that challenge during the session; just be sure that no single member starts to dominate the discussions.

Throughout: Track and measure progress. At the Center for Executive Coaching, we teach that every coaching engagement should include a way to track and measure progress throughout the engagement. There are many ways to do this. One is to have participants follow a behavioral coaching process to measure a specific behavior that they change based on observations by colleagues. Another is to track the progress of a team or individual project. A before-and-after 360-degree assessment can also be quite valuable; for instance, the Checkpoint 360 assessment provides a nifty before/after report showing improvements. When priorities management is an issue, participants can complete a time study at the beginning and track how they change their use of time to be more productive and strategic. If the issue is about confidence or stress, participants can rate themselves on a Likert or 1-to-10 scale. I’ve even used a system where participants report results each week; over time, participants develop an impressive portfolio of achievements that you and they can share with their managers (with permission, of course). Coach and participants can work together early on to develop the best ways to track and measure progress for each participant and, if appropriate, for the group as a whole.

Group coaching is not nearly as difficult as many coaches believe before they try it. If anything, it offers coach, participants, and the organization great benefits at a more affordable cost than one-on-one coaching. It is rewarding to see participants come together as a supportive unit, be accountable for improving performance, and improve results in ways that everyone can document.

Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed the content in this article, getting trained and Certified as an Executive Coach with the Center for Executive Coaching could be a great next step for you. Please check out our programs, for instance our distance learning program, and reach out with any questions.

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