Peer Coaching: Benefits and Best Practices
Peer coaching can be a powerful form of learning and development. In this article, we’ll zoom in on this type of coaching in the workplace. We’ll take a look at its definition, benefits, and share a couple of best practices.
What is peer coaching? A definition
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 (Robbins,1991).
We can dissect several elements from this definition:
1) peer coaching takes place between two or more colleagues who reflect on current practices, this looks a lot like giving feedback;
2) the second part is about building skills, which has a development element to it;
3) the third part is about sharing ideas and teaching one another which also has a learning and development element to it;
4) the last part is about solving problems in the workplace which reminds us of the importance of soft skills – and collaboration in particular – to solve (future) workplace challenges.
Together, these elements make up for a rather complete definition of peer coaching. Each of them can be tied to one or more benefits of coaching in the workplace which we’ll discuss below.
The benefits of coaching in the workplace
Peer-to-peer coaching can be a powerful form of learning and development. But being a peer coach – and having one – is good for employee engagement and a feeling of team spirit too. We’ve listed 5 common benefits of coaching in the workplace below.
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1. It gives people a 360-degree view of their performance
If you’ve only got your manager to give you feedback and coaching, naturally you’ll only get one perspective. Most of us, however, work with a lot of different people and not every colleague gets to see the same side of us. After all, each job is made up of various tasks and projects requiring different skills and competencies.
So when we open up coaching to peers, this enables people to get a more all-round, 360-degree view of their performance. It will give them a more reliable overview of their strengths and the areas where there’s room for improvement.
2. It empowers people to learn new skills
Just like peer coaching gives employees a more complete picture of their performance, it also exposes them to a bigger range of workplace skills. Skills they can ‘easily’ learn too; they have a peer they can talk to directly, ask questions when they come up, and learn from by watching them during their work.
If, for example, you pair up a PR specialist with a content creator, this will create mutual opportunities for learning new skills and increasing each other’s basic knowledge of their respective field of expertise.
Not only does having a peer coach empower people to learn new skills, it can also accelerate learning. Why is that you wonder? Because peers tend to be in a good position to give quick, accurate feedback and tips.
3. It can boost leadership skills (and soft skills)
Strong leaders all have certain skills in common. Among other things, these skills include empathy, active listening, effective feedback, timely communication and the ability to teach and mentor.
Peer coaching offers people the opportunity build many of these leadership skills. You can even think of it as a natural way of developing them since as a peer coach, you have to listen to your peer, have empathy, give feedback, teach, communicate effectively and more.
A word on soft skills is in order. Most of the leadership skills we mentioned also qualify as soft skills, interpersonal people skills that are transferable and growing in importance.
Peer coaching can be an excellent way for employees to work on their soft skills since they are indispensable for a positive, successful peer-to-peer relationship.
4. It increases camaraderie and engagement
One thing leads to another here. When people are coaching each other – and see how this has a positive effect on the other person’s well-being or performance – they’ll feel good about themselves too. At the same time, they’ll learn things about themselves too which will create a sense of camaraderie and have a positive effect on their engagement.
5. It’s what candidates and employees want
Exact figures differ, but about one in five jobseekers want more professional development opportunities in a new role. Having a great peer coaching program in place (with ideally your current employees raving about it online, great for your Employer Brand too) can, therefore, be a real asset in winning candidates over.
The same thing goes for employees. Facebook surveys its employees twice a year and in one of their surveys, the company narrowed down the key themes to three key factors that all employees: community, cause, career. When we zoom in on the career element, employees want to be developed, coached, and mentored. One way to meet this need is through peer-to-peer coaching. As an added bonus, this can also boost a sense of community among your employees.
Peer coaching best practices
Let’s say you want to get started. Here are some best practices to get you going.
Start small and set ground rules
In his article How to get your team to coach each other for HBR, Stewart D. Friedman explains some of the base rules for setting up a peer coaching network. Friedman has extensive experience when it comes to peer coaching, having provided peer-to-peer coaching opportunities in his Wharton courses and in various types of organizations for decades.
The first thing Friedman says is to start small. He recommends setting people up in trio’s or to ask people to find two other people to form a ‘peer team’ with.
The next thing to do is to set some ground rules. There is a practical aspect to this: how will the trio’s work together when and how will they meet? And there is a more personal aspect to these ground rules: what are people’s expectations, interests, hopes and fears? The most important rule being that everyone chooses what they want to disclose (or not) and that everyone respects each other’s privacy and preferences. This is, by the way, fully in line with the definition of peer coaching we gave at the beginning of this article.
Teach people how to give and receive feedback
An important part of peer coaching is, of course, about being able to give – and receive – feedback. After all, the idea is for your feedback to be constructive so that your peers can use it to improve themselves. Effective feedback is the result of keen observation, listening, and communication.
So, before you launch a peer coaching initiative, you might want to give people a crash course in giving and receiving feedback. This doesn’t have to be an extensive or exhaustive program – after all, the whole point of peer coaching is that people improve their (feedback) skills – just share a couple of basic feedback rules so that no one gets off on the wrong foot.
As with all learning and development activities, your peer-to-peer coaching program should include personalized goals. What do people want to achieve? What skills would they like to work on? What kind of knowledge do they want to obtain?
In order to answer these questions, people will have to take some time beforehand to self-reflect. They’ll have to think about what their goals are from both a teacher and a learner perspective. One way to make sure goals are realistic and achievable is to use the SMART model (SMART standing for goals that are specific, measurable, assignable, relevant and time-bound).
Once everyone has decided on their goals, it’s good to make them transparent so the entire team can see them. This makes people accountable for reaching their goals while also making potential coaches aware of what their peers would like to learn.
Find the right online tools
This one is especially relevant in times of Corona, of course, but even in a non-crisis situation, you need to have the right tools. In particular online collaboration and communication tools, but a feedback tool can come in handy too.
The tools you’ll choose probably depend on your specific needs and budget. An often-named free project management tool is Trello. You can use it for instance to assign tasks, add due dates and add attachments.
It’s important for peers to be able to easily, if not instantly, communicate with each other – and to have the right tools for this. Video calling is a lot more personal and the second-best option after face-to-face meetings. For questions or thoughts that pop up in-between coaching meetings a chat system, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, is great.
Get everyone on board and in the right mindset
As with most company-wide initiatives, it’s important to get leadership on board. Not just because they can be great advocates of your organization’s peer coaching program, but also because they can be great peer coaches themselves! Managers, department heads and other organizational leaders tend to have more (specific) experience and know-how which makes them ideal candidates for peer coaching.
Another important ingredient for a successful peer coaching program is people’s mindset. This means that everyone in the organization needs to have this ‘eager to learn and teach from my peers’ mentality. They should see peer-to-peer coaching as an opportunity to develop and improve themselves. When it comes to learning and development we call this having a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset). This is something you can already look for in the candidates you’re hiring.
If you want to learn more about how to develop a growth mindset, check out the below video (I highly recommend it as it is super interesting).
Peer coaching can be a great way to share knowledge among employees. On top of that, having and being a peer coach can do a lot of good for employee engagement and team spirit too. If you’ve got experience setting up – or being a part of – a peer-to-peer coaching program please share your story with us in the comments – we’re curious to hear about your insights!
Peer coaching is a form of learning and development where 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.
Benefits of peer coaching include: it increases people view of their performance, it enables them to learn new skills and accelerate learning, it creates a sense of camaraderie, and that having a peer coaching program makes you more attractive to candidates and employees.
Anyone within the organization who has the right mindset and knowledge (plus skills) to share can be a peer coach.