Today I wanted to share with you an article I wrote a few years ago on Peer Coaching. In my work across organizations as a coach, trainer and consultant, I often see peer processes not being harnessed to their full potential. I hope that this article gives you some food for thought around how you can equip members of your team to have better peer conversations.
Here's a copy of the article, which you can also download here:
Peer Coaching: An Untapped Resource
Jennifer Britton, October 2014. All Rights Reserved
The power of the peer process is often underestimated, for both good and bad. This article explores the concept of peer coaching and how it can be leveraged for learning and development within a team. The article also explores which peer coaching skills to share with your team members.
As a modality, coaching provides an opportunity for team members to expand their awareness and take action around issues facing themselves and the team. Coaching provides an opportunity to get clarity around future directions and the strengths that exist within a team. From research we know that exceptional teams, often known as high performing teams, are great at getting things done (referred to as productivity), and also have strong relationships (referred to as
In recent years organizations have spent significant resources around having their senior leaders coached, by internal
and external professionals. As coaching cultures become more common place, and coaching moves beyond the C-Suite,
peer coaching provides an opportunity to expand the coaching conversation. Peers can play a key role in expanding the coaching conversation to a wider cross section of an organization.
Core Elements in Coaching
Core Elements in any coaching conversation include a focus on goals, expansion of awareness, support of action, and ongoing accountability towards goals. First, any coaching conversation (by leaders, within peers) needs to be grounded in specific goals. This should be the starting point of any coaching conversation - What is the focus? What will success look like? During our time, what would be useful to explore. For example, a new leader may want to explore how their style matches the needs of their team. Overall, their goal may be to become a better communicator. Coaching conversations are designed to expand awareness, and support people in movement towards those key goals. Coaching is rarely a one off conversation and provides the real benefit of accountability and checking in around the commitments
you have made in getting things done.
Peer Coaching - Expanding the Conversation
As a coaching culture becomes established in an organization, peer coaching may be a natural next step for expanding the capacity for great conversation, action and accountability. As an approach, peer coaching involves peers coaching peers. Peer coaching often “ups the ante” around accountability. As peers it may be even more important to follow through when making a commitment to a peer, rather than a boss or coach. As a peer, it may also be easier to call out colleagues who don’t follow-through with their own commitments.
Peer coaching can be leveraged in a number of ways. Many organizations start by developing peer coaching skills as part of a training process - for example, equipping new team leaders. This may be a way to sustain the conversation outside of the training room, in support of integration and application of learning. If team development activities or team coaching is being undertaken, peer coaching can keep a focus between the team touch points. Peer coaching may also be a standalone process, a way of supporting conversation, learning, growth and sharing with in an organization
Many organizations are looking to action learning coaching as a way to intersect real life issues and application. Inherent in this is the involvement and interaction with peers.
Another coaching opportunity which is leveraged by many organizations today is a team coaching process. Involving all members of a team, team coaching is a form of extended team development, supporting teams in developing awareness and capacity in the areas of enhanced relationships and expedited results. Key to the team coaching process is multiple touch points, which may be supported by peer coaching conversations in between.
Another approach which leverages peer coaching, is group coaching. Group Coaching brings together individuals from across an organization, for example, groups of new managers. Coaching Groups may meet weekly or bi-weekly, to
explore topics of interest, share best practices, boost movement towards goals and expand awareness around shared themes such as leadership strength, vision, or values. Group coaching processes are usually led by a group coach who is internal or external to the organization. Here peer coaching plays a key role during the session itself as breakouts occur, or in between group touch points when pairs meet for discussion and sharing.
Finally peer coaching is being integrated is through the coaching skills training of all members of their organization to build capacity. Regardless of approach, provide pause points for peer coaches to reflect on what they are learning about being peer coach, and best practices they are evolving.
Peer Coaching Skills to Develop
In creating a successful peer coaching program, it will be important to provide peer coaches with the opportunity to
develop key skills in the areas of communication, questioning, listening, goal setting and accountability. Some of these key peer coaching/communication skills include:
• Mirroring- Reflecting back what you have heard. In mirroring it is important to use the language as they person said, so sharing things verbatim. Mirroring often creates new insights for the speaker.
• Listening - In a coaching conversation it is important to listen at several different levels. What do you notice about the pace and pitch of the speaker? What is being said and what is not being said? What is being said between the lines? What do you notice about the words and also the tone?
• Questioning - In coaching we want to use questions that are open-ended, or are not inviting a yes/no response.
In any coaching conversation (peer coaching, team coaching, leader as coach) t is important to use questions that open up awareness, prompt a new perspective, invite discovery or support action
• Direct Communication - Use language that is consistent with and impactful for the person being coached
• Curiosity - in the coaching process, the person being coached is the expert. This can be a 180 from our typical process where we the leader are the expert. Fostering curiosity in the part of those who are doing the coaching
• Assumption busting and perspective shifting - Throughout the coaching conversation it is likely that you will be exploring and “busting” assumptions as well as shifting perspectives.
• Support for goal setting and achievement - Coaching is grounded in core goals as set by the person. A starting place for any coaching process is to identify goals and the focus of the conversations. The peer coaching
conversation should provide an opportunity to move towards those goals, as well as identify blockages.
• Creating Accountability Supports - Creating support for accountability is essential. As John Whitmore wrote in his seminal “Coaching for Performance” accountability is about getting people to specify “What will you do? By
When? and How will I know?” Holding people accountable, including yourself as a leader is foundational to the coaching approach.
As coaching cultures mature, peer coaching will play an expanded role in expanding the conversation, and impact, of coaching. It is an untapped resource in many organizations today. How could peer coaching expand conversations?
Britton, Jennifer. From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching, Jossey-Bass, 2013.
Whitmore, John. Coaching for Performance.
Supporting Team Leaders to do their best work, one conversation at a time
Coaching Skills Training | Teamwork | Leadership
Author of From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching(Jossey-Bass, 2013)