The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

How small group coaching can accelerate leadership development

How small group coaching can accelerate leadership development
Martine Van den Poel and Graham Ward describe the unique advantages of small group coaching in leadership development.

Individual coaching for leadership development has slowly but surely made its way into many organisations around the world, with professional coaches helping executives assess their leadership challenges, change their behaviours and become more authentic leaders.

More recently, small group coaching has emerged as a credible alternative to address similar challenges, and a number of business schools and companies are now systematically offering small group coaching to their executives either within the company itself or as part of development programmes.

Rather than being merely a cheaper, diluted alternative, we suggest that small group coaching has unique advantages and is actually an accelerator of leadership development at the individual, team and organisational levels, which allows over time the creation of an overall “coaching culture” in the host organisation while offering a more cost-effective way of addressing major leadership challenges.

Under the leadership of Professor Manfred Kets de Vries, the INSEAD Global Leadership Center (IGLC) has since 2003 pioneered and successfully developed a psychodynamic group coaching process for leadership development.

Today, the Center carries out over 100 group coaching interventions per year across INSEAD’s campuses, supports a global network of 100 executive coaches and works with over 4,000 executives every year.

There is an enduring demand, with a 20% yearly growth in group coaching, mostly as a smaller portion of a broader development programme, either via open enrolment programmes or as part of a customised development partnership with a corporate client.

What is group coaching, and what are the key ingredients?

One-on-one leadership coaching is often defined as a co-creation process between the coach and the coachee, whereby the coach helps the client arrive at a mutually determined goal based on greater self-awareness and focused on actionable results.

What leadership coaching in small groups brings in addition is a true accelerator of the insights and learning process of the coachee and the group as a whole. How does this happen?

The three major elements of a successful group coaching intervention, as practised at IGLC are the psychodynamic approach as the driver of the process, the group, which functions as the context, and finally the coaching methodology as the method to achieve change.

In today’s fast-paced digital age, this self-reflection is at least a pause, a small hiatus in the executive’s life: at best it is pure catharsis. Through the act of talking about a personal history, of recapitulating one’s dreams and hopes, and ultimately seeing oneself in a broader context, the executives will often undergo a process of restructuring their story and thereby create greater meaning.

The group context is a defining factor in all of this. The group listens, reflects back, questions, supports and challenges the participant. The emotional engagement around the table is high, sometimes fevered. It is no surprise to us, as practitioners, that many of these groups stay intact as self-supporting networks way beyond the end of their programme.

What does the typical group coaching “leadership journey” look like?

A proprietary global 360-degree feedback report combined with qualitative feedback from one’s personal environment and a brief biography constitute the key “multi-source feedback elements” of each executive before his or her arrival on campus.

Once on campus, the “group-coaching day” constitutes the major element where groups of four or five executives work together in a fully safe and confidential “space” on their leadership challenges, facilitated by the professional coach.

Small group coaching

See more articles from Vol.09 Issue 01 – ’15.

Martine van den Poel and Professor Graham Ward are respectively Coaching Practice Director and Executive Coach, and Adjunct Professor and Coaching Practice Director of IGLC, INSEAD, France.

Professor Graham Ward is Coaching Practice Director and Executive Coach, and Adjunct Professor and Coaching Practice Director of IGLC, INSEAD, France.

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