The Benefits of Group Coaching When Paired with Training

Knowledge retention has been a concern within the learning and development space for decades. While it is widely understood that traditional training programs that rely solely on lecture-based learning are largely ineffective at driving knowledge retention, this method of training still exists and is used by countless organizations. Training does have its place within the leader development lifecycle, but it is not enough. Training must be paired with active learning strategies, such as group coaching, in order to ensure knowledge retention and application.

Active learning — where participants are encouraged to engage in “contributing, collaborating, discussing, discovering, reflecting, and sharing” — boosts knowledge retention and helps ensure training investments are not wasted. Consider, in a 2022 study, researchers at Indiana University of Pennsylvania compared two groups of participants in a training course. The group that participated in active learning demonstrated higher retention rates one month later than those who participated in lecture-based training. 

Group coaching for leadership development is one of the most cost-effective active learning models to nurture business success. 

What is group coaching?

Group coaching is an immersive, peer-based, coach-led development experience that leverages the collective knowledge, skills, and expertise of several leaders to advance the development goals of all. Group coaching promotes cross-functional knowledge sharing (especially those with diverse perspectives) to identify and explore the mindset and behavior shifts needed to become more accountable, transparent, innovative, and dynamic leaders.

Ultimately, the goal of coaching in a group setting is to provide unique opportunities to brainstorm, give and receive feedback, troubleshoot, and build trust among peers. Culture often trickles down. When leaders develop strong, trusting relationships, their teams return and sustain the same attitude. Further, group coaching expands the reach of leadership development programs with unique benefits.

Benefits to group coaching

A well-run group coaching program can produce lasting, positive business impact including:

Collaboration across members of once siloed departments:

Where the leader of a finance team may rarely interact with IT leadership, group coaching provides a safe space for people to connect in potentially unlikely ways around shared areas of leadership development. Each leaders stands to benefit from their shared wisdom — be it from wins or losses.

Effective leadership behaviors:

Group coaching expands leadership thinking and capabilities, and builds emotional and social intelligence through self-reflection and group exploration. As a result, there are often more organic opportunities for active listening, vulnerability, and curiosity where leaders learn about others’ perspectives and emotions in a rich, current work context.

Clear connections to organizational outcomes:

For many leaders, the only time various teams meet and interact is during regularly scheduled company meetings. These brief interactions are unlikely to provide leaders with a deep understanding of others’ roles — much less insights related to their struggles or successes. However, with group coaching, those same leaders can explore the art of leadership across their respective experiences and departments, which builds greater appreciation, empathy, and understanding. Relationships become stronger, and the transfer of knowledge and experiences into their daily work is easier.

Increased accountability:

Lauren Hutto, senior director of coaching excellence at Sounding Board explained that group coaching doesn’t make people “beholden to their coach, but rather to each other.” According to Springer’s Journal of Business Ethics, “We Hold Ourselves Accountable: A Relational View of Team Accountability,” results indicate that accountability is strongly related to trust, commitment, efficacy, and identifying with other group members emotionally. 

When leaders work together in group coaching sessions, they tend to take more responsibility for their actions and commitments because they feel a sense of accountability to each other. Also, when group members know they will be held accountable for their decisions, they’re likely to exchange more information and choose the correct alternative. 

A culture of collaborative learning and growth:

As leaders develop a greater understanding of the challenges and successes other leaders and teams face, they become more open to other perspectives and opportunities for inner-organizational collaboration. Inevitably, approaching work in this way trickles down, influencing thinking in the teams these leaders manage as well. 

Iyad Uakoub, senior director of behavioral science at Sounding Board, said the benefits of leadership coaching in a group setting can be invaluable because “durable changes in leadership behavior are more likely to occur in that setting than in a traditional training program.” Group coaching for leaders can establish a foundation of trust, improve morale, and increase self-awareness of participants. It leads to greater organizational and team commitment and contributes to greater accountability for the same — all factors that translate into better results for the organization. Its impact is evident in building high-performing and highly emotionally intelligent teams.

Do the leaders you manage need group coaching?

Group coaching is most effective for the following types of leaders: 

  • Individuals new to management roles, high potentials, or emerging leaders
  • Any manager or leader who can use the support of peers and a coach to bring out their best work
  • Leaders or people managers who have enough leadership management training to understand what they should be doing as a people manager and need a space to process and think through how to carry out their role in the most effective way
  • Project team leaders who are leading a team of people but are not their direct manager

One of the best ways to learn is by utilizing the wealth of knowledge and experience that is already at your disposal. That’s exactly what group coaching offers. According to Lauren Hutto, this developmental activity goes far beyond facilitating conversations amid a peer group. She said it’s about “coaching people toward the next level of awareness – which comes from learning from others in a similar role – and creating a shift in mindsets and behaviors around a shared set of leadership development goals.”

When leaders receive coaching as a group, they become more accountable, more transparent, and more innovative. Not only do they grow individually, they also learn from each other’s mistakes and successes, and gain new perspectives as a result of understanding diverse points of view. With group coaching, organizations become less siloed, and new lines of communication and productivity are established. That’s the power of effective group coaching. 

Komal Gulati is a freelancer for Sounding Board. A published researcher, mental health advocate, and medical student at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. She has previously written for the Scientific American, KevinMD, Temple Health Magazine, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Medical Minds Matter, Sounding Board, and the NeuroLeadership Institute’s ‘Your Brain at Work’ blog.

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