Focus Groups

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Focus groups are facilitated meetings of up to a dozen people that

are organized around answering a series of focusing questions. A

facilitator leads the group through these questions. Focus group data

are generated as the result of a facilitative process and, while guided

by the focusing questions, the facilitator has the freedom to go off in

many different directions to gather the data that are viewed by the

group to be most critical. The big appeal of focus groups is that the

dialogue can lead to some interesting and unexpected places. Participants

build on one another’s comments, tell stories, give examples,

and share experiences to create a wealth of qualitative data.

These groups can be used either as a companion to other data collection

techniques or alone. The most common approach is to use

focus groups as a follow-up to survey data. A survey of coaching

clients may not only answer questions—but raise some new and

intriguing questions as well. A focus group can explore these new

questions and provide a fuller picture of the application of coaching.

Focus groups are not suitable to explore individual stories,

however; the interactive nature of the focus group conversations

does produce rich qualitative data. We will see later in this chapter

how this approach was used successfully at Frontier Manufacturing.

Later in this chapter, we see how Frontier successfully used a focus

group with Regional Sales Managers to explore application and

chart a course of action. Guidelines for successfully using focus

groups include the following:

_ When focus groups include only a subset of a greater population,

make these groups as representative of the greater organization as

possible. This increases the credibility and quality of the data.

_ Keep the size of the group to 12 people and, if more than 12 people

are needed, conduct more than one session. Groups larger than

this size make it difficult for everyone to participate, and groups

smaller than this may not provide all of the data required.

_ Ensure that the initiative sponsor and/or business leaders buy into

this data collection approach. This will increase their confidence

in the outcomes of the group sessions.

_ Use experienced facilitators and those who are especially quick on

their feet. Work with the facilitator in advance to plan the

agenda and outcomes for the session.