If you’re considering adding group coaching to your repertoire of skills, it’s important to gain an understanding of small group process and evolution. Bruce Tuckman’s group theory (1965) — forming, storming, norming, and performing — is an excellent tool to help better understand the different stages of group development. In 1977, Tuckman expanded his four-stage model, adding a fifth stage, adjourning.
Coach and author Jennifer J. Britton provides a helpful overview of the Tuckman model in her book, Effective Group Coaching: Tried and Tested Tools and Resources for Optimum Group Coaching Results. What follows is an adaptation of her observations.
In this stage, group members are polite and cautious. They are asking themselves, “Is this group worth my investment of time and money?” “How comfortable am I with other group participants?” Because group members’ concerns are generally high, participants may be quieter than usual. You may need to draw out quieter group members.
Your primary role in group coaching during the forming stage is to set the tone for the duration of the group. Early in the process, it’s important for you to provide structure and direction, to discuss confidentiality, and to create opportunities for group members to get to know each other. This stage can last for some time, as group members grow to become more comfortable with each other.
In the storming stage, group members often push against boundaries and conflict erupts. This stage often activates the fight or flight response. Storming can start when one group member disagrees with another’s point of view, or a group member doesn’t like her peer-coaching partner, or group members begin exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior. Regardless of how it starts, there’s tension in the group and you feel it. And so do the others.
In group coaching, it’s important to use conflict as a catalyst for growth. Use active listening, clarifying questions, and direct communication to navigate complex issues. Focus on process rather than individual people and problems. Address “problem” individuals in private, outside of the session time.
Group cohesion occurs in the norming stage. In this stage, group members are comfortable with each other and eager to share their thoughts and experiences. Members honor and respect each other. The group process is smooth.
Your role in the group coaching process is to facilitate discussions and provide activities that stretch group members. Coaches must “dance in the moment,” and rely on their intuition, being sensitive as to when it’s time to step back and let group members wrestle with their difficult concepts and when to provide more structure.
In the performing stage of the process, group members develop a healthy interdependence on each other, reaching peak performance. Dyads and triads are effective and move the group forward. Members support each other and hold each other accountable.
As the coach, provide opportunities for group members to reflect and go deeper. Facilitate knowledge transfer with such questions as: “How do lessons learned apply to other areas of your life?” “What will you do differently as a result of gaining this knowledge?” “How will you use this information going forward?”
Adjourning is a time of closure. Group members say good-bye to each other and transfer knowledge gained to their individual contexts.
It’s important for the small group coach to facilitate healthy closure for group members. Summarize key themes, identify takeaways, and create space for group members to share a few closing thoughts. Create a way for group members to connect post-program, whether it’s on a private Facebook page, through virtual community, or even in person.
Above all . . . celebrate!
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