Group Coaching vs Individual Coaching: Differences, Benefits and Which is Best

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Group Coaching vs Individual Coaching: Differences, Benefits and Which is Best

Benefits of Group Coaching and One-to-One Coaching and How to Decide Which Style to Use

By Lucia Baldelli and Roni Givati

Coaching can support organisations and individuals in different forms. Even though individual coaching seems to be the most popular and widespread in business environments, there are other ways to support the development of individuals in more creative and engaging ways. 

Group coaching provides you with the value of coaching principles and a facilitated process applied to a small group of people who are focused on developing through the collective wisdom of the group, yet have their own individual goals. It helps individuals to grow together around inspiring topics by creating an environment for practice, discussion and reflection. 

In this article we will explore the differences between individual and group coaching. We will highlight benefits and disadvantages to bring clarity on what is most suited to your specific needs. We will also highlight how group coaching is different from team coaching, since they are often confused but very different in nature and purpose. 

The Importance of Coaching

A coach is a thinking partner that works with individuals or groups to achieve agreed upon coaching goals. We like to think about it as a relationship where we are focused on someone else’s success and we customise our approach according to the uniqueness of our clients by bringing what they need in the room: presence, human qualities, skills, tools.   

We both have a couple of decades of experience working within organisations willing to create a culture where people can thrive, grow their leaders, nurture relationships in their teams, so that they can ultimately delight their customers. They call us to hold a mirror for them and help them to see what they do not see, catalise change, increase accountability, overcome barriers to their success and reach their full potential. 

As the Institute of Coaching describes in this article, the benefits of coaching in the workplace are unquestionable:

  • 80% of people that joined a coaching program significantly improved their self-confidence, which we have seen being one of the most common challenges that leaders bring for coaching
  • over 70% have reported improvements to their work performance and communication skills, with positive impact on their relationships
  • 86% of the organisations that engaged a coach invested further in coaching services. 

What we love about coaching is that it is all about nurturing, growing, helping other people become better at what they do. Unlike other forms of organisational support, coaching is about helping clients find their own way, regardless of what we think they should do or not do. They are the best placed to find solutions to their problems and the motivation that comes from designing the next steps for themselves creates action and forward movement. 

Over the course of our career, we have explored different types of coaching and seen their benefits and challenges in different contexts. In this article we will compare individual and group coaching, both aimed at growing individual skills but very different in nature.   

One on One Coaching vs Group Coaching: Differences

Coaching has become quite popular in business environments. Organisations, leaders and teams leverage coaches to create a workplace where employees are happier and more engaged and grow skills that can help people to thrive. Depending on specific needs, organisations might choose to leverage coaching for individuals – e.g. newly appointed leaders, employees at crucial points in their career or in need for personal development and support – or group coaching – individuals from different parts of the business with similar coaching needs.

Individual coaching is an intimate and safe space where an individual client can gain new awareness and insights about personal or work related challenges while group coaching focuses on a small group of people who want to develop and grow on the same topic through facilitated discussions and activities, accessing the collective wisdom of the group.

While individual coaching is by far the most popular, group coaching has many benefits in particular for organisations, leaders, and executives. In the following paragraphs we will explain the main differences between individual and group coaching, we will look at the benefits and challenges to allow you to make a more conscious choice about which one is suitable for you.

Bear in mind that group coaching is not to be confused with team coaching, whose aim is instead to develop a team as an intact entity and nurture relationships between people who normally work closely, share a purpose and accountability to achieve a common goal. 

What is One on One Coaching?

One on one coaching is a partnership between a coach and an individual client. They work together to achieve the client’s specific goal for the relationship that is clarified upfront. Generally speaking they work together to maximise the client’s potential in regards to a specific topic or challenge. If you want to know more about what coaching is and how it differs from other service professions, follow the link to Lucia’s article that explains this more in detail.

During each individual session, the coach and the client take a step forward in exploring and resolving smaller aspects of the bigger challenge that has to be addressed during the coaching relationship. The coach uses skills such as thought provoking questions, active listening, observations, mirroring, paraphrasing, silence, etc. to provoke the client’s thinking and generate insights. In between sessions the client normally makes further progress that will take him/her closer to the relationship goal. 

Several roles in organisations seek for and benefit from individual coaching:

  • Executives
  • Directors and VPs
  • Department and Team Leaders
  • People managers  
  • but also anyone who has to develop personally and professionally.

Individual coaching is sought in organisations for different reasons (and the list is not exhaustive):

  • improve self confidence
  • develop soft skills
  • improve work/life balance
  • increase resilience
  • improve one’s leadership style
  • make crucial decisions
  • increase emotional intelligence. 

What Are the Benefits of Individual Coaching?

There are multiple benefits that might push organisations to invest in dedicated and focused time of a coach to an individual. Developing and growing individuals with a tailored approach still seems to be the most widespread way to grow employees. 

Let’s explore the benefits of having a coach dedicated to your growth.

  • It is a safe and intimate space

A 1-1 relationship creates a higher degree of safety and intimacy. A client can talk about anything if alone with a coach. The conversation goes much deeper and they are allowed to show themself as they are with their emotions, strengths and flaws knowing that no one will judge them. They have a thinking partner dedicated to themself!

  • It Helps Build a Strong Connection

Client and coach build a strong connection during the relationship. The client has a partner devoted to their success and growth. They both trust each other and trust the coaching process and this can only lead to excellent results.

  • It is Customised to One’s Needs

The coach’s approach and style is customised to how the client thinks and learns. The coach knows the client, asks the questions they need, celebrates their uniqueness and the progress they make in the coaching process, supports them in difficult moments and challenges them when you need to be pushed. A 1-1 relationship maximises their chances to succeed. 

  • It Promotes Accountability

I have observed a higher level of accountability in individual clients that seems to be a bit diluted in a one to many relationship. Even though the coach is not part of the accountability of the client, who is entirely responsible for the progress in between sessions, there is a stronger commitment to get things done when a client discusses them one on one with your coach.   

  • It is flexible

Practically speaking, clients can organise your schedule and appointments as you wish when you have a 1-1 relationship. It seems easy but it is so important when we are coaching senior leaders whose agenda is quite busy! 

What Are the Disadvantages of Individual Coaching?

Now let’s look at the downsides of having a dedicated coach.

  • It is More Time-Consuming

An individual coaching relationship normally lasts between 6 and 12 hours for a focused topic. Leaders working in highly challenging environments might choose to have a dedicated coach for long periods of time.

  • It Is Not Easily Scalable

A customised and tailored journey cannot be scaled and organisations might have to choose the leaders that will benefit from coaching. 

  • It is More Expensive

In order to coach the same number of leaders, the cost of individual coaching is much higher because you need a dedicated coach that works with several leaders individually. 

One on One Coaching Best Practices

Here are some best practices of individual coaching. 

  • Set Precise Goals

It is important to set precise goals at the beginning of the coaching relationship, so that both the coach and the client are focused towards achieving clear and measurable objectives.

  • Structure a Coaching Plan

Break down the work in smaller chunks that can be addressed in a single session and make sure you link them to the overall relationship goal to keep the focus on wider objectives.

  • Check in

Review progress towards relationship goals on a regular basis.

  • Hold the client accountable

Make sure you are not part of the accountability mechanism of your client and you are not delegated part of their work! Your goal has to create self sustainable change and the client does not have to depend on you.

What is Group Coaching?

Group coaching provides a scalable way for personal and professional development that leads to lasting behavioural change and growth. It is a peer learning process that is guided by a group coach who progressively stimulates the discussion and helps to deepen the learning. It is focused on exploration of meaningful topics and coaching around how ideas can be applied to each individual and their personal goals. The most valuable part of the group coaching experience is in hearing the voice, perspectives and experiences of fellow participants. They are invited to be vulnerable and share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. As a result, individuals improve their listening skills and learn what is required to build a coaching culture that is rooted in trust and personal connection.  

In a world where collaborative, collective leadership is essential, group coaching helps to increase social connection and trust, and build the skill sets needed to thrive through change. 

Group coaching gathers individuals that can be from the same organisation, from different parts of the same organisations or from different companies. We have seen it working in different contexts and on different topics, such as promoting systems and strategic thinking, building proficiency in reflection, time management and productivity, improving feedback, increasing dexterity in presentation, conflict management, managing change, improving interpersonal skills, building trust and vulnerability, and communication. 

Group coaching can be designed to specific needs and the whole organisation as well as individuals will benefit from the impact of this approach to coaching. Let’s have a look at why it is worth the investment! 

What Are the Benefits of Group Coaching? 

  • Having a supportive network

Group members can become a source of both support and valuable insight. With enough time together, most coaching groups develop a foundation of openness and trust. These connections can be carried out-side of the group coaching process and provide participants with a social network that they can lean on to continue their growth journey. 

  • Requires Less Time With More Gain

When group coaching is used to explore a specific topic, having the collective wisdom of the team helps to achieve faster learning loops. For example, through a  6-8 week group coaching program you can gain deeper insights and growth. Having the group members give you regular input on your progress provides a powerful impact and gain in a shorter time period. 

  • It is Scalable

In group coaching you have six to 10 people that are all learning and growing together. This provides organisations with a scalable way to support employees through change, navigating uncertainty and personal development.

  • Shared Accountability (To The Coach and The Group)

Openly sharing your goals for growth with the group increases accountability and provides an opportunity to collectively reflect on progress, celebrate success and identify setbacks. 

  • Invites diverse perspectives

Each group member will bring their own world view, experiences and goals. By engaging in meaningful dialogue with your colleagues, you can gain a better understanding of different perspectives and challenges that may lead to more profound insights. Having the ability to share perspectives and learn from each other reduces the dependency on the coach and shifts the support to the group. 

  • Opportunity to practice new skills in a safe space

The experience of collective and collaborative learning provides a safe space for participants to practise key leadership skills including listening, being vulnerable, getting comfortable with others’ perspectives and emotions, asking insightful questions, giving and receiving direct feedback, and helping people find their own solutions. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Group Coaching? 

  • It Is Less Tailored to Individual Needs
  • It requires a shared commitment

Group coaching requires a shared commitment from group members to show-up, participate, be vulnerable and contribute to the group experience. Not having this commitment from all participants can greatly reduce the benefit from hearing others’ experiences, reflections, and breakthroughs.

  • It is Harder to Coach and Manage Groups

Group coaches are expected to listen holistically to the group discussion to support all voices being heard. Facilitating real time group dynamics requires the coach to find the balance between allowing people to share their experience and interrupt when there is a single voice that dominates the conversation. Additionally, coaches are required to balance consistency and flexibility, coaching and facilitation, free flow discussion and achieving collective learning goals.

  • You Need to Attract More Clients to Form a Group

Group coaching requires a minimum of 6 people to be able to realise the benefits of social connection and group learning. If the group size is too small, the benefit of collective learning diminishes. 

  • Need for psychological safe environment

Group coaching requires a psychologically safe environment. This safety takes time to cultivate with each participant opening themselves up to the process at their own pace. If the coach is not successful in creating a safe environment the learning experience will not be as rich. 

Group Coaching Best Practices

You will not realise the benefits of group coaching unless you build some essential foundations early on. 

  • Find a common thread between participants

A shared experience requires a common thread that connects and engages all participants. For example, people that are new to management roles, women in leadership, leaders looking to improve their communication skills.  

  • Create an environment of trust and support

Group members and coach must have a shared commitment to confidentiality. Additionally, group members need to listen to each other and provide feedback not judgement. A sense of psychological safety allows group members to feel comfortable revealing doubts and weaknesses and sharing perspectives with total honesty.

  • Allow all participants to be involved and engaged

Right from the start, set the expectation that just participating is not enough. Members must show up bringing a collective attitude and taking responsibility for helping others improve. Allowing members to participate in the co-creation process and learning journey provides more opportunity for deep exploration and connection between group members.

  • Set measurable goals

Ask each memembrs to use the process to push and grow beyond their comfort zone. At the onset of the group coaching journey, each member is expected to set a goal for themselves and share the goal with the group. Each session should be structured as progression towards achieving the collective goal and individual goals of each member. 

  • Provide direct feedback

The coach and members have the responsibility to each other to provide constructive feedback that will help each individual progress toward their goals and the group as a whole to grow together. 

What is the Difference Between Team Coaching and Group Coaching?

Team coaching is important to develop relationships and team intelligence, uncover different perspectives about what is hindering the team’s success, and create a winning team. It is work we do with intact teams that have a shared purpose and want to improve their bonds, so that they can meet stakeholders needs better, engage with them more effectively, improve their internal processes and ways of working, be the voice of the team and partner with other dependent teams, continuously inspect and adapt on their being and doing as a single entity. 

Team coaching is therefore very different from group coaching because:

  • It focuses on people who work together to achieve a common goal
  • It develops and nurtures relationships to achieve collective – not individual – goals
  • It builds trust and safety within the team
  • It focuses on a journey towards a shared idea of success for the team
  • It helps the team overcome existing barriers or impediments to improved team collaboration and performance.  

Team coaching is about helping a group of people to learn how to work together as a single unit towards a common goal. Group coaching focuses on developing individuals through peer learning and collective exploration, creating deeper connections and actionable, long-term development.

Group Coaching vs Individual Coaching: How to Decide Which One is Best for You?

Difficult to say which one is best. We hope we unfolded the topic to allow a more conscious choice that is right for the uniqueness of the client’s organisational context and needs. 

If we consider this from the perspective of leadership development, future leaders will face the challenge of learning to think in new ways, constantly reinventing themselves and their organisations and shifting their mindsets, not just the behaviours. Leadership of the future will move away from focusing on individual heroic leaders and stress the need for collective/collaborative leadership culture, developing partnerships with the wider organisation and all of their stakeholders. Group coaching supports this need and allows people to grow, be vulnerable and discover through the process of supporting each other in the journey. 

There is a paradox in executive coaching where leaders work one-on-one with a coach to develop their relationship skills and challenges, the impact they have on others and how they show up. Learning to parner and develop a collaborative leadership culture should be done in a space where individuals are required to practise and demonstrate the skills needed for collective leadership. Leaders should find the balance between topics that they bring to individual coaching and those they open up with a group. Creating a psychologically safe environment requires experience what it takes to create and show-up in a group. Many of the skills needed for future leaders and leadership are grounded in group dynamics and learning how to co-create, partner, listen, get comfortable with others’ perspectives and grow from collective wisdom. 

References

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