In this short article, we focus on our peer coaching service and look at when it can be a useful tool,
how it works, why those who try it tend to go from initial resistance to avid adopters of the process, together with a look at a few of the unexpected benefits reaped by those who engage with it.
Peer Coaching – a useful tool
Peer coaching is also referred to as peer-to-peer coaching or small group coaching. The group will consist of people who don’t work together on the same team but hold roughly equal positions within the organisation. The sessions are led and facilitated by a professional coach.
As coaching is issue/action focussed, peer coaching can be a useful approach when individuals are seeking a solution in order to best overcome an issue they face. The process is more likely to succeed as it is supportive, member engaged and focussed on problem solving.
An important difference from one-to-one coaching is that individuals benefit from gaining a variety of perspectives from the other group members. They reflect on them to find their own solutions to the issue they brought. With the guidance of the coach, questions posed by the other members who understand the organisation, can be very helpful. They can drill to the core of the issue, often providing a different but complementary perspective than a coach alone may provide.
A brief history
Peer coaching is not a new concept, in fact it could be argued that some of the ideas go as far back as Socrates. Our peer coaching makes use of -
- Active learning theories where the sharing of ideas and challenging of opinions within a safe and supportive environment has been found to lead to palpable and long-lasting results. Active learning sets were introduced by Professor Reg Revan during the 1940’s, in this short video excerpt filmed in 1984 he introduces the concept.
- Experiential learning theories which acknowledge we all learn differently and continue to learn throughout our lives. In the 1980’s David Kolb brought the work of prominent 20th century thinkers together to create a model which is still used today. His experiential learning cycle is briefly described in this video on the Institute for Experiential Learning's website.
When can peer coaching be beneficial?
Peer coaching can be offered as a standalone service, following a training course to help keep the momentum going, or to tackle a specific issue or area where it is felt that progress has stalled. It can help the individual members to overcome challenges or drawbacks, achieve important goals and develop their full potential.
As it presents a different model than many may have previously experienced, it is quite common for the participants to feel uncomfortable, maybe even a bit frustrated initially. However, as group members become used to the process, they warm to it and don’t look back, often going on to use the model within their own teams.
As a standalone service
A small group of leaders who are all at roughly the same level of seniority and experience can come together for peer coaching. They will bring with them a diversity of thoughts and skills, a powerful combination when unleashed under the expert facilitation of a professional coach.
Peer coaching following training
Often participants leave a good training session invigorated, full of new learning and ready to put their ideas into action. Unfortunately, a little further down the line they may hit upon apathy or reticence within their team or wider community. Peer coaching can help turn feelings of despondency around, renewing motivation and getting a project back on track.
Coaching to help move a project along
A common example we hear about is from those tasked with being a diversity or mental health champion. A series of peer coaching sessions with the other workplace champions under the facilitation of an external coach, can keep the momentum going and help the individual champions overcome their challenges to achieve results for the benefit of all.
The process in a nutshell
- Determine the strategy of what you are trying to help resolve.
- Invite a group of leaders who don’t know each other well or a group of appointed champions to take part (minimum of 3).
- Offer the group peer coaching sessions facilitated by an experienced coach.
- The coach will set out the rules to the group, gain agreement for confidentiality and create an environment of psychological safety.
- The group members will come to the sessions equipped with a challenge they face.
- During each session one member will bring their issue to the group. The session will finish with that group member feeding back that they will do x, y, z by the next session.
- The second and subsequent sessions will begin with feedback by the member who shared their issue in the previous session on what they have reflected upon and put into action.
- Once all members of the group have shared their issue and provided feedback, the results of the peer sessions become apparent.
Peer coaching can have unexpected benefits
- Members of the group often build a trusting relationship, create a network with each other and provide support outwith the sessions.
- Peer coaching can help with the diversity of thought across an organisation as participants share thoughts with those from other areas of the business who may perform disparate roles and perhaps work in different locations.
- The process takes people out of their comfort zone, encourages reflection, and develops critical thinking skills.
- Participants learn to ask open questions – something leaders may never have done.
- Active listening skills can be learnt through the process.
- By having to actively participate, the group members can learn how to coach others.
- Individuals become more self-aware and grow through the process, often gaining a deeper understanding of how they operate. By seeing both their similarities and differences with other members in the group, each individual can recognise their strengths and become aware of any blind spots.
How is the peer coaching delivered?
Peer coaching sessions can either be delivered face-to-face or virtually. The exact number of sessions will depend on the size of the group. A session should be allowed for each member to share their issue and to then be able to provide feedback on their reflections at the start of the following session. For example, a group of three participants would require four sessions.
A period of two or three weeks between sessions is recommended to allow for the member who has shared their issue to be able to reflect and implement actions, so that they can feed back to the group at the start of the next session.
Is an external coach required for the process to succeed?
It is strongly recommended to have an external coach/facilitator to run peer coaching sessions as they use their skills to guide the sessions, keep members on track and ensure the sessions are productive. If no professional facilitator is present, people tend to lose momentum, revert to old habits, and achieve nothing.
That said, those leaders who have experienced peer coaching, often then try using the model to solve problematic areas within their own teams, taking on the facilitation role themselves.
If you would like to find out more about our peer coaching service, please get in touch by completing our contact form or calling the number you will find on it.
We can also deliver train the trainer sessions. For example, if an organisation is looking to implement peer coaching sessions which are facilitated internally, train the trainer sessions could be provided for a group of staff from occupational development.
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