Peer Coaching: The New Buddy System at Work

September 13, 2018

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

  •  Peer coaching involves peers of equal status who support each other’s journey and goals.
  • For success, you must implement peer coaching correctly.
  • Use these three research-based steps to implement peer coaching in your organization.

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.

What is peer coaching? Is it different from mentoring?

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.

Why seek a peer coach or implement a peer coaching approach for your organization?

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:

  • Mutual goal-setting. Mentoring assumes that the mentor has knowledge to impart. The peer coaching process requires each learner to set goals and help the other move toward achieving those goals.
  • Method. Mentoring is often informal. Peer coaching uses a proven method – evidence-based approaches and tools which elicit insights and meaning and translate them into action.
  • Accountability. Mentors do not hold mentees accountable for outcomes. Peer coaching processes build-in accountability mechanisms.
  • Assumptions. Mentors may or may not be skilled in challenging mentees to face and challenge the assumptions that drive their behaviors. Peer coaching is a skilled process for surfacing assumptions.
  • Feedback and Feedforward. Mentors may pull punches or not. Peer coaches hold a mirror for one another and aren’t afraid to offer a picture of their colleague’s behavior and impact, or to offer advice for future success.

How can you successfully implement peer coaching in your organization?

Parker, Hall,  Kram and Wasserman outline three, evidenced-based steps for seeking a peer coach or for implementing an approach for your organization:

  1. Create a strong foundation for the peer coaching relationship.
  2. Create success through method, skills and self-awareness.
  3. Make peer coaching a habit, for yourself and for 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.

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