I first heard about peer coaching during an Employee Resource Group (ERG) book club that I joined earlier this year. It popped up in our summer book selection How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job, by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith. I was instantly intrigued. What was peer coaching? Why did people do it? Would it work for me? How could I get started?
After dipping my toes into peer coaching, I’m here to share the answers I’ve found so that you too can benefit from this incredible professional development opportunity.
What is peer coaching?
Put simply, peer coaching is when two friends or colleagues, roughly at the same level, meet regularly to discuss their goals, successes, and challenges. Although it’s similar to mentorship, peer coaching focuses more on mutual support in peer-to-peer relationships rather than an experienced colleague providing advice and opportunities.
Peer coaching can be a formal program hosted by your organization, or it can be two (or more) people who agree to set regular meetings for advice, accountability, and setting goals. You can even use peer coaching on a personal level with friends.
Why do people sign up for peer coaching?
If you’re big into self-development like me, the question is always why. Why should I do this? For peer coaching, the answer is simple: it gives both parties the opportunity to reflect on their current behaviors, give and receive constructive feedback, and build new skills and refine old ones. In the words of my mentor, peer coaching gives you a safe space to practice hitting the ground (and learning from it).
But there’s also broader benefits for your team and organization:
- Higher employee engagement
- More collaboration and camaraderie
- Improved communication across teams
- Accelerated learning and growth
Did it work for me?
Yes! For me, peer coaching came in the form of the ERG, with a close-knit group of women who met monthly. I decided to test it out with the goal of improving my confidence with public speaking. Like many people, I get nervous speaking in front of a crowd, whether that’s virtually, in-person, or a hybrid environment. My hands shake, my mind races, and I worry about tripping over my words.
From experience, I knew this ERG was a safe place to be vulnerable with colleagues and practice my public speaking skills. And it worked! I shared my fears and challenges with two close colleagues who offered advice, encouragement, and real-time coaching to disrupt my typical thought process and behaviors.
How do you get started?
Getting started with a peer coach is much easier than tracking down someone to be a mentor. Here are the steps that I recommend:
- Identify 1-2 behaviors or skills that you’d like to build or improve on. It’s best to start small.
- Create a list of questions your partner can ask you. These questions can focus on specific behaviors or situations (ex. “How did I do during that big presentation?”) or they can be more general (i.e., “What successes or challenges have you faced since we last met?”). You can keep the same questions all year (like Marshall Goldsmith), or you can adjust it as often as you need (like Sally Helegesen).
- Choose a peer partner. This should be someone you feel comfortable opening up to, whose opinion you value, and who can look out for your best interest. And vice versa.
- Discuss what you’d like to get out of peer coaching, including how frequently you want to meet and your expectations, goals, and challenges.
- Stick to your schedule and report your progress. Even if this is an informal coffee chat, treat these like scheduled meetings and don’t let them slip off your calendar. Go in ready to share and discuss your goals and challenges since you last met.
- Remember that it goes both ways. When it’s your partner’s turn, it’s important for you to listen more than you speak.
- Follow-up. Between meetings, check in with your partner. After all, peer coaching is all about sharing ideas and solving challenges together.
Whether you’re looking for additional support, to learn or develop new skills, or just an accountability buddy to disrupt your normal patterns of behavior, a peer coach can help.
Article written by Robyn Campbell