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How to have more impact? Peer coaching can accelerate team performance

March 17, 2022 - 10 min read

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What is peer coaching?

How peer coaching benefits teams

How to encourage peer coaching

Most people want to look good at work, and they usually want to do the best work they can, as well. Your teams are no exception. They often don't want to reveal their gaps to their manager

The problem is that being worried about looking good can get in the way of actually doing good work — or learning how to do better. People worry that asking for help makes them look incompetent or seem like a nuisance.

Luckily, we tend to look to peers for guidance. With some intention and nudging, organizations can tap into the power of peer coaching to train, upskill, and grow their employees.

Managers today are struggling with the new skills needed to support their teams in a changing workforce. Many are leading remote teams for the first time or struggling with how to give feedback. Giving and receiving feedback was always a challenge for up-and-coming leaders, but it’s especially difficult when you mostly interact with your computer.

While remote work has certainly been a silver lining of the pandemic, it’s not without cost. Workers report feeling more disconnected and lonely than ever before. Remote work creates a belonging tax through the isolation, lack of social connection, and absence of shared experiences that remote workers endure. 

Peer-to-peer coaching can help bridge the gap. A strong peer coaching program can provide a safe place where collaboration and asking for help is encouraged. It can also provide a basis for 360-degree feedback and a way for coworkers to build relationships across remote teams.

Learn more about peer coaching and how to build a peer-to-peer program that works.

What is peer coaching?

When we talk about coaching in the workplace, people often think of executive coaching. Traditionally, executive coaching was exclusive, as it focused on the top of the corporate ladder. This type of coaching sometimes also carried a stigma, since coaches were brought in to help “fix” leadership challenges. 

Coaching has moved far beyond remediation for problem leaders or employees. Employee coaching is now widely understood to be a tool for growth, achievement, and accelerating performance as well as for finding balance, alignment, and greater life satisfaction.

Peer coaching is different from executive and leadership coaching. Rather than bringing in an outside expert or sounding board, peer coaching fosters relationships between same-level colleagues.

A peer coach understands the context that a peer is working within. With their knowledge of the type of work, the organization, and the culture, a peer coach may offer more nuanced and impactful insights. Peer coaching is typically a 2-way coaching relationship that helps all participants grow.

Who can be a peer coach?

There are no “official” requirements for who can be a peer coach. Some companies won't even designate a title. The goal, after all, is creating a culture where this behavior is common and effective: coaching and receiving coaching among peers.

Some organizations may want a more formal program and structure. Your organization may decide to set certain parameters, like having been in your role for at least six months. You may also want to group individuals so that they can learn cross-functionally or by geographic region. Remote teams may decide to organize by time zone.

Regardless of the standards you set for peer coaches, it can be helpful to require a minimum time commitment to the program. This ensures that once matched, your employees have consistent support. While the benefits of coaching can start to show up in just one session, building rapport with a coach takes time. To make progress on your goals and have accountability, you need ongoing support.

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Peer coaching activities

So what exactly do peer coaches do? To a large extent, it depends on the goals of the organization and of the peer coaching program. These activities might include any or all of the following:

  • Working together to brainstorm solutions
  • Knowledge-building discussion and study sessions 
  • Roleplaying and practicing communication skills
  • Sharing within small groups, similar to a "mastermind group"
  • Leadership development programs for first-time managers
  • Informal or formal mentoring
  • Building in accountability for behavior change and pursuing goals
  • Supporting preventing or recovering from burnout

 

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How peer coaching benefits teams

When peer coaching isn't confined to coaching sessions but occurs informally and automatically, learning and development are embedded in the day-to-day work of the team. Continuous learning and coaching becomes part of the culture, not just a corporate training box to be checked a couple times a year.

As a result, individuals and teams can become more agile and achieve higher levels of performance faster.

Here are some ways that your team can benefit from peer coaching.

Benefits of peer coaching:

  • Helps to foster connection among remote employees and to the team
  • Supports team members in developing their leadership skills with tips and feedback from peers
  • Faciliates the sharing of tacit knowledge and work practices among members to drive high performance across the team
  • Provides real-time feedback on current practices and workflows
  • Enables collaboration and communication between teams
  • Improves retention and job satisfaction
  • Encourages development of new skills and competencies

How to encourage peer coaching

One of the best ways to encourage peer-to-peer mentoring is to frame it as an opportunity for leadership development and growth. If this is new at your organization, your employees may worry that asking for help means that they look incompetent. Also, since many employees (and managers) are already juggling multiple tasks, it’s likely that they’ll need support to prioritize their development.

Another good practice is to avoid having managers in the same coaching groups as their direct reports. While managers should develop a good coaching relationship with their teams, that’s (by definition) outside of peer coaching. Managers should instead use performance reviews and regular one-on-one meetings as an opportunity to provide coaching and feedback.

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Here are some best practices for a successful peer coaching program at your organization:

Peer coaching best practices

Do:

  • Do have a coach (preferably not a manager) to facilitate small groups
  • Do have an orientation to teach your teams what to expect from the coaching process
  • Do have a system in place to collect feedback from coachees
  • Do work with individuals and teams to help them develop coaching skills

Don’t:

  • Don’t solely focus on job-related and workplace skills
  • Don’t assume that everyone knows what the coach’s role should be
  • Don’t host open-ended programs — closing a cohort can provide a valuable opportunity to re-evaluate program structure
  • If a peer coaching program isn’t working, don’t hesitate to reach out to a company like BetterUp for enterprise-level support

Final thoughts

Developing a peer coaching program at your organization can be a viable way to provide connection, learning, and support across your teams. Up and coming leaders will benefit from cross-functional collaboration, sharing their ideas, and opportunities for professional development. 

Since so many employees are hungry for more feedback, you can improve belonging and engagement by creating a peer mentorship program. It’s easy to start, as long as you start small. Remember that it’s an opportunity for the company — as well as your team — to learn what it takes to get to the next level. Embrace the challenge.

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Published March 17, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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