Who among us would not benefit by engaging in a learning conversation, artfully and skillfully led by a competent and caring facilitator who teaches us how to draw on the collective knowledge of engaged and trusted colleagues?

In a nutshell, the ideal background for a Group Coaching facilitator is an artful blend of group process and communication skills learned through formal and informal study, observation, supervised participation, and experience. They create a supportive, encouraging environment in which the set can learn to:

  • Own the solutions to their problems
  • Challenge each other by asking high gain questions
  • Reflect on how they learn and the application to other organizational issues
  • Examine its behavior as a group
  • Maintain focus on the process
  • Ensure that teams use the principles of Action Learning (e.g. that team members curtail giving advice or making judgments)
  • Focus on learning to solve problems rather than the problem themselves, and on the present and future, rather than the past.

The facilitator’s job is not to teach, manage training, supervise work, problem-solve, or provide subject matter expertise regarding the problem under consideration. He or she does not suggest solutions, but remains neutral throughout discussions and conflicts.

To prepare themselves for the skill and art of balanced coaching, facilitators can complete a graduate course in group dynamics, serve as apprentices to seasoned facilitators, and participate as members in Action Learning groups, where they practice advanced group process and communication skills.

Group Process Skills

  • Help the group establish and follow norms and deal with issues when norms are violated (e.g. repeated absence of a member, unproductive patterns of interaction, differences in individual values)
  • Create a safe, confidential learning environment where members feel comfortable and empowered to engage in reflective inquiry
  • Intervene when she sees an opportunity to improve performance
  • Ensure efficiency and accountability for process and outcomes
  • Keep participants on track and on time
  • Ensure that all set participants have adequate and equal airspace (speaking time)
  • Accommodate different learning styles (a learning style is the way in which each learner begins to concentrate on, process, internalize, and remember new and difficult academic content)

 Action Learning Skills

  • Manage real-time learning experiences by guiding the set members to diagnose, look for patterns, and seek the root cause of a problem
  • Intervene when he sees and opportunity for learning and improved process
  • Remind the team to reflect on their dynamics and processes by promoting dialogue (vs. discussion), and careful listening (vs. speaking)
  • Encourage creativity and fresh perspectives in problem-solving and developing innovative action strategies
  • Challenge the team to apply learning to define and solve problems to use in a variety of situations
  • Help the set determine who will take what action and by when, and if, how, and when the results will be presented to the sponsor and the larger organization
  • Focus the set on what it is achieving, what it finds difficult, and what processes it is using
  • Help members explore the organizational context within which they are operating to understand the internal and external business environment and determine if/how the company’s culture, mission and values supports group dynamics
  • Challenge the team to consider the impact and consequences of the strategies they’re considering
  • Model the framing of high-gain, appropriate questions, active listening, and providing and receiving effective feedback
  • Guide group to assess and monitor their progress in learning, questioning, reflecting, listening, and taking action
  • Help the group to clarify goals, reframe problems and challenge assumptions
  • Assist the group in defining what it can and cannot control

For example:

  1. Part of the way through a 45-60 minute set in which a participant shares his or her issue, the facilitator might ask:
  • How are you doing as a group after (the first 30 or 45 minutes of) working together?
  • What have you done well so far?  What can you do better?
  • What questions had a useful impact on the presenter?
  • What assumptions were uncovered?
  • Where do you need to go next?
  1. At end of each set, the facilitator can ask:
  • What did you do best as a team? What could you do better? What felt difficult or awkward?
  • What leadership skills did you observe?
  • What themes or patterns have emerged from among all the challenges that were presented today?
  • What did you learn that you will apply immediately?
  1. If dysfunctional behavior surfaces, the facilitator draws attention to the interaction by asking:
  • What are you observing?
  • What do you want to do about this?

It’s not an exaggeration to say that a strong and able Action Learning facilitator transforms problem-solving into a powerful, enduring learning experience by preparing set members to succeed at self-development and continuous learning, helping adults learn through self-discovery, and emphasizing the process of acquiring and applying new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and abilities.

Coming Up: GC—The Role of the Participant

Group Coaching is a rewarding, exciting, and sometimes difficult endeavor.  The personal and professional benefits of this experience are great, and require an informed commitment to analyzing a problem, planning and taking action, supporting and challenging one’s self and colleagues to think about the problem in new ways, and reflecting on the learning from this transformational experience.