From GROW to GROUP: A critical review of Brown and Grant; Theoretical issues and a practical model for coaching in organisations
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 3:1, 30-45.
Coaching has always been acknowledged to be a successful developmental tool in the world of business. These methods used in large organisations have now been transferred into educational environments, spanning from primary, through to secondary and into tertiary. There is limited research in peer reviewed journals on coaching within education. A look at a range of leading journals yielded many articles focusing on executive coaching within the business sector. The theoretical piece of research that I have decided to review is stated above and was located in the; Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice.
The paper discusses the benefits of a group coaching model that is underpinned by Sir John Whitmore’s (1992) GROW model. The GROW model is widely used in a variety of contexts and this is why I have decided to review the article.
Brown and Grant (2010) explore the need to target interventions within organisations at group level, whilst acknowledging that most coaching is dyadic (one-to one) and that few models of group coaching have been developed. The authors have produced a piece of theoretical literature as it presents suggestions for recommend changes to coaching applications in organisations. The main findings of their work show the need to distinguish between group coaching and group facilitation. It identifies group coaching having an important but under used potential within organisations, in creating goal-focused change. The study attempts to merge coaching models with theoretical practices, to provide the coach with a framework to use when delivering interventions at group level. The results do not really highlight how group coaching is perceived or how successful when applied to different contexts. This critical review will attempt to decipher if combining models and theoretical practices create positive environments that sustain change.
This is an academic paper published by researchers at the University of Sydney and can be read in: Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. The article seeks to evaluate the role of group coaching within organisations and discusses the many positives from using such an approach. It draws upon prominent coaching models and theoretical practices to evaluate the impact group coaching can have within business environments. The study has been conducted in two clear sections. The first solely identifies and discusses theoretical issues surrounding coaching, both at a dyadic level but also as a group. Throughout this part of the paper the authors review emerging literature on group coaching, but due to lack of quality research on group coaching, dyadic coaching is supplemented to support their arguments, on why certain models are needed to promote positive coaching environments. The second section of the paper analyses models and practices of coaching which are used in organisations. The main model discussed is Sir John Whitmore’s GROW, the authors adapt the basic principles of GROW to their model GROUP. The authors then explore and explain the fundamentals of the GROUP coaching model and what affects it could have at different levels within business organisations.
The main findings of the work are developed in the discussion around two key themes. Firstly, merging Whitmore’s GROW model and Scharmer’s (2007) U process for group dialogue allows for constructive coaching sessions that promotes and sustain change. Scharmer (2007) Theory U process proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any kind of social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from. Secondly, for group coaching to be successful, the phase “understand others” must be reinforced to all participants, ‘to enable generative solutions at a systemic level rather than the more common reactive response on a symptom level.’ Brown and Grant (2010 p39). Furthermore, they argue the GROUP model is more of a mental model than a stepped, linear framework. Ultimately, they propose integrating the goal focused nature of dyadic coaching with the dynamic energy and systemic perspectives of inherent in group processes, fosters real change at individual, group and organisational level.
The aim of the authors is to review dyadic coaching approaches and compare them with a proposed model for group coaching. Brown and Grant (2010) state coaching within organisational settings continues to be almost conducted in a dyadic format; Hamlin, Ellinger and Beattie (2008) support this, proclaiming internal performance coaches are being used on a daily basis to develop professionals within many organisations. Throughout the first section of the article, it becomes apparent, the authors believe a greater emphasis on group coaching is needed. Wheelan (2003) criticises the dyadic approach as it fails to position systemic factors at the core of the coaching process. Scharamer (2007) supports both authors and Wheelan (2003) stating systemic awareness is needed for both individuals and groups to generate understanding of organisations and their various sub-groups. If this occurs real change can take place.
Throughout the first part of the paper clearly distinguish the difference between team and group coaching. The authors use the definition of Bloisi, Cook and Hunsaker (2003) to describe team coaching as; coaching specifically targeted groups where the individuals are working closely together towards a defined and accountable goal.
Another definition of group coaching is proposed by Hawkins (2011) as; ‘a process, by which a team coach works with the whole team, both when they are together or when they are apart, in order to help them improve their collective performance and how they work together, and also how they develop their collective leadership to more effectively engage with all their key stakeholder groups to jointly transform the wider business (Hawkins 2011 cited in Clutterbuck 2013 p19). Brown and Grant (2010) define group coaching in much broader sense; acknowledging that groups of individuals do not need to be working together towards a specific goals.
All the above definitions identify the importance of the group and using coaching as the driving force for change but it can be assumed that the groups being coached are at the top of the hierarchical structure within organisations. The authors use literature from both team and group coaching perspectives throughout the article.
Brown and Grant (2010) found that group coaching has a positive effect on team productivity as goals are set together and driven by a shared purpose. However, the study is small, and the findings are rather limited, there is a lack of empirical research to support the claims made by the two authors. Brown and Grant (2010) are perhaps too quick to propose that ‘group coaching’ method is better for organisations and businesses.
Brown and Grant (2010) aim to provide theoretically informed commentary to break down the common purpose of coaching; by linking the dyadic and group approaches the authors highlight the main focus which is change and growth. Brown and Grant (2010) propose the primary difference between both models of practice; is the need for group coaches to have a strong understanding of group dynamics in addition to the individual interpersonal and rapport –building skills necessary for dyadic coaching.
What is evident from the merging of models, is the need to understand group dynamics, with rapport being one of the key elements for group coaching to be successful. Brown and Grant (2010) recognise approaches to dyadic coaching vary considerably when discussing how coaching is delivered; this is mirrored in the emerging group coaching literature, which discusses different approaches. The literature outlines a long list of benefits attached to group coaching. Ward (2008) claims improved listening and communication, constructive conflict resolution and leadership development; are a few positive outcomes that can be delivered via group coaching.
These assertions seem very persuasive when supporting group coaching as a model for an organisation, but as Brown and Grant (2010) admit much of the reported benefits are anecdotal. Hackman and Wageman (2005) support the authors as there is little robust evidence that coaching interventions focussed on improving interpersonal relationships reliably improve performance.
Brown and Grant (2010) convincingly argue the importance to acknowledge the dyadic approach which underpins coaching models like GROW, though the authors do not offer an alternative with which it could be contrasted. Being a single case study, there is little indication of whether other coaching approaches could be used in a group context. The literature included within the article supports the reliability of the claims made by the authors around the understanding of group coaching.
The article attempts to distinguish the differences between group coaching and group facilitation.
Both practices are similar as they draw upon a wide range of theories and approaches, which originate from various academic and professional disciplines. The authors accept group coaching and group facilitation are extremely similar, having the same purpose for improving groups do better. Clutterbuck (2007) presents greater clarity between the two practices, when applied within a team coaching context. In his opinion the facilitator manages dialogue for the team and focuses them on decision making. The coach empowers the team to manage the dialogue themselves and focuses on goal achievement. The writers attempt to clarify the differences between the role of coach and facilitator is achieved but a level of overlap and ambiguity still remains, causing a blurring of the boundaries between the two practices.
Brown and Grant (2010) are explicit about the theoretical orientation guiding their research, clearly defining the concepts they use, which makes extensive use of these concepts in reporting findings and they develop a model to explain the variation in coaching practice that the authors found.
The second section of the article examines John Whitmore (2002) GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward) model and how Brown and Grant (2010) use this to form a coaching model to guide the practice of group coaching. Brown and Grant (2010) merge GROW into GROUP, presenting their model as a more goal focused approach and as a possible alternative to other group dynamic approaches. The GROUP model (Goal, Reality, Options, Understanding others, Perform) clearly follows the initial phases of Whitmore’s famous GROW method of coaching.
What distinguishes GROUP from GROW is the understanding of others. Brown and Grant (2010) believe the ability to truly understand others is the key factor in successful group coaching. They further discuss the importance of this phase when shifting individual or group awareness, which enables generative solutions at a systemic level rather than the more common reactive responses on a symptom level. When delivering group coaching, dialogue not discussion is vital. Brown and Grant (2010) proclaim generative dialogue is central to the ‘Understanding Others’ phase.
Isaacs (1999) supports the authors by arguing that in discussion people see themselves as being separate from each other; where dialogue brings people together and generate insights. Scharmer (2007) believes dialogue enables a group to, ‘reach a higher level of consciousness and creativity through the gradual creation of a shared set of meanings and a common thinking process’ (Scharmer 2007 p49). Focusing on dialogue rather than discussion participants within the group will actively listen to each other.
Brown and Grant (2010) extend their model further by applying a review and evaluate stage to their model. This allows the action steps from the previous coaching sessions to be systematically reviewed and evaluated, before new goals are established or adapted. Underpinning the review and evaluate stage is double loop learning. Argyris’s (1991) approach to double loop learning supports the author’s use of this theory within their model. As Brown and Grant (2010) propose for the group coach to encourage participants to examine their underlying assumptions and mental models, and where appropriate the group to identify areas where personal change or transformation has occurred.
No detailed reference has been made to other research that might support Brown and Grant (2010) claims about effective group coaching approaches in business or educational settings, nor is any counter evidence discussed. Their claims would be more convincing if they had related them to others’ work. It is notable that Brown and Grant (2010) question the orthodox view of that 1:1 coaching is always effective. If most of the existing research supported the orthodox they set out to challenge, when the authors wrote their article there may have been little published evidence from elsewhere to support his view.
Clutterbuck (2009) identifies many issues with simplistic models of coaching. He highlights dangers in one model approaches, such as GROW and can be related to GROUP. Clutterbuck (2009) believes coaching becomes mechanistic and in some cases the setting of goals at the start of the relationship can sometimes be a crutch for the coach, rather than for the benefit of the coachee. Clutterbuck (2009) reasons that models such as GROW or GROUP are valid in appropriate circumstances, but can and sometimes demonstrably do lead to rigidity of thinking about their client. He further highlights the model, process or theoretical framework drives the learning conversation, rather than the learning conversation driving the selection of tools and techniques. It is clear from the article the model being proposed is purely goal focused and could be deemed rigid by Clutterbucks (2009) definition.
Brown and Grant (2010) conclusions are that group coaching should be widely used within different organisational contexts. Collective target setting promotes effective teamwork and increases productivity. These conclusions are fairly convincing for the context of business environments but I would question if such an approach can be transferred easily into an educational environment. The authors back their claims with a coherent piece of research that is, however modest in scope.
The writers could in principle have provided stronger support for their claims if they had drawn on a wider range of research literature on group coaching approaches in business and elsewhere, had investigated a wider range of organisational contexts and included outcome measures in assessing the degree of synergy achieved within selected groups that received coaching as a collective. However, given the modest scope of their research, they appropriately state their claims which are tentative. Brown and Grant (2010) avoid gross over generalisation by indicating that they are making claims only for a select sample of businesses.
Brown and Grant (2010) emphasise the importance of their model being client-centred, which allows for greater flexibility and the methodology is to aid the process of group coaching, not an ideology to be strictly adhered to.
The emerging academic literature around group coaching is still limited. Therefore, this article has attempted to integrate the dyadic GROW model with Scharmer’s U Process to produce a methodology that will assist in developing and promoting group coaching within organisations. The article highlights the lack of robust research that supports the proposed benefits of current literature around group coaching but do identify the need for focused interventions at group level.
In conclusion, can a group coaching model be transferred from the business sector into an educational environment? From critically reviewing this article I would argue that it could. The need to tackle under performance is vitally important in any school, by using a group coaching approach within departments, this could foster the necessary change that is required to improve standards. The approach described by Brown and Grant (2010) of harnessing the goal focused nature of dyadic coaching with dynamic energy inherent in group processes could have a dramatic effect on how teaching – teachers are developed.
The underlying issue by transposing this model into an education setting is the experience needed for the coach to tackle complex dialogues between staff and departments. There was a lack of evidence within the research that focused on how to improve group dynamics to ensure dialogue was productive during coaching sessions. External coaches could be an option but due to schools having contrasting budgets this would not be a viable solution.
The authors try to show what good practice looks like when using the GROUP model but I would argue that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that this approach would foster real change at the individual, group or organisational level in an educational context.