Modeling the Way in PEER Group Coaching
The world is changing. People want to know they don’t have to face their challenges on their own. As humans, we weren’t built to go through life alone.
For thousands of years, we lived in tribes, villages, and outposts on the prairie where we relied on one another. In a similar way, developmental cohorts within the PEER Group Coaching Framework help elevate the human experience, maximize human potential, and raise the level of success through collaborative thinking.
It’s no longer about individual achievement and success, but lifting each other up, walking through the experience together, shoulder to shoulder, back to back. As human beings, we crave this type of genuine connection and belonging.
As the people manager, leader, or leader of a PEER Group Coaching Experience, it is up to you to create an environment where participants feel safe enough to be vulnerable. But how do you go about creating that sense of safety?
Allow me to introduce you to the Container.
The Container must be created to provide psychological safety so your team can indeed become a group, instead of a few dozen individual spotlights, each shining in its own direction. The Container provides an environment that nurtures vulnerability, intimacy, and relationships.
Creating the Container
In my book, The PEER Revolution, I always recommend starting off important meetings and conversations with an opening story to build intimacy. A relatable story deepens vulnerability and is vital to creating the Container, or that sense of safety and belonging.
But to be successful at this, as we all know, you have to get in touch with your shadow side. You’ve got to learn to sit in your own dark places and make sense of them.
As a leader, ready to implement group coaching into your practice, company, or team, I encourage you to ask yourself some key questions:
- How comfortable am I with being vulnerable?
- What work could I do on vulnerability as I step into this new space for me?
- Where do I struggle? Why?
- What is hard for me right now? How?
In all my PEER Group Coaching Launches, whether 2 hours, 2 days, or 9 months, I open with a story about a challenge at work first, and transition shortly thereafter at another point in time with a current challenge in my marriage—both super relatable. Even if somebody is not married, everyone is in an intimate relationship, has been in one, or likely wants to be in one. So it’s important to find a relatable and vulnerable story to offer. But it has to be authentic.
It's really important when you model vulnerability to bring your own real challenges, not use a story from three years ago or make things up. If you’re in a really great place in your marriage, don’t use marriage challenges as an example because it will come across as inauthentic. The lack of authenticity can make your people not trust you from that point forward. Pick a story that is relatable, but also equally relevant to you right now.
Don’t just tell the story and move on. Circle back to it throughout the meeting agenda—when you all define your individual Outcomes, for example—and again as an update later. When you weave your story back in, you invite them to share in it and to support your work on it, even as you model what you want them to do.
In every group coaching session, I open with the voices in the room (virtual or otherwise) and close with their voices—remember, even though we are responsible for helping to shape it, it is their Container. So although the best practice is to open with a personal story, you’ll want to quickly get them into small breakout groups to share their stories. And because you modeled what sharing your story looks like, now it’s easier for them to share their stories.
After the team members' voices are heard, bring the small groups back into large group conversations. Take the small Container trust-building and bleed it back into the larger Container. Then trust can start to flow and ignite all the corners of the group.
As group coaches and savvy leaders, unlike typical corporate training classes, I recommend that the stories you share as you are container building be personal 75% of the time. Only 25% of the sharing you do should be relevant to work. If you're a coach working with entrepreneurs, that 25% would then be related to entrepreneurship. If you're working with parents, the 25% focus would be related to parenting or whatever the domain of your group. The personal piece of it is really important because the personal is the most universal.
I do this because examples I share about work may or may not resonate with everybody, but the personal ones consistently do. Everybody has a parent or grandparent. People have siblings, cousins, and neighbors. Lots of people have intimate relationships—children, nieces, nephews, or young people in their lives who they want to impact. Choose stories that are truly authentic to you but relatable to everyone.
Points of Caution
First, don't open a door you can't close. Depending on how much time you have with people, it is very important to self-monitor the level of intimacy you create.
Second, don’t go overboard and share what you’re going through right now without having processed it first. When you do, your participants or your team become your caretakers, trying to console you because you can’t get through your own story without crying. Sure, you’re being vulnerable, but now the experience has become all about you. Your story has to be real, but it also has to be something that you have processed in a healthy way.
A third lesson I’ve learned (which I hate, but it’s true) is to use caution when sharing parts of your story that other people may have biases against, at least until they get to know you as a person first.
Be authentic, but also gauge your audience (and what research shows us as common unconscious bias). Think: both/and not either/or. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you not be your true self. Just be thoughtful and choose the timing of what you share and when.
A group coach is a peer, after all. Just like each and every member of the cohort, we are imperfect. And, as we embrace our imperfections, we invite them to do the same.
Curious about how the PEER Technology ®Framework can change the way you and your team interact, read my new book PEER Revolution here.