Group Coaching differs substantially from traditional training methods. Training offers content: Action Learning builds new solutions and insights.

In the words of an experienced practitioner, Work-based learning…differs from conventional education in that it involves conscious reflection on actual experience…one constantly thinks about one’s problem solving process. It is not enough just to ask, “What did we learn?” but also to ask, “What does it mean or how does it square with what we already know?” Hence, learning can be more than just the acquisition of technical skills; (it) also constitutes the reframing necessary to create new knowledge.  -Joseph Raelin, author and professor

Familiar Learning Methodologies

We are fortunate to live during a time when we can select from a variety of methods to increase our knowledge and abilities: reading, coaching, coursework, podcasts, videos, PowerPoint presentations, webinars, case studies, discussions, focus groups, outdoor adventures, simulations, problem-solving and decision-making formulas, team building activities, role-playing…and more. Action Learning as Group Coaching stands apart in its effectiveness among these familiar methodologies.

Traditional Learning Programs Group Coaching
1. The program developer creates content based on his/her/others’ expertise in the specific topic. 1. Views existing knowledge as temporary (not fixed) —until tried out in a given context.
2. The program facilitator teaches participants a defined set of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and models appropriate behavior. 2. Recognizes that learning can occur spontaneously (not only as acquiring a set of facts to be stored).
3. The participant listens, follows various activities, and rates the value of experience at the end of the training session. 3. The participant brings their real work challenges to the group; the experience is valued because it’s emerges from the work itself, and is customized for each participant.
4. Focuses on content, skills, and prescribed behaviors, for example: interviewing techniques and policies. 4. Focuses on understanding a problem, taking action, and improving learning skills.
5. Participation does not require critical scrutiny or nonjudgmental questioning by learners. In class, deference is given to individuals with the most expertise or authority. 5. Divides meeting time equitably among group members so that all contribute to the process. Over time, group members learn how to manage their own sessions.
6. Provides information to remedy a perceived lack of knowledge, not to reconstruct attendees’ view of reality. 6. Focuses on questions rather than solutions (recognizing that the people who ask the best questions often provide the most benefit)
7. Participants apply new knowledge, skills, and perspectives back on the job–as circumstances permit. 7. Requires conscious reflection on actual experience (in real time with real people and a real problem). Members focus on the skills that are most important and relevant at that point in time.
8. There is little risk involved to the students. 8. There is a degree of personal risk involved, as discussions deal with current, real issues and involve all group members. Participants accept personal responsibility for developing themselves with the help of other team members, and share coaching insights.
9. The subject matter is usually prescribed, not elective. 9. Participants see how their work connects to other parts of the organization.
10. Students engage with instructor to learn new skills and knowledge. 10. Individuals engage with fellow group members to learn how to make better decisions on the job.

What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing. Aristotle, Greek philosopher 

Group Coaching Develops Complex Skills

  • Using intrinsic corrective and reinforcing feedback by focusing on visible behavior
  • Promoting empathy for another’s circumstanceReaching consensus and commitment through group effort
  • Sharing leadership and goals. (Shared goals reduce internal conflict and improve the
    likelihood of achievement)
  • Seeking and endorsing diverse viewpoints. (Diversity of experience is critical: everyone’s talent and commitment is needed to optimize outcomes)
  • Increasing group cohesiveness (commitment to and personal involvement in the group’s task; enjoyment of team work)
  • Managing conflict
  • Surfacing implicit, unstated knowledge and converting it to learning. Participants learn
    collectively in the midst of their activity, yet learning is uniquely personalized and just-in-time.
  • Harvesting system insights and themes, best questions, and organizational (and personal) learning
  • Trusting the process to develop effectively as people spontaneously figure things out

Don’t Use Group Coaching if:

  • An obvious answer to the problem already exiss
  • Traditional instruction will yield a solution (Action Learning is an extended, multifaceted process.  If a quicker, cheaper solution is obvious, use it.)
  • Analyzing the situation will produce a solution
  • Senior management will not commit to implementing the group’s recommendations
  • Your organization’s culture doesn’t ordinarily support self-managing teams

What Group Coaching Is Not

  • Group therapy
  • Easy for the participants
  • A fad
  • For the faint of heart

Coming Up: Group Coaching—The Role of the Executive Sponsor

Transformational change programs (such as Action Learning projects) best achieve their intended results when they have the clear, active and steadfast support of an influential sponsor.