From Individual Coaching to Organizational Consulting

Organizational consultants play important roles in the development and improvement of organizations and their employees. A consultant works as an individual coach, a group coach, or an organizational consultant to help individuals and organizations to achieve their goals. This article outlines organizational consultants’ practice in individual level, group level, and organization level. Organizational consulting roles and strategies for individual coaching, group coaching, and organizational consulting are reviewed. This article also studies the differences of scopes, functions, and approaches for consultation in different levels. Adaptation of consulting roles and core competencies for consulting with individuals, teams, and organizations are discussed.

Individual Coaching

Individual coaching is focused on a person (client)’s needs and goals of individual development. Depending on clients’ needs, the role of coaching may encompass skills coaching, performance coaching, developmental coaching, and transformational coaching (Bachkirova, 2013). Because individual coaching is conducted through person-to-person mentoring and communications, it is important for a coach to build rapport and trust with the client. A coach often wields motivation and goal-setting strategies to help clients acquire new skills, improve behavior, boost performance, and resolve problems such as relationship issues at work or in personal life.

To succeed in individual coaching, a coach should understand the client’s background, competencies, and mental state. Therefore the coach must be able to apply psychological evaluations to assess individuals in their relevant areas of need. Commonly used psychometrics tools and procedures for client evaluation in organizations include the Clifton StrengthsFinder, the Five-Factor Model, and the 360-Degree Feedback (Carson & Lowman, 2002). A coach sometimes also uses psychoanalytic methods for psychological evaluations and consultation. From the psychoanalytic approach, a coach works with the client towards “understanding oneself as much as possible, with an emphasis on the interdependent integrity of one's relationships to others and one’s ability to use his or her capacities and resources fully in mastering his or her environment, particularly for obtaining gratification in work” (Levinson, 2009a, p. 168).

A pervasive practice of individual coaching is executive coaching. According to Goldsmith (2012), the role of executive coaching is “to help successful leaders achieve positive change in behavior: for themselves, their people, and their teams” (p. 29). Because an executive’s professional growth is manifested through organizational success, the executive coaching should have a “dual focus on working one-on-one to develop the executive as a leader while also helping that leader to achieve business results” (Stern, 2004, p. 156). In executive coaching, consultants usually use “a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve his or her professional performance and personal satisfaction and, consequently, to improve the effectiveness of the client’s organization within a formally defined coaching agreement” (Kilburg as cited in Kampa & White, 2002, p. 140). An important goal of executive coaching is to build the “key managerial and leadership competencies” (MacKie, 2007, p. 316) essential for an executive to improve the organization’s bottom line.

Group Coaching

Group coaching is “a comprehensive and systemic approach to support a team to maximize their collective talent and resources to effectively accomplish the work of the team” (Carr & Peters, 2013, p. 81). An essential role of group coaching is to help improving team performance and solving problems with work teams in an organization. In order to conduct an effective group coaching, a coach needs to understand the team theory and use it as a guidance to systematically plan and implement the coaching process. A well-established theory in organizational consulting is Kurt Lewin’s group theory. Lewin conducted a pioneering research to study group dynamics that could be essential for scientific understanding of human groups. The group theory has been applied in management and industrial psychology to analyze group behavior and organizational changes (Baron & Branscombe, 2012).

For organizational consulting, group coaching is often focused on team coaching in an organization. According to Carter and Hawkins (2013), the use of teams has been prominent within modern organizational life; teams are central to organizational success. A team is a collective of people “who exist to perform organizationally relevant tasks, share one or more common goals, interact socially, exhibit task interdependencies, maintain, manage boundaries and are embedded in an organizational context that sets boundaries, constrains the team, and influences exchanges with other units in the broader entity” (Kozlowski & Bell as cited in Carter & Hawkins, 2013, p. 178). A well-developed team should promote teamwork for improved performance and productivity because the team could be more effective than individuals when team members share workloads, monitor their colleagues’ behaviours, and coordinate different areas of expertise.

On the other hand, organizational leaders often face challenges with their teams. Leaders may have difficulty to integrate team members towards shared goals. When a team is not clear about its strategy, roles, and goals shared by all team members, the team cannot perform effectively. An organization may encounter problems in the connection and communication within the team and across its boundary. When teams fail to effectively engage their members, other teams, and key stakeholders in the organization, the team performance could be hindered rather than improved.

To overcome these challenges, an organization should hire team coaches to help in team building and team development. As an early stage of team development, team building involves interventions to address issues relating to the development of the team. Team building may focus on the improvement of interpersonal relations, improved productivity or better alignment with organizational goals. A consultant could use team building to “assist individuals and groups to examine, diagnose, and act upon behavior and interpersonal relationships” (Carter & Hawkins, 2013, p. 181). Team development is usually an on-going process in which a consultant can assist the team to develop its capability and capacity to work well together with its joint task. With consulting help for team development, organizational teams can be built to result in great teamwork for improved productivity and performance.

Organizational Consulting

As discussed in Levinson (2009b), organizational consultants gather, integrate, and assess information about the organization, define interventions based on the assessment and prognosis, analyze operation, performance, problems, and risks within the organization, recommend and adopt practices and procedures for organizational development, and facilitate organizational changes. In order to understand complicated interrelationships among organizational phenomena, an organizational consultant needs to take into account economic, financial, sociological, social psychological, psychodynamic, and anthropological conceptions, as well as organization theory and the policies and practices of any given organization. The consultant “must see himself or herself as a psychological anthropologist who must be familiar with the culture, behavioral norms, and the psychological foundations of policies and practices in order to intervene successfully” (Levinson, 2009b, p. 209).

A critical practice of organizational consulting is organizational leadership development. Leadership development consulting can help organizational leaders for “increased self-awareness, enhanced personal management skills, improved interpersonal skills, increased capacity to employ problem-solving capabilities, and balanced skills in managing change” (Van Velsor et al. cited in Graham & Robinson, 2002, p. 370). In leadership development, consultants should help the organization adapt leadership styles which fit for the organization’s structure and culture. A consultant may help an organization develop transformational leadership because this leadership style gives leaders the mechanism to transform organizational goals into synergistic duties of the individuals. Through the consulting of transformational leadership development, consultants can strategically help the organization build a productive environment with “idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration” (Caldwell, Dixon, Floyd, Chaudoin, & Cheokas, 2012, p. 177).

Organizational consultants often play important roles in crisis management and prevention. According to Prewitt, Weil, and McClure (2011), crisis “has its genesis in the values, beliefs, culture, or behavior of an organization which become incongruent with the milieu in which the organization operates” (p.60). With wide range of knowledge and experience, consultants are able to conduct organizational assessment to sense the subtle signs of forthcoming crisis and prepare to cope with the emergency brought up by unpredictable incidents. Through the crisis management life cycle, consultants may apply a strategy to “take advantage of the fleeting organization mandate to address the underlying cause of the crisis so that the event will not be repeated” (Prewitt, Weil, & McClure, 2011, p. 63). Taking crisis as an opportunity for an organization to change and grow, consultants help organizational leaders to develop new procedures, alter the organizational culture, and prevent future crisis.

Adaptation of Consulting Roles

In consulting practice, a contract may need a consultant to work with different clients and play different roles. The professionalism of consulting relies on a consultant’s understanding of role adaptation in differences of subjects, scopes, and goals. For example, when coaching an individual, a consultant deals with interventions at personal level, helps the client identify problems, and develop plans and goals for the client’s problem-solving and self-development. If the consultant is then assigned to organizational consultation, he or she need to adapt to encounter a much broader and more complex set of phenomena than individual coaching. Such difference would require the consultant switch focus and strategy from individual problem solving to organizational development.

On the other hand, a consultant can leverage skills and knowledge from different roles and integrate his or her experience to consult at different levels of an organization. After all, an organization is an open social system with teams and individuals as subsystems (Fuqua & Newman, 2012), thus a consultant can apply the systems theory to consolidate organizational strategies and enhance consulting practice. For example, psychological analysis on individuals can help consultants understand group dynamics in team building; strategies in team coaching can be referred to access organizational culture and plan organizational development. Form systemic perspective, a consultant works as a change agent at all levels of an organization to facilitate improvement and transformation of the organization and its teams and members.

In order to adapt different consulting roles in an organization, a consultant needs to develop professional competencies at different organizational levels. At the individual level, a consultant should be able to conduct individual assessment and intervention for employee development and career-related problems. At the group level, consultants should be capable for assessment of functional/dysfunctional group behavior and creation of group-level teams in organizations. At the organization level, consultants are required for organizational diagnosis including systemic assessment of the entire organization or large component parts of the organization, assessment of organizational values and management practices, organizational-level interventions, and change management of organizational systems (American Psychological Association, 2002). By mastering these core competencies, a consultant can successfully adapt dynamic roles in organizational consultation.


Individual coaching focuses on an individual’s needs and goals for personal development and career growth. An individual coach can help clients free themselves from unsatisfying or conflict-laden work and help them for new or different occupational roles. Executive coaching is a common form of individual coaching for leadership development within organizations. The goal of executive coaching is to help an organizational leader to improve job performance through behavioral change. The outcome of coaching an individual employee should support the organizational goals. Group coaching aims to team effectiveness and empowerment of team members. Successful group coaching should result in high performing teams which support creativity, innovation, team spirit, corporate culture, quality, and productivity. Consultants often apply the team theory strategically in their consulting practice for constrictive team building and team development. Organizational consulting extends the scope of service from individual and group level to the organizational level with focus on the organizational development. Organizational consultants often implement a systematic approach to assess and analyze the complex of organizational behavior and intervention. In organizational consulting, consultants work with organizational leaders to plan and develop strategies and procedures for performance improvement, crisis management, and organizational change. The dynamics of consulting practice would require a consultant to adapt different roles in different levels of organizational consulting. A consultant should acquire core competencies of assessment and intervention at the individual level, group level, and organization level in order to play different roles for an organization’s needs. An organizational consultant is a change agent who integrates individual employees and leaders, work teams, and the organization in all levels towards organizational transformation.


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