A guide to small-group coaching principles

Written by Dominic Johnson, 31 Dec 2018

The 8 Principles of Small Group Coaching

How do Fastlead coaches produce brilliant results? By applying the 8 Principles of Small Group Coaching.

Principle 1 – Make the learning applied

The Fastlead execution of small group coaching is designed for frontline leaders and managers. This group needs “news they can use”. Getting insights from the discussions is only the first part of successful small group coaching. Ensuring the “so what” and ”now what” questions are answered, and then applied back in the workplace, is the second critical success factor.

Fastlead punch line: if the learning doesn’t get applied, then we have failed to deliver against our objective.

Principle 2 – Why before the What and How

Fastlead pods have a 13 topic curriculum. If the coach and the participants haven’t arrived at some sense of how the content is contextually relevant to the participants in the coaching pod, then there is little point in pushing through the content. The “why” frame is absolutely critical, particularly given how under pressure and extremely busy most frontline leaders are.

Fastlead punch line: knowing why they are doing something significantly improves the likelihood the participants will actually do it.

Principle 3 – Establishing response-ABILITY

There are many reasons frontline leaders give for not being able to make a change, but we do not indulge the participants in an “it’s all pointless” cop-out. We focus on how to build their ability to respond, and make something happen, no matter what the circumstances. In other words, we focus on their response “ability”. As leaders, whatever the REALITY they face, they can still identify GOALS and OPTIONS that are worthwhile.

Fastlead punch line: Participants need to operate inside their sphere of influence, and focus on things they can do to make a difference; they must avoid a defeatist mindset.

Principle 4 – Equivalency of effort

The concept of Fastlead is that the three participants in every coaching pod demonstrate key leadership skills through the program, including collaboration, sharing responsibility, and taking responsibility. It is critically important that the three participants in the pod contribute evenly in order to get the desired outcomes.

Fastlead punch line: The design is about collaborative learning. The coach has the responsibility to ensure that this environment is in place in their pods.

Principle 5 – The answer is in the room

People are often conditioned to expect all the learning/answers to come from the “front of the room”. Fastlead is designed to be completely interactive and experiential, and to form strong facilitation and coaching skills in the participants. Our key principle here is that the answer is already in the room – the three participants can generally be relied upon to develop a good best practice approach after being encouraged by their coach to fully explore the pros and cons of each suggested option.

Fastlead punch line: This is coaching not mentoring. There are no prescribed right answers. We want participants to “discover” their own truths and their own solutions. Building their confidence that they can find the right solution “on their own” is a critical success output of the program.

Principle 6 – Generative questions are key

There is a big difference between “facilitation” and “training with leading questions”, and the asking of generative questions falls into the first category. In the second category, questions are categorized by the coach knowing the answers to every one of their questions, which then make these questions restrictive. It’s merely an indirect way of “telling” and has a similar impact. Typically there’s one “right” answer in the coach’s mind and participants will quickly work out that you already know it and are simply leading them there.

Fastlead punch line: Fastlead is not a teaching and preaching design. It’s organic, exploratory, and owned by the participants. As their coach, we assist learning and problem solving.

Principle 7 – Real Play it

The purpose of the Fastlead design is to allow the participants to practice techniques and conversations in a safe environment. This means that any action they are hoping to take outside the coaching pod will have first been practised and then dissected in the pod. As a Fastlead coach, you are expected to real play critical conversations, playing the other person.

Fastlead punch line: A key principle of Fastlead is that practice in a safe environment builds confidence and capability. Plus, we need not only to help participants practice in the coaching pods, but help them learn how to practice outside the pod.

Principle 8 – Be the change we are trying to create

Most participants embarking on a Fastlead program are taking on their first leadership role, and undergoing the first really challenging professional transition. Often, Fastlead is their first experience of leadership development. Typically, while you are their Fastlead coach for six months, you are the critical support mechanism, and they will watch what you do and how you do it closer than you might imagine. How you conduct yourself contributes to how they conduct themselves.

Fastlead punch line: Whether you like it or not, you’re likely to be a key role model in their leadership journey for a long time to come (well after the sessions have been completed). You will either show them the power of coaching, exploration, and collaboration, or enstill a sense of dependency that will hold the participants back for years to come.

© 2017 Harbour Future Leaders Pty Ltd, creators of Fastlead.

Additional Notes

These Fastlead Coaching Principles were authored by Dominic Johnson and Alistair Gordon, and work-shopped and refined by the 2016 and 2017 Fastlead Coaching Accreditation group, and then buiult on by the 2019 HFL Coaching Conference.

We have an internal Fastlead principles document which contains additional sections, describing in detail the required behaviours and techniques coaches need to adopt in order to deliver on these principles. If you would like a copy of the extended principles, please contact us.

Fastlead is delivered by accredited Fastlead coaches, who must pass through a two-day accreditation program. The Fastlead network has accredited coaches in every capital city in Australia, many regional centres, and also in New Zealand and Singapore.

HFL run small group coaching accreditation programs for internal HR/OD executives from time to time. If interested, please contact us.