We all know the value of a good coach. We’ve experienced it firsthand, or we’ve seen the impact a good coach can have on our children. Then again, we’ve all had experiences or heard stories about poor coaching; how a lack of appropriate coaching has impacted individuals, the people they interact with, and ultimately the organization they represent.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Many organizations are working to develop a coaching culture to extend the benefits of good coaching beyond the senior-leadership level. This requires developing the capability to coach at every level of leadership and integrating coaching behaviors and expectations into both day-to-day conversations and formal processes.
The intent with this approach is to enable coaching to come from multiple sources, not just from managers. When everyone in the company can coach, everyone benefits. It’s not unusual for leaders to underestimate what can be learned from their peers or direct reports.
A “coaching culture” emphasizes applying seeking and listening skills as opposed to just telling someone what to do. When a leader asks a peer or employee for input, the peer or employee feels free to challenge, offer solutions, and provoke thinking that would not have otherwise been considered.
Given today’s business conditions, leaders of all levels are willing and able to coach each other, resulting in improved performance and greater agility to deal with challenges across the organization. A coaching culture allows for a formalized approach to coaching but also accommodates daily coaching “moments” between peers, leaders, and team members.
When there is a coaching culture, knowledge-sharing becomes a valuable resource to enable learning and development. Today's workforce is much more focused on interactive communication, ongoing feedback, and building and leveraging networks that come from a foundation of constructive dialog. These are the core building blocks for peer coaching.
The benefits of peer coaching
So why do employees want coaching and feedback? According to the Global Leadership Forecast, coaching is one of leaders’ preferred training types. In addition, a study by Quantum Workplace reported peer coaching has the greatest impact on employee engagement. Quantum Workplace found that those employees who preferred coaching from peers were eight percent more engaged than employees who didn’t prefer it as a form of learning and development. Speaking from personal experience, both as a participant and a leader of teams who take part in peer coaching, I can confirm that everyone gets tremendous value from having peers as coaches.
Another benefit of peer coaching is that a peer often has better insight into the conditions their peers are dealing with. Maybe the manager is a former player who hasn’t played a competitive game in a while, and the game today is different. Peers often know their fellow employees’ personal attributes and areas for improvement better than the manager would. The bottom line is the manager may be looking at both lead and lag data but does not have accurate insight into how the individual got to those results.
Continuing with the sports analogy, the manager of the team is like a head coach or team manager. They aren’t on the field where the game gets played. Peers understand firsthand how an individual’s action can impact the outcome, and their teammates.
Peer coaching is recommended because many individuals are more likely to confide in one of their peers than their manager when they encounter obstacles. They may believe their manager will have a less-than-favorable opinion of them if they seek coaching from the manager. When coaching is part of the culture, it creates an environment of trust where feedback is valued and appreciated.
If the coaching culture is robust enough to support peer coaching, at any time individuals can influence each other in the moment to make improvements or change behavior. This type of coaching has far more value and impact than a process that involves writing the behavior down, storing it, and reviewing it as part of a formal performance review. When there is a culture of feedback, it drives faster development and grows the capability and capacity of the team—positively impacting bottom-line results.
As with any feedback, peer coaching should begin with some level of self-reflection. The conversation should start with what the individual did well, as well as what he or she could have done differently, and both would be supported with the “why.” This self-reflection provides greater awareness for the individual and may cause the peer coach to think about similar situations and how they responded or how they should have acted. This means that peer coaching and feedback can have a positive impact on both parties.
Tips for effective peer coaching
At DDI, we have been using the concept of peer coaching in many parts of the business, both formally and informally, for some time. I am engaged with clients who are leveraging peer coaching as part of their leadership development efforts, as part of a frontline leader learning journey and/or high-potential acceleration process.
Regardless of where you are with your coaching efforts, here are a few tips to help you make the most of the peer coaching process.
- If this a formal peer coaching process, I recommend four peer coaching sessions to allow enough time to track change and monitor progress before changing the grouping.
- Leverage the foundational elements of any conversation, as spelled out in DDI’s Interaction Guidelines and Key Principles. Another foundational element is the STAR feedback model, which is useful for communicating specific and clear feedback to others. These foundational tools will help guide the conversation and make sure that both the practical and personal needs of everyone in the coaching process are taken care of.
- In a scheduled peer coaching meeting, make sure each person has equal coaching time. The norm appears to be a one-hour call, with each person being allocated 30 minutes. If time is short, allow 10 minutes each for a total of 20 minutes. The bottom line is that even though time is tight, coaching can still take place!
- When it’s your turn to be the coachee, identify one area of focus. I recommend starting a session with, “The one thing I want to get better at is….” Peer coaching is normally developmental in nature, so strive to stay away from coaching on the what and instead emphasize the how. Use your peer as a sounding board. Ideally, as the coachee, you want to come up with the some of the ideas, but remember to ask for your partner’s perspective, input, and feedback.
- When it’s your turn to coach, give your partner your full attention by actively listening while they “think aloud”; ask provocative questions and provide feedback as needed using the STAR format.
- At the end of the coaching session, as you would with any meeting, specify any follow-up actions, including contingency plans, and confirm how you’ll track progress and measure results.
Creating a coaching culture is a meaningful way to impact performance and peer coaching is a great place to start. Ask yourself, “Who can I coach?” and, “Who could coach me to be a better leader?”
Learn more about creating a coaching culture.
Bruce Court partners with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy. He’s experienced in every facet of leadership strategy design, development and execution. Outside of work, Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen. He loves eating at great restaurants, as well as “sampling” good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.