Group Coaching versus Team Coaching

Where are the differences?

A White Paper by Gerhard Liska and Petra Schulte
Cover_Group Coaching vs Team CoachingGroup Coaching and Team Coaching are two important instruments for leadership and organizational development. The respective specifics and special potentials of both formats are often mixed and confused, which makes a precise differentiation necessary. The focus is the methodical-theoretical positioning within the individual and group psychological context as well as the concrete application and its practical benefits. Two case studies will be compared in order to illustrate the similarities and differences.

The objective of development in the group context is shared by both formats. What this means for the coach in practice is a combination of individual psychological elements: The personal and professional level of a group member plays a role, as well as aspects of group dynamics. These group dynamics extend beyond the setting of the individual coaching and make Group Coaching challenging and enriching.

In addition, both formats are embedded in an organizational context and, in light of this, must be understood as interventions in the respective organizational culture, especially leadership culture. In both formats, the individuals are coached in, with and in front of the group. Both strengthen a shared identity and see the development of individuals as a means for maturing the group and/or team and see the learning topics of the individual as a platform for shared reflection.


Differences: Group Coaching

Group Coaching does not address leaders and persons with potential in companies who do not have a specific working relationship with each other, but for whom the same development topics are important. Correspondingly, the group members often have a similar development profile so that the coaching topics defined as a framework have a high degree of relevance for each participant.

The group generally comes together in this specific context for the first time for the Group Coaching, trusting working relationships are already be established between individual group members. Greater focus is therefore placed on the group forming process and establishment of a relationship of trust within the group than happens in Team Coaching. The individual development (of each participant) is mediated less strongly by the group than in Team Coaching.

Group Coaching primarily focuses on the development of the individual. This deals both with a personal aspect in the sense of maturation and self-confidence as well as with the aspect of professionalization in a leadership role. It very clearly focuses on personal reflection and confrontation with functional and obstructive thought and behavioral patterns. Through the use of coaching methods and the in-depth examination of their development topics by each participant, group cohesion and the strong bonds between the participants are desired side effects. It is precisely this bonding aspect that is of special significance for many companies when they decide upon this coaching format. It can often be observed that this Group Coaching format has proved itself over 10-15 years and led to a large group of leaders who easily come to terms with each other.

Group Coaching is often preceded by a status assessment of the individuals as a needs analysis in order to identify and realize learning and development topics. Internal Development Centers or 360 Degree Feedback processes that lead to specific development recommendations for each participant are state-of-the-art here. Depending on the approach, these status assessments at group level will be compiled into an overall evaluation. The profile of the overall group is used in determining the learning context and influences the thematic content of the individual modules of the coaching process.


Group Coaching Case Study

This case study concerns a project for a German-language industrial company with 7,000 employees distributed amongst production locations worldwide. The customer seeks to focus leadership development in the company and develop talent and young leaders. The case is primarily concerned with supporting the participants from a methodical standpoint (‘leadership skills’) but also deals with their personal further development and maturation.

The establishment of a shared vocabulary for the leadership and the expansion of the leadership competences in the intercultural context are additional intended results. All in all, the leadership culture should be strengthened in light of the internal leadership criteria.

As an introduction to Group Coaching, an internal Development Center is conducted for the managers and junior managers. For the individual participants, these result in individual development fields that serve as the common theme for personal development during the coaching as well as with regard to the composition of the coaching groups.

The nomination is made by superiors and area directors. The area director and HR management define the expected future market challenges for managers and junior managers in advance and thus the target profile of the target groups.

The Group Coaching is launched with a kick-off event, comprises five modules of 2.5 to 3 days each (self-management, management of teams, strategic management and conflict management are the topics). It ends with a final event in which the participants present their development over the course of the program in front of representatives of the company management.


Goals of Group Coaching

  • To expand and consolidate the competences of the individual in the area of leadership
  • To define the personal leadership vision and mission
  • To develop a shared leadership culture and leadership language
  • To be effective as a leader


Success Factors of Group Coaching

  • Commitment of time and energy by the higher leadership levels (program sponsoring, cooperation in the Development Center, mentor function for participants, cozy corner discussions, auditorium for final event, possible project sponsoring)
  • Coherent communication about the program (sense of urgency, personal nomination background of the participants, support program and relevance of topics, contents)
  • Clear anchoring of Group Coaching as an instrument for strategic personnel development (HR)
  • A relationship of trust with the external provider of the Group Coaching and/or the coach
  • Close collaboration between HR and the provider in terms of topics/ contents of the individual modules (development topics from the HR standpoint and individual development topics from the initial diagnostics as the central theme)
  • Clearly defined scope, mandatory participation, flexibility of contents and methodical adjustment to participants in the Group Coaching themselves
  • Updating of the status assessment parameters and program focal points
  • Regular coordination with HR and top management (steering committee)


Additional Success Factors for Increased Sustainability

  • Format continuity with simultaneous adaptation to the target groups
  • Networking of the groups amongst each other through alumni meetings creates a culture of learning and development
  • Internationalization and globalization of the format: expansion to remote locations for the mobilization and maturation of local managers
  • Consideration of related target groups such as more mature ‘advanced managers’ who do not match the profile of the high potentials and are no longer the same age as the talents can result in intergenerational networking and linguistic-cultural solidarity
  • Expansion of the Group Coaching format to the upper management


Differences: Team Coaching

The team has a specific focus as opposed to the pursuit of strategic personnel development. It has a mission and a specific company purpose to fulfill: the team members belong together, they work together for results and success on a daily basis, meaning that the team pursues a shared goal and independent sub-goals. As opposed to Group Coaching, Team Coaching can contain up to three hierarchical levels simultaneously.

The work topics in Team Coaching deal with relevant challenges of the team within the context of the development of each team member. The needs assessment generally takes place in collaboration with the team and the leader. In general, Team Coaching lasts six to twelve months.

In the case of Team Coaching, there is a specific leadership or management team, very often the top management team of a company. The team generally exists within a specific work context and thus has a team culture with functional and dysfunctional aspects of the shared work. The starting point for Team Coaching can be a relationship of trust, even if this is sometimes experienced very differently.

This relationship of trust is reflected upon as well as qualitatively strengthened and deepened during the shared work in the Team Coaching. The development of the team as an overall unit is the primary focus. In doing so, team building effects are addressed less than the growth of the competence of the team as a unit. Clear learning topics for the team and team conflicts articulated in a more or less open manner are thus focused on, along with the goal of strengthening the foundation of trust in the team.

Blockades to performance and achieving goals in the leadership team are specifically focused on and reflected upon. Team Coaching addresses the team mission so that each individual can make reference to it. The team also positions itself within the strategic orientation and vision of the company. Its identity and effectiveness are logically derived from this, meaning that project contexts and content take on a high level of importance in Team Coaching.

The individual development of the participants is promoted by the team development. The focus is on the individual person as a team memberwith his/her potentials and learning fields as an example and reference. Team cohesion and/or interpersonal conduct in the team is an additional focus of the coaching work. The shared process is continuously examined, reflected upon and inspected for contact barriers or avoidance postures. The goal is to reflect upon individual patterns of behavior in the team and the establishment of new efficient patterns.


Team Coaching Case Study

‘Asia Pacific JV’ finds itself in the situation of forming a joint venture between a German-language SME and a Southeast Asian corporation for the purpose of expanding the markets and competencies of both companies. What leads to a merger between two companies and to the composition of a project or joint venture team after lengthy negotiations at board or investor level is not necessarily marked by successful collaboration at the personal and organizational level. Cultural differences between the continents, power imbalances between the joint venture companies, as well as the competence and development differences between the negotiating persons make the start considerably more difficult.

This Team Coaching aims to make the joint venture a success by bringing the representatives of the two parent companies to a shared understanding of the team, as well as to the definition of a mission statement, a vision and a mission. The establishment of a shared team identity is the first step in the ability to work together. The members of the joint venture project team are assigned to the team on a temporary basis. As soon as the go-live date is successfully achieved, the founding members return to their parent companies. Ongoing operations are transferred to a production organization that is composed of experts from the parent companies and newly recruited managers.

The challenge in this kind of Team Coaching with two principals is the shared commitment of the decision makers. Trust and specific work on trust are prerequisites for the awarding of the order. As the distribution of power and the allocation of shares play significant roles in joint ventures, a shared goal is of especially fundamental significance. If the Team Coaching is successful, the participants free themselves emotionally from the parent company and enter into new, supportive relationships. This freeing and identification process is viewed with suspicion by the respective dispatching companies. Instead of this, however, acceptance and support are effective attitudes.


Goals of Team Coaching

  • To establish and ensure the ability to work and the autonomy (autopoiesis) of the team
  • To create sustainable solutions to blockades to success and work by identifying patterns and structures in order to create reproducibility


Success Factors of Team Coaching

  • Initial workshop
  • Organization of a kick-off and final event
  • Scheduling of regular Team Coaching workshops
  • Development of a shared vision, shared performance criteria and shared rules and rituals
  • Individual Coaching of the team leader
  • Supervision of the team members
  • Readiness and openness of the participants to deal with (individual/ team-relevant) activity and performance blockades
  • Clear definition of a ‘sense of urgency’
  • Recognition of individual psychological contracts – creation of a shared psychological contract for the team
  • Tolerance for the shared and contradictory development interests of the individual
  • Commitment of time and energy of top management for the Team Coaching
  • A relationship of trust with the external provider of the Team Coaching and/or the coach


Additional Success Factors for Increased Sustainability

  • Contracting with internal employers (board, area directors, HR) – for JV. A clear dedication to Team Coaching by both companies sponsoring the joint venture
  • Close collaboration with the internal employers and the coach in terms of the company’s situation and its effect on the group process
  • Clear planning and/or management of the interfaces in the program
  • Integration of the Team Coaching as a fixed component of the change architecture
  • Networking of multiple teams for ‘lessons learned’

 USP-D_WP_Group Coaching vs Team Coaching


Differences: Surveying the status quo

Both coaching formats can be well supported by status assessments and needs assessments. As described, the conducting of Development Centers and management appraisals is well suited to Group Coaching in order to point out the development fields and core topics to the participants and the dispatchers, and to then integrate them within the program in a goal-oriented manner.

In Team Coaching, the 360 Degree Feedback for the participants can be compressed and anonymized at group level (Group Report), which effectively supports dealing with the results and the starting point. Employee Surveys or team radar surveys are also well suited. The choice of means should suit the case.

If a defined team is facing specific difficulties, a team radar survey can be conducted quickly and easily to determine shortfalls and weak points and above all to compare the self-perception and perception of others of the group in an anonymous manner. The 360 Degree Feedback is well suited when the team is faced with learning and success blockades and it cannot be determined whether organizational or personnel shortfalls have the greater influence. In both cases, the group evaluation of the 360 Degree Feedback leads to speaking about and dealing with the team difficulties. At the same time, every individual team member has their individual result and can continue to work on their topics and use these in the team as a reference.


Differences: Occasions

In general, we can say: If the focus is more on the development of a leadership culture in the organization and the competence of the individual then Group Coaching will be the tool of choice. Team Coaching is primarily used for a specific occasion. Whether an existing team or future team is facing special challenges and difficulties or a management team is seeking to move more actively in the direction of becoming a high performance team: Team Coaching is about successfully overcoming complex problems together (see table).