Members of a four-way learning group take turns as coachee, coach, metacoach and witness in order to develop an unconditional service disposition.

Although I devised four-way learning groups as part of a broader intervention aimed at cultivating a now-to-new capability, this article focuses on using such groups to foster an unconditional service disposition.

Unconditional service is not a technique and it cannot be taught. It has to be experienced, both as a giver and as a recipient.

Read about unconditional service and the part it plays in Prospero work

A good coach advocates fiercely for the coachee’s best self and champions possibility.

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard, Co-founder, Blanchard Coaching Services (view source)

How it works

The four-way learning group incorporates aspects of co-coaching and action learning, and builds on the method used to teach Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), where trainees work in groups of three and rotate the roles of problem owner, change agent and observer. I have also drawn on my experience as a metacoach in two Change Masterclass programmes convened for senior executives at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

During each learning group session, which can be held face to face or online, participants experience each of the following roles in turn:

Metacoach (who coaches the coach)
Witness (silent observer)

Membership of a learning group can be homogenous, or it can be composed of people from different parts of the organisation, or with different levels of seniority, or both.

Roles are rotated in such a way that someone does not coach a person from whom they have received coaching.

The four-way learning group
This structure is designed to prevent reciprocation and collusion.

The metacoach intervenes in accordance with a strict protocol, and offers feedback at the end of the round.

The witness remains silent during the round, but can take notes and make observations when the round is complete.

The session concludes with a period in which group members share key insights and identify any issues that require further attention.

Sample questions for a four-way learning session


On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your ability to conceive the new and bring it into being in order to generate value? How might you increase that by one degree? Example: If your current score is 5, how might you make it 6?

What is a recurring issue or tough challenge you are facing that, when resolved, will enable you to realise more of your creative potential?

Since our last session, how have you contributed to the accomplishment of the enterprise’s mission? Between now and our next session, what might help you make a greater contribution? What might hinder you, and how might you address this?

What story are you telling yourself that constrains your freedom and diminishes your spirit? What new, empowering story might you author and activate?


Each coachee chooses a pivotal issue or challenge that might be addressed with the help of coaching. Coaches use GROW or another simple coaching model to help coachees find an effective way forward.

As above, but the issue or challenge is specified by L&D.

The best coaching is much more than arriving at a destination that seems out of reach. It is about reaching a destination you have never imagined.

Mo Cohen

Mo Cohen, Ph.D. candidate and solo autobiographical theatre pioneer

Anticipated results

When four-way learning groups are convened on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly cycle, each person experiences unconditional service on such a regular basis that it becomes second nature.

In addition, participants acquire coaching, self-managed learning and interdependence capabilities.

Further benefits arise when the composition of groups is cross-functional. New communication channels are established and participants’ appreciation of the work of the wider organisation is deepened.