Peer coaching is a process by which professionals, managers, and executives, who may or may not work together, come together and form a trusting environment to help one another in supporting and facilitating self-directed learning. In the peer coaching process, each person alternates between playing the role of peer coach and peer client.
There are a wide variety of peer coaching models that you can choose from and customize to the coaching needs of your target audience. Included here are descriptions and comparisons of different peer coaching models that can be used by corporations, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations.
Internal peer coaching groups
Some companies, such as BlueCross BlueShield, Microsoft, and BP are using peer coaching groups as a low-cost strategy to improve their investment in employee development programs and solve workplace problems on the job. These peer coaching groups, which are usually formally administered and supported by an executive sponsor, can be self-facilitated or make use of a skilled facilitator, and they may be held face-to-face or virtually.
hey are each made up of five to seven members who meet to discuss their workplace issues and goals, and to receive advice and support from their colleagues. They are a form of “action learning process” that first gained notoriety as an integral component of General Electric’s Crotonville educational programs. At these off-site training programs, peer participants would be given specific company challenges to work on and then would make recommendation presentations to senior executives at the end of the program.
In peer coaching groups, the participants bring their own priorities to the meeting and serve in either a peer coach or a peer client role during the meetings. The peer coaching groups usually start with some form of training on how to select priorities and how to effectively participate as a peer coach or peer client in the peer coaching process. The groups meet for two to three hours, once a month for an agreed-upon time, such as nine to 12 months. The peer coaching group process is evaluated at the end of each meeting and periodically throughout the process to ensure that the investment in time spent is having a payoff for the individuals and the organization.
Peer coaching groups also are found to be useful in smaller corporations, for example, a nonprofit or government agency. Hennepin County in Minnesota is a large government organization that initiated the use of peer coaching to improve the effectiveness of its professional development efforts. As Nancy Anderson, the lead consultant on the project said, “Often there is no venue or formalized setting to discuss issues that come up in large government organizations like ours… For example, in a performance review, someone can be left hanging on how to address the issues presented during the review process. But afterwards there is no outlet to explore ways to improve; the peer groups readily provided that framework and gave people a place to discuss their issues,” (as quoted in an article by Carter McNamara, “Pulling Off Peer Coaching”).
Carter McNamara is a partner at Authenticity Consulting, which helps organizations set up peer consulting groups. In another article, “Leaders Coaching Leaders,” he discusses the effectiveness of peer consulting groups: “They are owned and operated by the members. They facilitate getting things done and learning at the same time.”
Internal peer coaching networks
Internal peer coaching networks are composed of a group of people who work for the same company and who choose to join an informal group of colleagues who are willing to spend their time supporting and helping one another achieve their goals, celebrate progress, and share perspectives and resources.
The peer coaching network may originate as a result of a shared experience, such as attending a training program together or participating in an internal alliance group, such as a women’s leadership network. From this shared experience, the colleagues decide to meet on their own time to continue to provide one another with peer coaching support.
For example, Hearst Magazines offers their newly promoted managers the opportunity to attend their Developing Emerging Leaders training program. The first and second days of the two-day program are separated by four to six weeks, and participants are asked to complete some “backhome assignments” that are learning applications of skills/concepts learned on day one.
In addition, the participants select a “learning buddy” and schedule at least one “cafeteria coffee hour” to review their mutual progress before day two of the program. They then review their progress with their “learning table” at the start of day two.
The benefits and results of sharing their learning experiences with their colleagues was reported by the program participants to be so positive that they are now encouraged to schedule informal meetings with one another on a regular basis in order to sustain the learning experience, once the program is over.
External peer coaching groups
Similar to the C-level groups, some external consultants are specializing in setting up external peer coaching groups for executives and employees of corporations, government agencies, or nonprofits. These groups bring together eight to 10 people who face similar goals or challenges, but who come from different and non-competing organizations.
For example, some consultants have established a high-potential peer group and another one for new leaders. For an annual fee, these groups meet once a month for a 12-month period. The agenda is a mixture of topic-oriented content that the facilitator provides, or the facilitator invites in a speaker and organizes a peer coaching process similar to the roundtable agenda.
In between meetings, the group facilitator and each group member have one-on-one, hour-long coaching sessions via telephone. One consultant commented that one of the real advantages of this type of external peer coaching group is that “it is hard for people to be absolutely candid about their real issues, [such as] reporting that their boss is a ‘jerk,’ with peers from their own company.”
External peer coaching networks
These informal peer coaching groups are similar to mastermind groups. For example, they may have come together as a result of a shared professional development experience and want to continue to share their bonding and peer resources.
Jill Ingrassia, a managing director at AAA, participated in a week-long leadership development institute at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. The group of 12 executives developed strong relationships during the intensive five-day learning experience, and once it ended, they did not want to lose each other as valued resources. So the group has agreed that they will have a one-hour phone call every two to three months. One member of the group volunteered to organize the calls, but they have no other agenda than to report progress or to ask for help on a specific issue. If there is additional help required, they arrange for one-on-one follow-up calls with each other.
As Jill says about the benefits of these periodic calls, “They provide a ‘no pressure’ environment to talk about challenges or accomplishments and share ideas.” These external peer coaching networks may be as simple as you asking a colleague or friend to meet with you periodically to provide some informal coaching.This article is excerpted from the Infoline “ The Power of Peer Coaching” (ASTD Press, 2011). This issue begins with a brief history of peer coaching, describes various peer coaching models, provides guidance on how to implement those models, and outlines the many benefits of peer coaching.