Abundant information supports the idea that peer coaching results in improved performance. Let’s explore the benefits from peer coaching and how to start a program for your team — if not your entire organization.

What Is Peer Coaching, and What Benefits Does It Offer?

An online search for a definition of peer coaching returns hundreds, including this popular one:

“Peer coaching is a confidential process through which two or more colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace” (Pam Robbins, 1991).

Although written for the public education industry, that definition works for virtually any position in any industry. As with any process definition, the “how” is critical.

Peer coaching has a positive return on investment (ROI), and its cost, even when it’s formalized and organization-wide, is minimal. Here are its most valuable benefits:

Leadership Skills

Leadership skills develop subtly, as coaching is leading. Becoming a better coach means becoming a better leader. Being coached also provides the other individual with a first-hand view of someone engaging in “people building” — a critical leadership ability.

Teamwork Skills

The coach and coachee practice and improve their teamwork skills both during and outside of the coaching, as they engage in a collaborative effort.

Productivity

Practicing peer coaching is a productive action. When both partners transfer what they learn to their work behavior, it enhances their team’s and department’s productivity.

Accountability

Each partner holds the other accountable for coaching, practicing what they learn, giving feedback and holding one another to task throughout the partnership.

What Does It Take to Implement a Peer Coaching Program?

A smooth start to your program relies on three advance decisions:

Time

Whether your program is one round or an ongoing series, setting the length of each engagement will give partners a timeline to shoot for. While you will probably allow them to set their own schedule, it’s a good idea to recommend at least weekly meetings.

Team Size

Peer coaching teams can consist of pairs or triads. Pairs usually settle into comfortable working relations quickly. Triads give each person the opportunity to coach, be coached and to observe the coaching process, thereby increasing experience and learning.

Team Selection

Team members may be assigned by the manager, self-chosen or randomly selected. The first method works if the manager has specific reasons for pairing individuals, knows the strengths and weaknesses of all participants, and has time and energy to make the assignments. The second method is quick and easy; however, friends may automatically pair off and have difficulty coaching one another objectively and candidly. Random selection is the best choice for an ongoing, multi-round program, as it offers participants a variety of coaches.

When you’ve made these decisions, these three actions will help you start your program:

Feedback: Two Arts

In peer coaching, each individual gives feedback when coaching and receives feedback when being coached. Giving and receiving are complementary arts, and participants should master both. Here are the basic steps for giving and receiving feedback:

To Give Good FeedbackTo Receive Feedback Well
  • State the focus of the feedback.
  • Offer specific observation.
  • Invite a solution from your partner.
  • Offer a solution, if necessary.
  • Restate the feedback.
  • Ask for clarification if necessary.
  • State what you may do in response.
  • Verify that you heard accurately.

Meeting Guidelines

Making guidelines available for conducting each coaching meeting can benefit each team in establishing a level playing field. Understanding the general behavior and comfort levels of your people enables you to determine which types of guidelines to recommend, including regarding confidentiality, interruptions, sarcasm, respectfulness and controlling the conversation.

Setting Objectives

All peer coaching partners should set specific personal objectives for the coaching relationship. They should do so before the first peer coaching meeting so that they come prepared to share their objectives.

It often helps to offer some suggestions as to how they set those objectives. Consider sharing questions such as these with your team members:

    • What specific skill do you hope to develop?
    • How would you like to improve a certain part of your performance?
    • Is there something in particular you would like to master?
    • On what specific part of your work would you like feedback?

Once your program is running, it will require a small amount of maintenance oversight. Here are two strategies you can use:

Ask

Invite abundant, frequent conversations about the process and the outcomes of the peer coaching program. Include questions as agenda openings or closes at meetings. Send blast emails with subject lines such as “What Have You Gained from Peer Coaching?”. Bring the program into on-the-job conversations to keep it top of everyone’s mind.

Share

Create and repeat ways for participants to share their successes, their difficulties and their suggestions. You will likely find that they will enjoy sharing success, be willing to express difficulties and eagerly offer suggestions.

Performance improvement is a constant goal in every business, and peer coaching is an economical, easy approach to that goal. Benefits from a successful peer coaching program span from the individual to the company levels. Your program can achieve success if you make a few decisions in advance, carry out the relevant actions to get started and use the applications to keep the program going.

Recommended Resources

    1. How to Cultivate a Peer Coaching Network” (Harvard Business Review).
    2. How to Get Your Team to Coach Each Other” (Harvard Business Review).
    3. How Peer Coaching Can Make Work Less Lonely” (Harvard Business Review).
    4. Coaching and Engaging Your Remote Employees Online” (Human Capital Institute).
    5. Work-from-Home Burnout Is Real: How to Leverage Peer Coaching to Combat It” Forbes).

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