By |Published On: December 8th, 2020|Categories: Evidence Based Coaching|

Beyond the Dyad: Three Perspectives on Peer Group Coaching

Speaker: Erek J. Ostrowski, PhD, PCC

Peer group coaching (PGC) has grown in popularity as a cost-effective learning and development solution for individuals and organizations. When delivered skillfully, it can provide a fertile context for learning by easing isolation, spreading useful knowledge and ideas, and fostering critical reflection that leads to new ways of thinking about old problems.  However, coaching in this setting requires understanding the complex and often mystifying social processes that shape learning and change in groups.  A group coach must create a learning environment large enough for multiple people, must be able to process difficult feelings that arise for group members, and must create sufficient safety for group members to engage in the risks associated with learning.

Fortunately, we Fielding scholar-practitioners know that the many lenses of established theory can help demystify and illuminate the experiences and challenges we encounter in practice!  Goal-focused, analytic, and narrative-collaborative approaches to peer group coaching shed much light for coaches interested in working with groups.    

            Brown and Grant’s (2010) goal-focused group coaching framework for organizations was adapted from the popular GROW model (Whitmore, 2009).  Their model, called GROUP, begins with the same three phases as the original dyadic model (Goal, Reality, Options).  However, they add two new phases—Understanding others and Performing—for working with groups.  Understanding others is about engaging the group in a generative dialogue to enable systems-level responses to individual challenges.  The Performing phase focuses on designing and implementing actions. 

            Christine Thornton (2016) offered a PGC approach based on two concepts from analytic theory—holding (Winnicott, 1971) and exchange (Foulkes, 1948).  In this context, a holding environment is the space of trust and safety that arises out of the nurturing relationship between a coach and group members.  Exchange is best understood as an encounter with difference or the unknown.  Coaching group members are often challenged by new information and diverging perspectives.  These encounters lead to learning and development, but only when sufficient levels of trust and safety are established in the group.  Group members need to feel safe enough to engage openly with the risks and challenges that lead to growth.

            Reinhard Stelter and colleagues (2011) explored a narrative-collaborative approach to PGC.  Their model focuses on the processes of shared meaning-making that unfold through group coaching.  The approach is founded in social constructionism (Berger & Luckmann, 1966) and narrative psychology (Bruner, 1986; Polkinghorne, 1988).  As group members share and exchange stories, the coach helps them reflect on underlying values and meaning-making processes.  Participants learn to share experiences as part of a collaborative dialogue, and collaboratively reinterpret challenging events to convey them in a new light.    

In my upcoming webinar, we will stroll down “theory lane” to explore these three different but complementary knowledge-based perspectives on PGC.  Participants will gain an understanding of the foundational knowledge and coaching levers that define and distinguish goal-focused, analytical, and narrative-collaborative group coaching.  We will also explore potential differences in the coaching context that can help us determine which approach best suits a given coaching engagement.  I hope to see you there!

About the Author: Carol Hirashima

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