This cost-effective method of coaching gives participants the chance to draw on others for answers to difficult problems Being the best in today's competitive world is a priority for many of us. In the pursuit of success and greater happiness, life and executive coaching are important tools to attaining these goals. Now, slowly entering Hong Kong's self-help lexicon is group coaching. Unlike the one-on-one method, typically associated with an executive coach, group coaching is when a number of people meet to work on individual development based on a shared interest, according to career and executive coach Angela Spaxman. She said groups helped each other in areas such as leadership development, career change, relationships, finding a job and sharing work practices. 'The goal is to help each other in development, and the coach's role is to help group members find their own answers, unlike a training course where a coach would ask questions and guide the discussion,' said Ms Spaxman, who has been a professional coach since 2000. Group coaching should not be confused with team building or team training, in that group coaching's aims are very direct. During meetings, coach and participants usually discuss problems, agree on what needs to be acted on, and agree on what the possible causes of the problems are. They also need to agree on exactly what actions are to be taken. As some groups consist of strangers, while others consist of colleagues, the average number in a group ranges from five to eight people, who want to make a change in their lives or work environment. Ms Spaxman said the group would meet for mutual support and a coach would guide them on how to think about the problem, and often give them homework or an activity. Members would report back on their accomplishments, difficulties, insights and questions at the next session. Why would a person choose group coaching instead of individual attention? Bonnie Chan, an executive and business coach at Coach Lite, said group coaching was for someone looking for collective wisdom. This was especially suitable when the desired improvement was organisational, not personal, and when performance outcome was dependent on more than one person, such as collaborative work in a company, community or charity purpose. According to Ms Chan, group coaching is a better method for achieving performance and realising an organisation's mission. Companies or organisations are the biggest client base for group coaching. Sometimes, they can comprise colleagues from one office or from different branches across regions, participating in one or two 90-minute sessions a month for up to three months. Ms Chan said, in many cases, group coaching was employed to address interdepartmental conflicts in organisations and remedy the problem. 'This gets department managers to co-operate and understand what the other is doing,' she said. 'Also, throughout group coaching, we can point out blind spots, look at communication skills, attitudes and examine documents from their own perspective and that of each other.' Mentor coaching is another form of group coaching, whereby experienced coaches teach trainee coaches working towards certification. Ms Chan said it was a chance to share their experiences in a relaxed and supportive setting. While she said group coaching was a relatively new concept in Hong Kong, people interested could opt for this form of self-help instead of more costly individual coaching, which usually costs from HK$2,500 to HK$3,500 per hour. Rates for group coaching tend to be 20 per cent higher, but the cost is typically divided between the participants, or paid by the company. Meanwhile, Charlie Lang, executive coach at ProgressU and the president of the Hong Kong International Coaching Community, runs group coaching sessions as an added-value feature of executive seminars on topics including leadership, sales or coaching for managers. After the completion of a seminar, Mr Lang uses group coaching to check skills learned are applied in daily and business life. For both individual and group coaching, Mr Lang said the key purpose of coaching was to help people think of better choices. He said it kept people accountable and stopped them reverting to their old ways. 'The coach keeps them accountable by checking their progress and supporting them along the way, similar to a personal trainer,' Mr Lang said. But does group coaching actually change someone's behaviour? Mr Lang said it was difficult to convince someone to change their approach of doing something through reasoning or arguments if they believed their way worked. However, he said experiencing a situation was an effective form of changing one's beliefs. He gave the example of a salesman who achieved results through pushy, aggressive sales tactics. Reasoning with this salesman would not change his approach, but if you put this salesman on the receiving end of another pushy salesman, he might dislike the strategy and realise there might be more effective ways of selling. In group coaching sessions, members can engage in these role playing scenarios. Also, group coaching allows members to draw on others for solutions to difficult problems and efficient knowledge sharing. Mr Lang notes that, despite its advantages, a down side of group coaching is a lack of confidentiality and trust within a group, a point with which Ms Spaxman agrees. She believes the group setting makes it difficult for some members to disclose their inner thoughts. Also, with more than one member, it is more difficult to arrange a time where all the members can meet. Another disadvantage of group coaching is the danger of some participants getting bored. However, as individual coaching is too costly for many seeking self-improvement, group coaching provides a cost-effective alternative. Alistair Lamont, executive consultant at Evans & Peck, said: 'Individual coaching is always going to be the gold standard, but with group coaching you get to hear experiences and solutions from other people. 'Both [coaching methods] have accountability and action. But if you aren't taking that learned skill and applying it day by day, nothing is going to happen.'