Peer coaching involves two peers of equal status focusing on developing competencies and skills through open communication and feedback. There are benefits to peer to peer coaching, but these may not be realized if a process is not created to support the mentorship program. Below we will review best practices for establishing a peer to peer coaching program.
Benefits of a Peer to Peer Coaching Program
Peer to peer coaching can be an energizing form of learning and development. It is good for employee engagement, the development of the participants, and for company productivity.
First, what are the benefits of a structured Peer to Peer Coaching program?
- Employee Engagement – When people believe they add value to others and the company they are more enthusiastic, prone to be committed and take more risks which lead to a higher level of performance and involvement.
- Leadership skills development – A robust and flushed out peer to peer coaching program will identify specific leadership skills to be developed through the coaching and training process. These skills will be sharpened as the sessions and feedback are occurring.
- Teamwork – As the program and coaching sessions take place, trust and self-awareness between participants and managers will grow. This leads to a heightened sense of selflessness and desire to create a stronger team environment.
- Productivity – The Peer to Peer coaching sessions are designed to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of all participants. This builds a long-term increase in productivity. Coupled with increased engagement and development of leadership skills, and you begin a process of continual learning and productivity.
- Accountability – The participants and the peer coaching process hold each other accountable for coaching, practicing enhanced skills, providing feedback, and continued development.
It takes time to develop an effectively structed peer to peer coaching program. As you can see, the benefits will far outweigh the program development time.
How to Build a Peer to Peer Coaching Program
The Peer to Peer Coaching programs with the highest success rates have two things in common, a formalized framework (process) and training for the coaches/participants. If you provide training prior to beginning coaching sessions you’ll set better expectations, decrease potential participant frustration, and increase engagement.
These training sessions and participant guidelines should consist of the below topics:
Peer to Peer Coaching Framework
Building a process and structure for the peer coaching program will maximize time and program success. Developing a structure signals sincerity and assigns importance to the process. This also allows an opportunity to develop and measure the new and enhanced skills of the participants.
The framework will include the subsequent components:
The first area to focus on is defining the structure of the program. Think of this as the roadmap everyone involved will follow. It’s important to make sure you define a few key areas before you get started.
- Set a program start and end date – This will facilitate a measurement of success and help assess milestones.
- Coaching Session Frequency – Weekly meetings are recommended. Maintaining consistent momentum is integral to creating new habits and superior skills. Additionally, ensure the peer teams stick to an assigned time for the meeting (assist in time management).
- Select a Peer Coaching Template – Leveraging a standardized form will make tracking feedback and progress easier.
Time Management Training
Learning to manage your time and prioritize work is a learned skill. Just because your top performers, and soon to be peer coaches, excel doesn’t mean that they have all the tools needed to manage their time. You should provide them with the know how to effectively and efficiently manage their time as it relates to the program.
The objective of this training is designed to develop the following expertise:
- Intentionality: learn to use outlook tasks and calendar to maintain focus
- Prioritization: rank or prioritize skill development and tasks
- Structure: use calendar to block time for the peer coaching sessions and preparation time
Identifying the right coaches is critical. You want to select employees who are both great at what they do and that are also skilled at sharing how they do it.
What to look for in selecting your coaches?
- Excellent communication skills – Your coaches need to be able to explain things in terms easily understood by others. Its especially important when the skills being coached are complex or technical.
- Ability to build relationships – You want your coaches to get along well with the people they’ll coach. This means they’re easy to relate to and people enjoy working with them.
- Strong Performance – Street cred is important. Wouldn’t you rather learn from the best? Be sure to select coaches who have a proven track record that others respect.
Who are the right team members to be coached?
- Motivated to improve – You want to select team members who have the will to perform. This desire will ensure they appreciate and seek out the feedback to improve.
- Clear opportunities for improvement – Look out for employees that have a clear area of improvement. If you struggle to understand why they’re not performing, the coach probably will too. This also makes it easier to set specific targets or goals for the peer to peer coaching relationship.
Coaching Needs Assessment
In order to focus on the right areas, you’ll want to do a skills or needs assessment with the participants who will be coached in the peer to peer coaching program. This is an opportunity for the manager and coachee to agree on the areas of improvement. You’ll want to share this with the peer coach so that everyone is on the same page. Clear target areas are important to get the most from the relationships.
After creating the peer coaching framework, you are ready to identify and develop training courses specific to the needs of the peer to peer coaching sessions.
While there are many training classes that develop leadership, the options below are designed specific to peer coaching success. Firstly, listening skills. Secondly, how to ask open ended questions to identify competency strengths and opportunities. And thirdly, how to document the conversations and development actions.
Listening Skills Training – Use or create a training tool such as LAMA
- Listen – give attention to the speaker without forming a solution; be attentive and really hear what they’re saying
- Acknowledge – a simple statement that allows the receiver to know you heard them. An example might be, “I understand what you’re saying…” or “If I heard correctly…”
- Make a Statement – rephrase or restate what you heard to ensure understanding
- Ask a Question – there may need to be clarifying questions or a question to get to the next level of understating or to identify the potential remedy
Open Ended Questions Training – Have all participants learn to ask How, Why, What and dig deeper to understand each other.
- Questions that can not be answered with a yes or no
- Designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer
- Typically begin with how, why, help me understand, what, and so on
Development Documentation Training – Train the peers to use a tool such as a Development Action Plan or IGROW Model. A complete list of coaching models can be found in our Ultimate Guide to Leadership Coaching Models.
There will be other training needs identified as the program develops; the material above will establish a solid foundation for the coaches and coachees. Now that the training sessions have been flushed out, how do you successfully execute the peer to peer coaching sessions?
The Peer to Peer Coaching Sessions
The best training in the world can be suboptimal in the wrong environment. Creating a safe and learning environment is key to successful peer to peer coaching sessions. What does the right environment look like?
Create a safe environment
- Meet where your conversations can be private and free from distractions whether online or face-to-face
- Ensure confidentiality between peers
- Maintain respectfulness and positivity
The coach should be the example of what a good job looks like
- Coach should actively listen – ask open ended questions that drive the coachee to articulate area of opportunity
- Be consciously competent role model – be able to clearly articulate the discipline behind the feedback
- Be able to mirror what is expected – show the coachee what a good job looks like
Be behaviorally specific
- What went well
- How it aligns to goals and use examples
Discuss positive and negative feedback
- For a leader to develop and increase their competence, they need to know what they are doing well so they know what skills to repeat and master, as well as what they are doing less competently so they can adjust.
- Despite the fact that many of us struggle to hear it, re-directive feedback serves as important role in directing our efforts to be more competent leaders.
- Identifying progress on skills and competencies is one of the best drivers of engagement, motivation, and transformation.
Agree on Next steps in Peer to Peer Coaching sessions
Setting the tone for the coaches time together is an integral step in the success of the interaction. This will allow both parties to engage and be open with each other.
- Set next meeting date, time, and location
- Based on last meeting, document deliverables (feedback or action items)
Formalizing session processes assists in developing accountability and teamwork. Participants will get more from each session when they go in prepared for the conversations. Preparation in itself develops time management skills along with the competencies being discussed in the sessions.
Putting it All Together
In conclusion, if Peer to Peer coaching is done right it will aid an organization in developing leaders and bench strength. You should take the time to create the framework for peer to peer coaching programs up front. An important part of the process is the training of specific skillsets such as listening skills, goal setting, and the ability to ask open ended questions. Establishing guardrails for the coaching process is integral to getting the most value out of your program.