Peer Coaching: The New Buddy System at Work
Recently, I took the plunge and started taking lessons toward scuba certification. That’s where I met Carmen Shultz, scuba instructor #8765432. Carmen proudly bares sun-damage spots and jelly-fish scars like war medals. Whether our group was in the classroom or in “confined waters” the right answers to Carmen’s quiz questions was, “the buddy system.”
Run out of air? Turn to your buddy.
Tangled in kelp? Signal your buddy.
Encounter a great white in the Boston Harbor? Stay close to your buddy.
Back up on the surface, organizational life has become a lot like the unpredictable waters below. The changing work of the future is here now and the waters are choppy.
For example, we’ve come to accept that 70% of the workforce is disengaged. One of the big reasons, studies show, is that people feel they don’t have a manager who cares or a buddy who has their back. This matters because we need an engaged workforce to deliver results.
IDEA IN BRIEF: PEER COACHING
Does organizational life need a buddy-system?
Yes! But the old “mentoring” programs, when a wise sage imparted knowledge to a fledgling executive, don’t meet today’s needs. Instead, peer coaching has surfaced within the last ten years as a crucial and possibly more outcome-oriented alternative.
Peer coaching is a “focused relationship between individuals of equal status who support each other’s personal and professional goals,” say my colleagues Polly Parker, Douglas Hall, Kathy Kram and Ilene Wasserman, in their latest book, “Peer Coaching at Work: Principles and Practices.” Through decades of research, these experts in the field of mentoring and peer coaching have pinpointed the critical success factors that make peer coaching work.
Peer coaching is for everyone. In a world where no single person has the answers, we need to make the workplace safe for people to admit when they don’t have knowledge or skills and make it easy for them to seek advice and support. This will lead to greater organizational efficiency and ease in accomplishing the audacious goals organizations—and individuals—need to achieve to survive.
Peer coaching delivers what many people seek—opportunities to grow and develop, to feel connected. In their research, Parker, Hall, Kram and Wasserman found the surprising benefits of peer coaching include greater “zest, empowered action, new knowledge and skills, enhanced self-awareness and a desire for more connection.” All of the benefits are well-accepted components of employee engagement.
Learning is a social process: cognitive scientists tell us that we learn and retain more when in relation with other people, a common trait of both mentoring and coaching. But I find peer coaching to be different from mentoring for several reasons:
How can you successfully implement peer coaching in your organization?
In each of the next three newsletters, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these steps, so you have a roadmap for implementing this new-economy way of generating knowledge, innovation, insight, engagement and connection, for yourself and for others.
What impressed me most about Carmen, scuba instructor #8765432, was her forceful yet caring way of ensuring that we each did what was needed to survive the unexpected while underwater. When it comes to scuba diving, I can’t imagine going to any depth without a buddy.
Like Carmen, all scuba instructors are required to have a number. People have come to feel like numbers in organizational life. Peer coaching is an important solution to creating a more human workplace, with greater depth of connection and learning.
But buyer beware: peer coaching isn’t just getting together for tea or happy hour. Success is a matter of being intentional. Before you take the plunge into peer coaching, make sure you have a plan.