Even the strongest team sometimes hits a rocky patch. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause, but rather that a group conversation is in order.
Group activities are critical for whole-team wellness. If group dynamics are an issue, however, a basketball game isn’t going to solve them. Group counseling may be just the ticket to get things back on track.
Similar to individual talk therapy, group counseling involves unpacking things together in order to create space to grow. The beauty of this approach is that it can be used regardless of the team’s challenges.
But you can’t simply sit everyone down and hope they figure it out. To make group counseling work on your team:
1. Discuss why you’re doing it.
The word “counseling” can be scary. Don’t blindside members of your team. When people don’t know why they’re being asked to engage in group counseling, they may approach it with apathy or even hostility.
To create a sense of safety, give your team an honest “why.” Although there’s no wrong reason to invest in group counseling, common reasons for doing so include:
- Resolving tensions that have been building on the team
- Promoting harmony through stronger communication
- Building a stronger sense of community in the office
- Giving team members tools for conflict resolution
- Ensuring a new hire gets a great team experience
2. Destigmatize counseling.
Unfortunately, mental health services are still stigmatized in some circles. Things are changing, but years of assumptions are difficult to break. And those assumptions can lead employees to resist the idea of group counseling.
Do your best to normalize the concept of counseling. If you go to therapy yourself, that would be a good time to bring it up. If not, mention a few celebrities or other cultural icons who’ve benefited from it.
Make clear, too, that group counseling isn’t designed to diagnose anyone with any disorder. Nobody is going to walk away with a prescription or in a white coat. The goal is merely to promote harmony on the team.
3. Be clear about who needs to be there.
A group counseling session is similar to any other team meeting in at least one way: If someone doesn’t need to be there, then they shouldn’t be. You’ll want to limit attendance to the individuals who need it.
If it’s just the sales team that is struggling to get along, don’t add marketers into the mix. If just three salespeople seem to be at odds with each other, you might not even need the whole sales staff.
What if multiple departments could use counseling? Start with the most interested one. Let them show the rest how productive group counseling can be.
4. Get a professional to facilitate.
Counseling is a skill. It may look easy, but that’s because facilitators spend years practicing it.
Because many group counseling sessions look like any other conversation, business leaders are sometimes tempted to take it into their own hands. But having a certified counselor lead the session both ensures a better outcome and takes pressure off the leader.
Look for a counselor with a Master’s in the field and an active license. As a neutral party, that person can come into the situation without the baggage that employees and managers have.
If you’re not sure where to start, ask for referrals. Chances are, someone in your entrepreneurial network has tried team counseling.
5. Consider the when and the where.
Part of getting everyone on the same page involves scheduling. Before choosing when and where to hold the group counseling session, ask yourself:
- Will the session happen during or outside of regular work hours?
- What day of the week works best for everyone? Are weekends an option?
- Will you use the office space or go to a more neutral location?
- How long should the session last?
- Might a follow-up session be needed?
If someone on the team isn’t comfortable with a certain time or place, listen to them. It’s vital that everyone involved is ready to open up.
6. Decide what to do afterward.
After the group counseling session, bring everyone back to discuss their experience. Assessing how helpful the session was will help you decide whether to schedule a second one.
There’s nothing wrong with a one-off counseling session. If the team found it valuable, however, it might be worth setting up a monthly or quarterly conversation. If budget is an issue, consider attaching an annual session to a team development day.
Group counseling can help not just struggling teams, but also thriving ones. Simply being more comfortable around your co-workers is reason enough. When in doubt, talk it out.