The wonderful world of groups

The wonderful world of groups

group discussion

26 May 2023

Hannah Butler, EMCC UK Director for Coaching Practice, shares her reflections and learning from a programme of group coaching.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a programme on group coaching, delivered by Quantum Leap Coaching, led by Dr Ana Paula Nacif and Dr Andrea Giraldez-Hayes. I am on the path of a group coaching learning journey and hope my reflections on these studies might inspire you to pay attention to the wonderful world of groups and begin to deepen and develop your knowledge, skills, and practices. This piece focuses on trust, collaboration, and challenge (Nacif, 2023), and how I have held and applied these principles within a group coaching context to support group efficacy.

Building trust, collaboration and inviting challenge are ways of inspiring and motivating group efficacy. Trusting the group to do the work has motivated and humbled me, as the group searches and reaches for its just cause. I have witnessed groups create amazing results from nothing, as they stretch to heights that were currently out of reach. The just cause in teams is very often shared, however in groups, efficacy can be at an individual level and yet still inspire the individual to move closer to the building the efficacy of the group. Over time efficacy can become united, as the group progress and we begin to witness ‘group efficacy, cohesion and inclusion’ (Benson, 2019).

Observing and holding a group’s ability to collaborate and use disruption for action and effective decision-making can be a challenge. These challenges show up in a number of ways, and over the years I have observed several factors that disable a group’s ability to hold trust, collaborate, and challenge each other. These are:

Personal discomfort, where individuals grapple with the challenges of disagreement and curiosity

Pervasive silence, where members struggle to vocalise themselves in a way that is congruent to them and in service of the group

Ego disruption, where members disagree, simply to be the lead voice in the room, ignoring the needs of the group

Polite, ineffective contribution, where empathy is heightened to a point of ineffective comment that can be quickly dismissed by the group

Learned helplessness, where the member stays silent due to past experiences (Lalljee, 2000)

Inappropriate modelling, where members begin to mimic the thinking and behaviour of the most ‘significant other’ in the room in ways that hinders the group’s learning and progress in antisocial ways (Pescosolido, 2003)

A desire to deliberately offend, or not to, limits any direct challenge, and therefore curbs the level of thinking and breaks trust within the group. Personal observation and reading have enabled me to create ‘emotion focused norms’ to support the group to explore feelings that might be holding them back (Urch Druskat & Wolff, 2001). Offering observations to the group assists them to determine the role played by withheld or expressed emotions, and invites the group to explore these emotions to build the high performing factors of ‘trust, group identity and group efficacy’ (Urch Druskat & Wolff, 2001).

Leary-Joyce and Lines (2018) describe the role of the coach as being instrumental in supporting the team to work in a way that is greater than the ‘sum of its parts’.


In my 40 years of working with leadership teams, I have often found that the average intelligence of the individual team members was over 120, but the collective intelligence of the team as a whole was about 60. There is a great need to help teams develop generative ways of working so they function at more than the sum of their parts.


(Leary Joyce & Lines, 2018, p. viii)

This notion outlines how I might illuminate what may not be visible and support the group to explore the unknown, enabling a fuller contribution. This illumination can take the group beyond what a single member can achieve alone; building trust, collaboration, and challenge as we move through the process to group efficacy.

Bringing challenge outlines the role I play in highlighting blind spots, enabling members to achieve and exceed their potential as individuals and as a group. However, I also need to exercise caution, as it is important to access my own emotional intelligence and use the data with wisdom and grace; to meet individuals in the group where they are at.

As Kets de Veries (2014) says:

‘“Strike when the iron is cold.” When the iron is too hot, the client may not be ready to hear what is said. As on many occasions, timing is everything. Often, it can be better to keep your mouth shut even though interesting things are going on’ Kets de Vries, 2014 pp 83).

Taking a positive stance, I have concluded that a high level of self-efficacy, positive role modelling and positive arousal in the group, leads to higher levels of performance. For example, the member who demonstrates the characteristics of positive self-efficacy and trust will work collaboratively and help to build effective group identity and efficacy. However, I have also observed the converse to be equally true. This then raises the question of the role of the coach as a challenger, to raising matters of equity and inclusion, ensuring that the principles of ‘worth more’ and ‘worth less’ are explored in a way that raises diversity of voice in the room. This practice can avoid the group resting too quickly on the voice of a few, or worse, a single voice.

As Shah (2022) says:

‘To successfully move to a more equitable working culture we need to recalibrate what we think of as “fair”. It is not about all receiving the same “solution”, but what each of us needs to help us to reach the same level playing field, to thrive and achieve our potential’ (Shah 2022 pp185).

‘Meeting our clients where they are requires having insight and awareness of their lived experience of psychological safety, sense of belonging, exclusion, lack of power and inequity’ (Shah 2022 pp 186).

The learning in this programme has supported a belief in ‘holding’ a safe psychological space, where the group explores the challenges of diversity and begins to develop trust, collaboration, and challenge (Nacif, 2023). In this space the group explores universality and recognises that their thoughts and beliefs may not be isolated to them alone, thus building a sense of cohesion (Nacif, 2023).

‘An effective coach explores with clients (in a non-threatening way) what they don’t want to hear, and makes them see what they don’t want to see, so they can be what they have always known (at least, subliminally) they could be’ (Kets de Vries, 2014 pp 83).

Done well, the group space offers more, in that it is generative for multiple perspective holding, seeing the world through different lenses and exploring what is possible when we work to understand and learn from others. The group offers challenge and discomfort, and when this is done well, it offers insight and learning beyond our single perspective lens.

My reflections

Good intentions aren’t enough; I will get it wrong. This emphasises a clear need for me to elicit the support of an experienced group supervisor and engage in independent reflective practice routinely to generate my own discomfort for growth.

Being vulnerable is a key principle, as this supports power balance and outlines the role I play in facilitating growth, rather than leading the direction of the group.

Reading the room, taking notice with every sense available; analysing and interpreting out my senses consciously and safely to necessitate group development. Sharing ‘sense taking’ with the group to aid the group in exploring what is in the room and expressing my coaching vulnerability in a way that is open for challenge, enables trust.

Personal bias needs to be exhumed. During this programme I have explored, and continue to explore, any personal bias through independent self-reflection and supervision. Without interrogating my own bias, it could be argued that an ignorant yet powerful persuasion could take place and may be unconsciously played out within the group with damaging effects.

Find the snakes. Kets de Vries (2014) describes how my role as coach is to find snakes in the carpet. This may also be referred to as assumption hunting (Brookfield, 2017), as we explore underlying assumptions and words unspoken. This outlines my responsibility to illuminate the unseen, and to be incongruent in a timely way, when the group is open to alternative perspective taking.

In short

‘That the worker functions out of a deep conviction and vision of the wholeness, creativity, and possibility inherent in the group, which matches the faith of the believer who knows what is and what can be’ (Benson, 2019 pp 139).

I know what it can be. I now have a desire to show up and build a practice that enables what is possible.


Benson, J. (2019). Working More Creatively With Groups. Oxon: Routledge.

Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kets de Vries, M. (2014, Nov 06). Group Coaching with Manfrd Kets de Vries. Retrieved from YouTube:

Kets de Vries, M. (2014). The Group Coaching Conundrum. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching, 79-91. Retrieved from

Lalljee, M. (2000). The Intrepreting Self: An Experimental Perspective. In S. R. Ed, Understanding the Self (pp. 89-146). London: SAGE Publication Ltd.

Leary-Joyce, J., & Lines, H. (2018). Systemic Team Coaching . St Albans: Academy of Executive Coaching Ltd.

Nacif, A. (2023, Feb 11). Professional Group Coaching Training. Coaching for Wellbeing: An Evidence-Based Guide for Practitioners. Online, London: Quanum Leap Coaching and Consultancy.

Pescosolido, A. (2003, Feb 01). Group Efficacy and Group Effectiveness: The Effects of Group Efficacy Over Time and Group Performance and Development. Small Group Research, 34, 20-42.

Shah, S. (2022). Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in Coaching: A Practical Guide. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Urch Druskat, V., & Wolff, S. (2001). Group Emotional Intelligence and Its Influence on Group Effectiveness. In C. Cherniss, & D. Goleman, The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace, How to Select for, Measure, and Improve Emotional Intelligence in Inidividual, Groups and Organisations (pp. 132-155). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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