Peer coaching is “a type of helping relationship in which two people of equal status actively participate in helping each other on specific tasks or problems, with a mutual desire to be helpful,” according to The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. Fast Company noted that while ground rules vary for peer coaching, these rules typically revolve around a few key precepts.

  1. The advice given is straightforward and candid.
  2. The peer coach offers advice that benefits the organization — to do what’s best for the team rather than the individual.
  3. Peer coaches have one another’s best interests at heart, enabling them to be brutally honest.

Peer coaching is separate from manager-to-employee or executive coaching. Compared to manger-to-employee coaching, peer coaching doesn’t have issues with title and rank dynamics, and peer coaches can (but don’t have to) work in the same department or function. Compared to executive coaching, peer coaching doesn’t use coaches who are external to the organization and who work on time frames. “Peer coaching may be an ongoing process and may not have specific intentions, save for one thing: to help the peer succeed,” according to Fast Company.

The following sections explore the use and benefits of peer coaching.

Who Uses Peer Coaching?

Peer coaching is used in a variety of environments, including collegiate and professional athletics, nursing, physiotherapy and education. In the field of management and organizational behavior, peer coaching is a relatively new form of coaching that’s gaining recognition and respect due to its positive outcomes and cost-effective nature, according to The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

Some of these patterns were evident in the AMA/Institute for Corporate Productivity Coaching Survey 2008. The report noted how peer coaching “was developed as an economical way to offer coaching to midlevel and high-potential leaders.” The results of the survey revealed how new the type of coaching was.

While half of responding organizations used peer coaching at the time of the survey, only about a third (32 percent) considered peer coaching to be very effective or extremely effective. “This suggests that most organizations have yet to determine how to reap maximum benefit from their peer-coaching programs,” the American Management Association pointed out.

Several years later, peer coaching is still relatively new and some organizations struggle to use peer coaching effectively — or much at all.

Peer Coaching Benefits

1.     Accountability

The perspective of a peer enables an individual to receive greater accountability in coaching. Not only will a person receive encouragement and helpful advice, but it comes from a relevant perspective. For instance, a manager or an executive coach won’t be as aware of certain tendencies for day-to-day work in a given role, because neither person works in the role of the person who is receiving the coaching. Also, there are no power dynamics in a peer coaching setup as compared to manager-to-employee coaching.

Peer coaching doesn’t generally have these issues. Rather, it involves “paired relationships where your peer is the ‘spotter’ for your development,” organizational consultant and executive coach Jodi Knox told Fast Company.

2.     Accelerated Learning

Peer coaches can be in a better position to give quick, accurate feedback and advice. This can speed the learning that might take place in another coaching setup or growth plan.

3.     Emphasis on Using Questions for Personal Development

In peer coaching, key questions can help people identify blind spots and things that deserve someone’s attention. Harvard Business Review highlights some of these questions — like, “What’s the problem?” and, “What’s your decision?” — prompting employees to take action and pursue growth. Questions can be a welcome change from goals or other objectives, because questions are more actionable and direct.

4.     Perspective

Perspective is a crucial and defining aspect of peer coaching. This type of working relationship is typically much deeper than what takes place with managers and employees, as well as executive coaches. Peer coaches don’t have other people to manage, power over their peers or a certain time frame to become effective; it is more “free” in nature and length. And because it comes from someone who might perform the same job functions, the two people can share similar perspectives in terms of workload, responsibilities, work relationships and more.

5.     Practice and Reflection

Peer coaching “highlights the reciprocal engagement between peers and the emergent mutual responsibility for outcomes from shared interactions,” according to The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. “Specific questions raise awareness of the dynamic occurring in and of conversations by inviting reflection ‘on the conversation’ such as, ‘What are we doing? What episode are we creating? What do you notice?’ facilitating joint consideration of the process rather than merely attending to the spoken words.”

Both people in the relationship receive opportunities to practice what’s needed for improvement and reflect on what is occurring throughout their time together.

6.     Individual Productivity

In the AMA/Institute for Corporate Productivity survey, the top reason for using any type of coaching is “to improve individual performance/productivity” (79 percent). This is a fundamental outcome of peer coaching. Because peer coaching has a unique perspective and relationship, it can succeed in boosting the productivity of workers.

7.     Build Leadership Skills

“Perhaps most exciting is the prospect that peer coaching can significantly support leaders and leadership development in a variety of settings,” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science said. “Leaders will experience transformational learning as they build new relationships that lead to mutual learning and development and experience the benefits related to sustainable change.”

8.     It Can Become Personal

A story in Fast Company offers a good reminder that peer coaching can involve personal topics that ultimately impact people professionally. “Two colleagues of mine, both independent consultants, have been using each other as peer coaches. Due to work and travel, they missed speaking to each other for about a month. One said that during that time, he had gained weight. He had credited his peer coach with keeping him focused on diet and exercise.”

9.     Identify Teamwork Opportunities

The close nature of a peer coaching relationship can enable the two individuals to see how they can help each other. One person could discover a way to help the other with a specific project. Or, when the two are speaking about a particular problem facing the department or organization, they could come together and brainstorm solutions.

10.  Camaraderie

Peer coaching can boost employee engagement and develop camaraderie. Harvard Business Review pointed out how “there is a sense of camaraderie and good feeling that comes when you have positive impact as a coach on another person’s well-being, and peer coaches learn things about themselves both through the act of coaching others, and, of course, by receiving coaching themselves.”

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