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28th April 2022

Support and Challenge Groups: The Power of Group Coaching

We humans are social beings and as such, our interactions with those around us play an essential part in every aspect of our life, including the way we learn and develop. The 70-20-10 Model by McCall et al. (1988) [1] suggests that 70% of adult learning occurs through experiential learning, 20% through social learning or interactions with others and 10% through formal learning processes. Therefore, talking about our experience, challenges and learnings with others adds a significant value to how we grow and develop at work. Moreover, learning and seeking support from our colleagues increases our social networks and sense of belonging in the organisation [2].

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Group Coaching: Support and Challenge Groups

Support and Challenge Groups are a simple but powerful way for individuals to learn from each other. They draw upon the idea that we learn most effectively when we address problems within small groups – a supportive yet challenging environment. The concept was originally developed by Reg Revans in the 1940s as Action Learning Sets [3]. He believed that combining the existing knowledge held by the ‘problem-holder’ with insightful questioning of this knowledge by peers leads to a highly effective learning. What is suggested is that the ‘problem-holder’ has all the knowledge and resources within them to solve their own problem but the questioning from others helps them uncover those knowledge and resources. Allowing space for reflection is an essential part of the process, providing both the ‘problem-holder’ and the other members of the group an opportunity to learn by reflecting on the challenge at hand. We have built on the concept to develop Support and Challenge Groups which are a form of group coaching.

In Support and Challenge Groups, group coaching takes place in a mutually supportive environment, where members take turns to bring issues to the group whilst others play the role of coaches. A facilitator is usually present to guide the session. This process promotes individual ownership of learning and self-development [4]. Additionally, research suggests that workplace learning in small groups leads to better outcomes compared to individual learning [5].

The rules of engagement include:

  • Confidentiality – what is discussed is kept within the group
  • Attendance – group members are encouraged to commit to the attending all sessions for the duration of the programme
  • Listening – each member is given an opportunity to speak while the others listen actively and attentively

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Why Are Support and Challenge Groups a Powerful Way to Learn?

Some of the key benefits of Support and Challenge Group are:

  • Developing new ideas –As group members ask the ‘problem-holder’ questions, their approach, actions and way of thinking are both supported but also challenged by their peers.  This enables them to gain awareness of different styles and approaches that can be used to tackle work challenges more effectively [6].
  • Creating a safe environment – Support and Challenge Groups offer a safe environment for individuals to discuss potentially sensitive issues they might feel uncomfortable speaking to others about or seeking advice on.
  • Building connections – Being in a group where you encourage and support each other, builds trust and creates strong relationships between individuals. This is particularly important considering the current hybrid work culture, where a lot of us regularly work from home and are therefore limited in terms of how and when we socialise and bond with colleagues.
  • Creating an active learning culture: Support and Challenge Groups encourage a culture of active learning through questioning and seeking new and better ways of doing things. Therefore, they are regularly used by learning organisations as they provide a structured way for skills to be continuously enhanced and transferred between individuals.

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How can Impact Psychology for Business Help You?

We at Impact Psychology for Business recognise the immense value that group coaching adds to personal and organisational growth. Our Support and Challenge Groups, either delivered separately or as a part of a Team/Leadership Development Programme, are led by trained and experienced facilitators and provide a unique opportunity for individuals and teams to share knowledge, offer support, reflect, reconnect and create change. Participants from Support and Challenge Groups we have facilitated in the past have described the experience as “empowering”, “supportive” and “positive.”  They have also found that it “made a huge difference to the way the teams were managed on a day-to-day basis.” and “helped to increase confidence.”

If you are interested in finding out more about how we can support you and your team, click here to talk to us.

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Useful resources

  1. McCall, M., Lombardo, M., & Morrison, A. (1988). The lessons of experience: How successful executives develop on the job. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
  2. Palmer & Blake, 2018. How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other. Retrieved from
  3. Revans, R. (2017). ABC of action learning. Routledge.
  4. Brame, C.J. & Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work:
    Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved from
  5. Teare, R. (2011), “Learning at work: practical steps to maximize the individual and organizational benefits”, Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 14-29.
  6. Marquardt MJ. 2000. Action learning and leadership, The Learning Organization. 7 (5): 233 – 241