PEER COACHING CAN BE A WIN FOR ORGANIZATIONS WHEN EVERYONE PLAYS THEIR PART
What if a leadership development program could help your high-potential talent improve their emotional intelligence while addressing critical organizational problems and strengthening cross-functional relationships and perspective? What if all it took to create this program was a modest investment of administrative and facilitation time from your organizational development or human resources team? In my experience, peer coaching programs do all that and more.
In today's day and age, superior technical skills are not enough to build a winning culture, lead teams through change and increase employee engagement. The softer skills — EQ capabilities — are often what make for exceptional leaders. In my work, I've found that traditional models of training and development, such as workshops or trainer-led programs, are not as effective for building EQ skills, so many organizations are turning to peer coaching: small groups of selected employees from across the organization coming together to learn from one another and coach each other through current work challenges.
Here’s why: Peer coaching is an ideal format for the development of soft skills because it allows for self-discovery and application in a low-risk setting with others who are working on similar growth. Growth in key areas like empathy, assertiveness, flexibility, self-awareness, active listening and problem-solving happens most naturally and effectively through experience. Additionally, peer coaching provides participants with insights and perspectives on areas of the organization they do not directly interact with. Participants develop trusting relationships with peers, thereby strengthening the overall organization’s ability to work cross-functionally.
One multinational manufacturing company I worked with wanted to accelerate the development of their high potential leaders who were in director level and above roles. We helped them build global, cross-functional peer coaching teams as a way to sustain the learning from an internal leadership summit. At the summit, we taught them what peer coaching is, how it benefits leaders and organizations and introduced them to their teams. Then, we facilitated the initial meetings to show them how to keep the meetings on track and how to practice coaching, rather than giving one another advice. Ultimately, the leaders who participated in the peer coaching groups not only improved their coaching skills, they solved real-world problems and developed incredibly strong ties to other leaders across the globe.
The benefits of peer coaching are numerous and practical. High potential employees will learn more about the organization from real-world scenarios their peers are facing. They will gain experience with different work styles and have the opportunity to provide feedback and coaching to their colleagues. Participants will also experience accountability for following through on their commitments and actions between peer coaching sessions because they know that their peers will be checking in during the next meeting. It is a great motivator for tackling situations that the employee finds challenging!
Organizations can implement peer coaching with just a few simple steps, but first it's important to understand everyone's necessary roles and expectations.
Role Of Human Resources Or Learning And Development
This person or team is responsible for establishing the peer coaching framework, which will include recommendations on the level of talent eligible to participate, the duration of the peer coaching cohort and the level of support appropriate based on organizational culture. We recommend they work with senior leaders to identify cohorts of six participants per group to participate in peer coaching.
They will also serve as a facilitator or be responsible for engaging an external facilitator as the groups get started to provide expectations, help establish ground rules and recommend topics for discussion. The goal of facilitation is to give the group just enough direction to be able to run itself. Depending on organizational culture, investing in an external facilitator may increase participant perception of the confidentiality of the peer coaching process as well as the organization’s commitment to and investment in leadership development.
Role Of Talent Leaders
Senior leaders are responsible for identifying top talent to participate in peer coaching and encouraging them to engage with an open mind. They will help participants prioritize the peer coaching experience. Leaders will support peer coaching participants by providing time and space to build peer relationships and participate in team problem-solving. They can also offer opportunities for participants to share what they have learned about the business with their primary team.
The Role Of Peer Coaching Participants
Participants are responsible for actively engaging in peer coaching by building relationships with other participants and bringing forward their challenges for group support. They are expected to practice skills of delivering feedback, engaging empathetically and contributing to problem-solving discussions. Participants will share their perspectives based on their organizational expertise and experience and follow through on commitments between meetings to advance projects and put their developing skills into action.
One of the best aspects for busy leaders and HR teams when it comes to peer coaching is that the peer coaching groups quickly become self-directed and self-sustaining. The start-up investment time to get the program underway is minimal compared to the benefits of collaboration, accountability, cross-functional problem solving and mastery of feedback, communication and other interpersonal skills.
A cost-effective, problem-solving, skill-enhancing approach to leadership development? Yes, peer coaching checks all of the boxes with a simple, scalable approach to tackling tricky-to-train EQ capabilities. Give peer coaching a try and you might just end up with a high-trust network of top talent with a broad understanding of the business and proven skills in building an effective culture.
*This article first appeared on Forbes.