To start to understand what peer coaching is, it’s important to look at what it is not, author Shana Montesol Johnson explains in “Peer Coaching: The Wave of the Future.” Peer coaching is not mentoring, where a more experienced employee provides guidance to a less experienced staffer. Nor is peer coaching a time when staff get together to vent about respective work challenges.
Rather, peer coaching is a form of internal coaching in which a coaching pair or a group of people who have equal status come together “in support of each individual’s development goals.” This coming together can be done either in person or virtually.
To lay the foundation for a successful peer coaching program, Montesol Johnson recommends starting by identifying a program coordinator, who will ensure that support and resources for the program are available to participants.
Further, as you develop your program:
Be clear on the big picture. What do you hope to gain from the peer coaching program? How is the program tied in with organizational goals and vision?
Paint the program as a positive investment in development. Some people still consider peer coaching a means to support individuals who need remedial help. Instead, sell and frame your program as a positive means by which to improve performance.
Promote the program as voluntary. Make sure employees do not feel pressured or required to take part in the peer coaching program. Not everyone will want to participate, nor is it a good fit for all. Peer coaching “requires individuals who are committed to reflection, openly sharing their struggles, experimenting with new coaching skills, working toward their own growth and development, and helping and supporting others’ growth and success.”
Because of these requirements, employees need appropriate skills that will then enable the success of peers. So, as you start a peer coaching program, provide coaching training to participants. Among the necessary skills for peer coaches are active listening, powerful questioning, paraphrasing (“What I heard you say was. . . ”), and the ability to provide a healthy balance between challenging and supporting one’s partner or group member.
The talent development professional, in addition to ensuring participants have the required skill set, should make sure pair members or group members are well-matched. There should be rapport and chemistry as well as trust.
Establishing any peer coaching program involves coordinating logistics, goals, and norms. Where are participants going to meet? How often? Who is in charge of making such arrangements? What do participants hope to gain from the program? How do they want to grow? What are the repercussions if individuals regularly cancel or don’t show up? How about for an individual who either dominates the conversation or doesn’t contribute to the dialogue?
Finally, remember to outline a process to leave the peer coaching program: “Scheduled off-ramps enable participants to exit the group gracefully if it is no longer serving their needs,” Montesol Johnson writes.