Group Coaching

by Amy  - February 6, 2024

Let’s talk about group coaching. 

First thing – I don’t currently offer a group coaching option for my work. I work with clients 1:1 and I also offer a self-directed course. Part of the reason for this article is to explain why I don’t currently offer a group coaching program. 

What is Group Coaching?

Group Coaching is when there is one coach for a large number of clients. These programs usually include a “community” with peer-to-peer support. They also often include public coaching where one person shares their struggles in front of the group for the “benefit” of others in the group. In most cases group coaching is sold as a less-expensive option to 1:1 coaching.

But as my dad taught me, if it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter if it’s cheap …it’s still overpriced.

When and Where Group Coaching Works Really Well

I’m not against group coaching. I am also not here to bash coaches who offer group programs. They can be great. I believe in the value of mentorship and coaching. I buy coaching programs all the time. I think I’ve learned a few things about when it works and when it doesn’t.

Group Coaching in my opinion is perfect for how-to-systems when everybody is learning the same process and following the same system. In my opinion, this is best if everybody is on the same timeframe as well. For example, let’s all train together with coach ed for this upcoming 5k. Or Let’s all join a coaching program to write a TedTalk in 90 days. Or Let’s join this group for Dry January together.  

In those examples, the coach provides a system or framework and the peer-to-peer community is for sharing experiences working the system. Hey did you guys do your workout. I’m struggling with lesson 2, what am I missing. 

As I was building my current coaching business for stepparents I was encouraged from day 1 to begin with 1:1 coaching and then add a group coaching element. I haven’t done that and I don’t know if I ever will. This could always change but for the moment. I’m going to explain why. 

There are two types of people who might read this article. Other coaches who find this article because they are researching other coaching businesses. That’s fine and great…welcome. I am an open book. My perspective clients who are trying to understand how I work. I want to welcome everybody. 

Working with clients 1:1 has a very hard limit which is the time of the coach. This is actually true for any trade that relies on a person or limiting tool to deliver the service.  In order to make it a viable business each unit of time has to be quite expensive. This is why business mentors and coaches will often advise to “scale up to high-ticket.”  Honestly, high ticket is only viable for b2b models where there is a financial return on investment. My clients are people. My business is b2c or business to consumer. I keep that in mind when I price my products. My personal time is valuable and 1:1 coaching is expensive. 

Problems That Can Pop Up With Group Coaching Programs

  • The benefit of a group coaching offering is almost all for the coach not the clients. It allows the coach to raise the individual unit price of their time. Often this is sold as a cost benefit to the client but this can sometimes be an illusion. If a coach can enroll 25 people for one hour that is more money in their pocket than a single paying client but they cannot actually support all 25 clients in that hour. Coaches who offer group coaching will often say that there is benefit in watching other people be coached if you have a similar issue…this can be true IF you happen to come across that exact situation. But how many times do you want to sit in a seat listening to other people just in case your situation happens to come up?
  • There is no privacy in a group program. If somebody says their online group program is private…they are probably bending the concept of truth. Online communities are not safe spaces. I support stepparents. The issues that we talk about are personal. I speak from experience when I say that as a new stepmom I had a lot of anxiety before I spoke up and said, I’m not doing well here. It takes tremendous courage to speak up and tell one person that you are struggling. A group option where the only way to get support is to speak in front of a group puts a lot of pressure on the people. I’ll share more about that in a second because this issue spreads out in a lot of different ways. 
  • The peer-to-peer social community is an funhouse echo chamber that distorts and amplifies the loudest voices. This is not support. Often coaches will advertise that it’s helpful to know that you aren’t alone. That’s true for 1 second or 1 minute but after that the reality that there is one other or even millions of other people suffering like you isn’t helpful in trying to ease or stop your suffering. This is an issue with social media overall. We do not feel better after spending an hour reading about other peoples problems even if they are the same as ours. Think about it…do you feel better sitting in the waiting room for your doctor when you are sick surrounded by other people who are also sick. I don’t. 
  • A group coaching environment can be slightly exploitative of the clients  in the group. This is not always the intention of the coach but it is a reason that some coaching groups might implode. Most coaches who offer group peer environments will use the events in the group to advertise their services. This includes live hotseat coaching, group zoom sessions and in person retreats. They are recorded and you are probably agreeing to the use of the recording by the coach. Coaches often sell the recording as a benefit so that you don’t need to be there live. That’s accurate but the main benefit is to the coach. So if you speak up you might see or hear yourself in an advertising promotion in the future. If the program is for running your first marathon that might feel great. If it’s a seminar about how to get financing to buy your first house…fantastic. An education presentation about filling out the FAFSA form which has been updated for the 12 millionth time…yes. A celebration of people receiving an award…YAY. If it’s because you are trying to figure out if you are struggling in your marriage that might feel humiliating. 
  • The peer-to-peer community almost always becomes a poaching ground for other coaches who pose as other clients and offer to help if you want to pay them instead of the person you are already paying. This is not a benefit to the clients who just want help. Group coaching administrators do usually try to restrict this behavior. In my opinion, this is just a fact of life. Before social media this was also a technique at industry tradeshows (still is) called carpetbagging. 
  • Groups often attract members with a specific and unhelpful agenda. This exists in real-life group community events as well. People who have a contrarian viewpoint will go to events and promote their opposing opinions. For example, environmental activists protesting outside of an oil company shareholder meeting. In social media this is people who are in a group for the only purpose to advocate that something is bad or wrong. I will include a picture of this from a stepparent reddit group. Anytime anybody posts in this group one of the top comments is that the stepparent should leave and the reason is that there is an active group of members who are only in the group to regularly add this opinion to any and all requests for help. This is not only not helpful it can also create danger for the members if the views are particularly harmful. 
screen capture of reddit post

These people are all decent people. There’s nothing wrong with what they are doing. BUT if you happen to be in a group like this looking for tools to improve your situation conversations like this can create the sensation that the best solution is this one which is ending the relationship. That is a solution. 2/3 of remarriages and stepfamiles are estimated to end in divorce. My point is that this isn’t necessarily supportive or helpful. So if you are looking for support and help…this type of community might not be what you are looking for. Unfortunately, for stepparents and people considering divorce there aren’t a lot of options. This is one reason that I consider stepparents to be an under supported community.

  • There is a performative aspect that shows up in most groups. The posts that get attention are often the most dramatic. Which is a vicious cycle. The attention that these posts get encourages other people to be more and more dramatic in what they submit. The group itself becomes an amplifier for this drama. People who are attracted to the drama join and enjoy the group. The only thing submitted to the group is super dramatic stuff. It’s not helpful … it’s probably not even healthy. In many cases I think it encourages people to fabricate stories that might not be real. It’s peer-pressure.
  • The group becomes a stage where the coach is actually performing not interacting or supporting the individuals. In my opinion, it is not really possible to be in the spotlight as the coach and also to monitor the group in real-time. The person on the stage delivering the coaching has a limit on their focus. This also happens to teachers. When you are delivering a message you create that message to be captivating…which by default means that it’s not client led and the best coaching is led by the clients. Group programs turn this upside down. 
  • Many coaches try to use social communities as a marketing communication tool. You come for one thing but you discover than what really happens is that the coach pops in and says…thanks for being here … wanna buy my new thing? There’s nothing wrong with this especially if it’s a group centered around being a consumer of a product you love. I am in a consumer group for the company that makes my running watches and I love when there is an announcement of a new product. But it doesn’t feel as good when the purpose of the group is supposed to be support of what you already bought. 

This is not a platform specific issue. A lot of these things exist in real-life groups of people if they get together. This is sometimes called mob mentality. 

I wrote this article for two reasons. 

One to explain why I don’t offer this in my line up at this time. 

Two as a buyer-beware, coaches be careful advisory. 

But what about support groups?

I’m glad you asked. This confused me too at first. Especially because a lot of online group coaching programs and social media communities literally call themselves support groups. 

I actually went through the training to get trained in how to facilitate group support in what is called a circle. I did this because I was trying to figure out how I could best create a facilitated group environment. There’s always the chance that I might do this in the future and this training was extremely helpful in understanding how and why group programs can be very supportive.

In person and virtual support groups like grief circles or AA are often valuable tools for individuals going through a shared experience. If you look at the top of this article where I described when groups work really well it’s when the group is people following the same system. AA is a framework of 12 steps. The group comes together for people to share their experiences of struggle and succes with those steps. It’s different. There is a framework that the individuals can learn and study. There is also a set of guidelines for how the support events are run and training for the leaders. Most group coaching communities feel like  a free-for-all pot of people. It’s more like a mosh pit than an actual support group. 

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent

Your Family Isn't Broken

Amy

Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created amysaysso.com.

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