How to Foster Belonging Through Group Coaching

Business professionals participating in a leadership group coaching session to foster organizational belonging

Employees today place an increased emphasis on the need to feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. According to Deloitte’s “Belonging: From comfort to connection to contribution,” some of this increase can be attributed to external factors: the world is changing rapidly and becoming more volatile, and political polarization, tribalism, and populism are on the rise. As we spend a good deal of time working, this rising external volatility causes many to look more critically at their workplaces to find a sense of meaning and solidarity that is becoming more and more elusive outside of the office. 

There are also internal workforce factors at play. The pandemic led to an increase in alternative work arrangements, with some employees going — and staying — fully remote, while others are adopting hybrid work arrangements. While this has worked well for many employees, it has led others to feel less connected to their organizations. Further, these work arrangements have led to a subsequent rise in technology use to stay connected. However, depending on how technology is used, it can actually increase feelings of isolation. Finally, as employees work longer hours, they are looking for more than just a paycheck from employers.

What is belonging in the workplace, and why is it important?

Organizations that successfully cultivate belonging in the workplace ensure that talent feel accepted and included. It’s important to distinguish between having a sense of belonging and being popular. These are two entirely different things. Belonging may not mean being popular with colleagues or feeling connected to coworkers as a result of similarities. Instead, belonging at work is the result of:

  1. Feeling seen for one’s unique contributions. When employees feel seen at work, they feel they are recognized, rewarded, and respected by their colleagues.
  2. Feeling connected to coworkers. When employees feel connected, they experience more positive social interactions with peers, managers, and senior leaders.
  3. Feeling supported in one’s daily work and career development. When employees feel supported, they believe that others around them (peers, managers, and senior leaders) give them what they need to get their work done and to live a full life. 
  4. Feeling proud of the organization. Employees who feel proud of their organization often have a greater connection to their organization’s vision and values. 

 

Unfortunately, those elements are often missing in organizations. “Five Findings on the Importance of Belonging,” 2019 EY study conducted by Karyn Twaronite, found that 40 percent of working adults are most likely to feel isolated when excluded at work, and nearly half said they have a negative perception of their organization. The result is lower organizational commitment and engagement.

Feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace is vital, write authors Julia Taylor Kennedy and Pooja Jain-Link in their 2021 Harvard Business Review article “What Does It Take to Build a Culture of Belonging? In the workplace belonging translates to acceptance, connection, and appreciation which are universally appealing and valuable as a means to engage, motivate, and retain talent. Companies that emphasize a culture of belonging also significantly increase the ability to adopt and amplify a culture of empathy, inclusion, and continuous learning. As a result, the importance of fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace is being increasingly recognized by employers. Deloitte’s 2021 “Belonging” survey found that 79 percent of organizations responding said that fostering a sense of belonging was important or very important to the organization’s success, but only 13 percent of respondents said they were very ready to address the trend.

Organizational culture, leadership behavior, and personal relationships have the most impact in developing a sense of belonging in the workplace. Belonging creates a workplace environment where employees can feel safe to be themselves, believe they are part of a larger team where their contributions are valued, feel they are treated fairly, and have a sense of community. Employees with a sense of belonging feel aligned to the organization’s purpose, mission, and values.

Further, 93 percent of respondents to the Deloitte survey agreed that when employees have a high sense of belonging often organizational performance improves by producing the following outcomes:

  • Reduced turnover
  • Decreased sick leave
  • Improved productivity
  • Decreased resistance in adopting a culture of communication and innovation
  • Higher engagement among employees and new leaders

 

Employees who feel like they are valued and belong are less likely to see their careers as being stifled, and this increases their sense of loyalty to their organization. 

Group coaching for belonging

Group coaching is an immersive, peer-based, coach-led leadership development experience designed to accelerate the development of crucial leadership capabilities among individual participants. Group coaching engages a small group of peers — usually six to ten people — in exploring how they lead themselves, lead others, and lead for impact within their organization. The coach facilitates dialogue among the leaders, leveraging their collective knowledge of the organization to identify the most effective leadership practices and explore the mindset and behavior shifts needed to implement those practices. 

Group coaching and team coaching differ. Team coaching focuses on an intact team in an organization, coaching them around how they are working together toward shared goals. To be most effective, group coaching should involve a group of people who see themselves as peers within the organization and are at similar levels and places in their leadership development journey. While their goals may be different, their overall needs for leadership development are actually similar. Group coaching can be delivered in person or virtually, the latter of which may be preferable for organizations with hybrid or remote workforces or with multiple locations.

Group coaching allows leaders to:
  • Practice newly gained behaviors and capabilities in a safe space. Through expanded leadership thinking and capabilities, there’s increased opportunity for active listening, vulnerability, and curiosity to learn about others’ perspectives and emotions. 
  • Create an accountability system. Group coaching drives lasting improvements in areas like accountability from an expanded internal network and personal connection to the business. Managers are empowered to become agents of change rather than blockers. A certified, highly experienced leadership coach will provide participants with the opportunity to give and receive honest feedback during pre/post-checkpoint surveys. Being open to sharing goals and potentially engaging in a manager alignment conversation adds another layer of accountability.
  • Develop a support network. Group coaching is a great way to expand internal networks and professional connections. Steinberg and Watkins noted in their 2021 Harvard Business Review article “The Surprising Power of Peer Coaching,” they found that group coaching experiences create the foundation needed for open dialogue and trust in the group. This provides a sustainable, company-wide network to support internal collaboration.
  • Make new peer connections. A virtual group coaching model is ideal to connect leaders from any global location. This expansive connection helps to create a sense of belonging and representation for new leaders, individual contributors, or identity groups. Strengthening personal networks lowers barriers to cross-collaboration and inclusion. Private, on-demand group chats offer another way to access group members, facilitate coaching discussions, and reflect between sessions. Group coaching is also a great developmental tool to strengthen internal networks and belonging amid members of minority,special interest, affinity, or resource groups. 

Due to its scalability, group coaching is becoming more widely adopted by organizations. It can improve team morale, and boost productivity, leading to increased efficiencies. It’s delivered in real-time, and this helps leaders readily integrate and apply the capabilities learned to their work and leadership practices immediately. Group coaching can help leaders develop the most effective mindsets for success and the behaviors they need to have better feedback conversations with their team. Group coaching is also flexible and can adapt to shifting goals of leaders within the group and changing organizational dynamics and needs. It drives home the learning needed to create belonging throughout an organization.

To explore how group coaching can help your organization foster a culture of belonging, schedule a demo.

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