ATD Blog

From Buddies to Solutions Partners: How Peers Help with Coaching

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The last blog article in this series explored the role managers must play to ensure coaching is a successful component of achieving critical talent outcomes. But managers can’t do it all: Organizations also must leverage an employee’s peer group to achieve total coaching impact. This article examines an employee’s peers more closely.

Getting work done today requires greater collaboration among a broader and more diverse set of people than ever before. In a recent CEB survey, 60 percent of employees reported working with 10 or more people on a daily basis, and 67 percent reported an increase in the amount of work that requires collaboration with others.

This widening network offers greater opportunity for high-impact coaching from a source that usually goes untapped—peers. Our research shows that not only do employees spend 35 percent of their time working with peers, but peers usually experience the work environment in a similar way, making them uniquely suited to help each other through challenges.

Although L&D teams historically have used peers as “buddies” and “support systems,” the role peers should play in the coaching relationships of today is very different. In the new work environment, peers should be positioned as critical solutions partners.


CEB recommends that L&D functions take the following steps to leverage peers as a source of valuable coaching:

  • Identify opportunities to create peer coaching interactions. Formal training programs provide a natural opportunity for peer coaching. Peer coaching exercises can add a great deal of value to a training program while also acting as the first step in setting up coaching circles that are run separately from formal training initiatives.
  • Enable employees to learn from the success of their peers and not just focus on challenges. Incorporating discussions about successes that go beyond celebrating to learning helps to reinforce the positive intent of coaching.
  • Provide peers with simple tools to apply in impromptu coaching interactions. Some of the most valuable opportunities for peer coaching are not formal, scheduled sessions but day-to-day work. To make these in-the-moment coaching conversations valuable, L&D functions can provide employees with conversation starters and questions.

For example, one oil and gas company makes peer coaching effective by structuring it around a peer consultancy protocol. First, to ensure focus, the L&D team provides employees with decision criteria to help them determine when peer coaching will be effective—they recommend that peer coaching not be used for issues that have a clear “yes or no” answer, but rather for challenges that are more complex. Second, to support productive conversations, L&D has created a guide for structuring the sessions. This guide details both the ideal structure of a session and the different roles that participants should play. Finally, to drive learning from the discussions, L&D directs employees to focus on asking questions, not offering solutions. They give concrete guidance on how to ask productive questions, and how to ensure that the full range of factors that influence a given issue are uncovered.
The final blog article in this series will examine the last of the three critical coaching connections, “Direct Reports as Upward Coaches.” Also, learn more about how leading L&D teams enable greater returns on employee development at

About the Author

As Talent Solutions Architect at CEB, Jean Martin directs the development of talent management solutions and insights across the company with heads of human resources at some of the largest global organizations. Specifically, Jean spends time working on issues relating to driving breakthrough organizational performance, and assessing, engaging and retaining the best employees.

About the Author

Thomas Handcock, is senior director at CEB. A researcher at heart, and passionate about learning, Handcock is focused on working with CEB’s global network of clients to unlock the potential of their employees and leaders. His research on areas like on-the-job learning, coaching, training design, L&D strategy, and staff capability, and the hundreds of discussions he has each year with L&D executives and their teams, have only served to reinforce his belief that human capital development is one of the most powerful levers the modern enterprise has at its disposal.

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