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Use what you have to make everyone better with peer coaching

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

December 14, 2022

In athletics, coaching is a given — whether you’re an olympian, county swimmer, or part of a junior soccer team. Coaches guide, motivate, and lead you to be the best you can be. So why is the business world so slow to catch up?

We all know by now that money is neither the only (nor the best) motivator. Praise, stability, feedback, career progression, pride, and autonomy all rank equal to, if not higher than, a financial incentive. And coaching is a way to achieve most, if not all, of the above.

Coaching is great for employers, too. It helps them retain top talent, boost job satisfaction, and earn more. In fact, studies show that organizations engaged in employee development see double their profits compared with organizations not investing in training. Furthermore, 93% of employees stay longer when a company invests in career development

But what’s the best way to give employees adequate training? Enter: Peer coaching.

What is peer coaching?

Think about it this way: if you want to improve at speaking another language, you don’t just practice by yourself. You also take group lessons and practice with native speakers. Similarly, if you want to improve your golf game, you’ll spend plenty of time on the green with buddies helping each other perfect that swing.

Peer coaching is a process of peer-to-peer learning during which employees help each other improve their performance. This can take place through individual or team sessions and may include brainstorming ideas, giving feedback to each other, and offering advice based on experiences. It’s an effective way for employees to learn from each other, develop new skills and strategies, and work together to solve problems.

When people work together, they can bounce ideas off each other, develop new solutions, and spot potential problems before they become too big to fix. Peer coaching helps make all that possible by allowing team members to learn from each other and build upon each other’s strengths.

There are two main types of peer coaching: formal and informal.

  • Formal peer coaching occurs in a structured setting, often with a coach or facilitator who helps guide the process. 
  • Informal peer coaching takes place organically, often spontaneously, and doesn’t involve formal structure or guidelines. 

What are the advantages of peer coaching?

Peer coaching is a great way to build collaboration and knowledge-sharing amongst a workforce. It means people become accountable for their development and growth by engaging with others in meaningful conversations that allow them to reflect on their performance. It helps to create a culture of continuous learning and growth that is supportive rather than judgemental.

And it’s not just useful for employees: peer coaching can also benefit managers. Rather than trying to manage every training process with their ever-growing list of responsibilities, managers can encourage employees to take ownership of their learning and development. This not only means that the manager has less on their plate but also that employees feel empowered in their roles.

In short, peer coaching is a win-win situation. Companies benefit, as do employees. And not only that, but workers want the investment: Fifty-seven percent of US employees want to participate in an upskilling program

To summarize, peer coaching can help with the following: 

Improved communication

When team members give each other feedback, they become better communicators. They learn to listen more closely and to express themselves more clearly. 

Increased creativity

By working together, team members can come up with new ways of doing things and solve problems that they wouldn’t have been able to solve on their own. This can lead to higher levels of creativity and innovation

Enhanced productivity

When team members communicate effectively and collaborate closely, work runs more smoothly. They can get more done because they’re not wasting time trying to figure the same things out independently.

Better team dynamics

For a team to be effective, everyone needs to be able to work together harmoniously. Peer coaching can help create a team-oriented environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and discussing their strengths and weaknesses openly and honestly.

Who can be a peer coach?

Anyone can be a peer coach! Peer coaching is not just for experienced professionals – it’s beneficial for anyone who wants to help their team reach its goals. It doesn’t require special skills or qualifications; everyone has something valuable to contribute.

Some organizations take a more formal approach, appointing trained peer coaches who are taught to facilitate conversations and provide feedback. Others take a more informal approach, allowing team members to coach each other without special training or qualifications. Then there’s the combo option. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Peer-to-peer approach

This is when team members coach each other, taking turns giving and receiving feedback. It can be formal or informal.

In terms of advantages, it’s cost-effective and easy to implement. However, it can be difficult to maintain the quality of the coaching when team members are doing it themselves. It can also lead to a lack of objectivity, as team members likely have biases and friendships that color feedback. 

External coaches

Some organizations hire external coaches to work with teams regularly. Usually, these coaches are professionals trained to facilitate conversations, provide feedback, and help teams reach their goals. 

In terms of advantages, having an external coach can provide a sense of structure and accountability to the peer coaching process. Additionally, it ensures that the quality and objectivity of the coaching remain high. However, external coaches are often expensive, so this option is not always feasible for smaller organizations or teams on a stretched budget. They also might not fully grasp how your organization functions.

Regardless of your approach, it’s important to remember that peer coaching is about creating an environment where team members feel safe sharing their ideas and working together.

What do peer coaches actually do?

Peer coaches provide support and guidance to their teammates. They help workers identify areas for improvement, develop strategies for reaching their goals, and build relationships with each other. Their roles may include one or all of the following:

  • Brainstorming solutions
  • Roleplaying and practicing skills
  • Facilitating learning and study sessions
  • Helping workers recover from stress or burnout
  • Offering leadership training for first-time managers
  • Mentoring
  • Building accountability

15 rules for effective, attainable peer coaching

1. Set achievable goals

If you want to get someone moving in the right direction, you need to show them where to go — and goals are the best way to do this. 

Sit down with your peer partner and chat about where they want to go and how those goals can support the wider team and organization. Try mapping out SMART goals —  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound — to ensure you’re both clear on the target.

2. Respect boundaries

Peer coaching isn’t about pushing people to do something they don’t want to do or hammering away at them until they can quote your company vision by heart. 

Instead, it’s about helping them to learn and develop in a way that works for them. Respect boundaries around what they can share — and don’t be afraid to seek advice if things aren’t working.

3. Make it personal

While staying professional with your peer partner is important, finding ways to make the process more personal is important. Establishing a connection is key to successful coaching — when they feel comfortable and confident that you’re on their side, they’ll be more likely to take your advice and follow through.

4. Keep communication open 

No matter how strong the connection between you and your peer partner is, it’s essential to keep communication open. Let them know you’re available to talk about anything — even if it’s unrelated to their work or development. Open conversation helps build trust, making goal-setting and problem-solving much easier.

Top tip: don’t just stick to weekly/monthly/quarterly face-to-face meetings. Keep your conversations going with regular check-ins over email and DM via your office chat app. 

5. Provide constructive feedback

Good peer coaching is about more than just offering advice. It’s also about providing honest, constructive feedback to help your peer partner identify areas for improvement. Be tough and firm, but don’t forget the positives, too — no one likes hearing constant criticism. This takes us to our next point.

6. Stay positive

Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative criticism. It’s easy to get caught up in fixing and forget that real coaching requires positivity. Staying optimistic and solution-oriented will help your peer partner stay motivated and on track. And don’t forget to celebrate small wins. Even small gestures like acknowledging their progress or offering extra support can go a long way toward motivating them to keep going.

7. Exemplify what you preach

As a peer coach, you should lead by example. If you’re asking your peer partner to try something out, make sure you’re willing to do it too — and if there are any new processes or techniques to be learned, demonstrate them first. This helps build trust and shows you truly value the things you promote. 

8. Know when to step away

Peer coaching isn’t about forcing change — it’s about helping someone find their way of doing things. If you feel like you’ve reached a dead end, it may be time to take a step back and let your peer partner work out the solutions themselves. Knowing when to step away will help them feel more empowered and, as a result, more likely to put their newfound skills into practice.

9. Listen more than you talk

It’s easy to get carried away when trying to help someone develop — but listening is just as important as talking. It encourages your peer partners to think for themselves and ensures that you’re responding to their needs rather than pushing a set agenda. 

Make sure to employ ‘active listening‘ — i.e., when you listen, think about it for a few seconds, and then check that you’ve understood correctly. It shows that you care about what the other person is saying and will help ensure you don’t miss any key points.

10. Ask open-ended questions

You can’t answer open-ended questions with a simple yes or no. These questions encourage a deeper level of exploration, helping to uncover root causes and potential solutions. 

Asking open-ended questions also helps your peer partner build their problem-solving skills, giving them the confidence to tackle issues independently.

11. Take the time to understand someone’s perspective 

No two people are the same — so it’s important to understand and respect your peer partner’s individual communication style, strengths, and weaknesses. When a problem arises, try to think about how things look from their point of view. Remember, this isn’t just about getting them to do something — it’s also about helping them build skills, develop their knowledge, and grow as a person.

12. Be patient and understanding

Peer coaching is a long game, not a short one. It takes time and patience to understand how someone works and figure out how best to support them, so try to be as understanding as possible. If you don’t get the results you’re after straight away, don’t give up — continue working together, and eventually, your hard work will pay off.

13. Be honest and direct

When you’re coaching someone, honesty is essential. Being direct about successes and failures will help your peer partner take ownership of their progress and stay personally accountable for any mistakes they may have made — a key part of professional development. It’s important to be mindful of how you present criticism, though. Make sure it’s constructive and focused on the task at hand, not the individual.

14. Respect the other person’s privacy and confidentiality 

Peer coaching is a very personal process, so respecting the other person’s privacy and confidentiality is important. If you’re discussing sensitive topics or information, ensure that it’s kept strictly between the two of you — this will help build trust and ensure everyone involved feels comfortable.

15. Provide resources if necessary

Sometimes, peer coaching may require additional support or resources. If this is the case, try to provide them if you can — whether it’s a book, online course, or even just a few extra tools that could be useful. Providing your peer partner with these resources will give them the best chance of success. 

16. Don’t do their work for them

Although it may be tempting to do your peer partner’s work for them, this isn’t productive and won’t help them develop in the long run. Instead, focus on coaching rather than doing — encouraging them to problem-solve, think critically, and own their actions.

17. Push them to their attainable limits

Like any coaching, it’s important to push your peer partner to their full potential. Encourage them to take risks and develop new skills without pushing them too far or expecting perfection. Establishing realistic goals that stretch their capabilities will help them grow and become more effective team members. 

18. Follow up on progress 

How do you know you’re making progress if you don’t measure progress? Check in on their progress to ensure you’re both on the same page. As part of the initial meeting, you should mutually agree on metrics to measure and set benchmarks for success.

Here are some example metrics:

• Number of tasks completed

• Time taken to complete tasks

• Quality of work produced

• Changes in attitude or behavior

• Results achieved against goals set.

In terms of tracking these metrics, project management software is a great option. Not only does it take the pain out of manual data collection — it also means that when you review progress, your feedback is backed up by real data.

15. Make it fun!

Peer coaching doesn’t have to be a chore. Make sure you inject some humor and lightheartedness into the process to help keep your peer partner engaged and motivated. Send gifs, try activities like team-building exercises, creative writing tasks, or even silly games if they’re appropriate — the main thing is to make sure you both get the most out of your time together.



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