How Peer Coaching Boosts Teams and Businesses

October 31, 2015

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Many chief executives of large companies are familiar with the term coaching. The boom in personalized business training extends not only to executives but also to high-potential employees.

Coaching can be highly effective, but great coaches are expensive, and not always a realistic option for smaller companies or for the large numbers of employees who could benefit from being held accountable for making positive change.

Benefits of peer-to-peer coaching

Sally Helgesen, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and leadership development consultant whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Fast Company and Business Week, believes that given the complex nature of global organizations today, peer coaching — where each participant acts as both the coach and “coachee” — provides a solution.

She explains that unlike a mentor/sponsor relationship, each participant in peer coaching acts an equal partner in the process, providing the “least expensive and most underutilized tool for spreading needed change throughout an organization.” This cultural shift results in not only leadership development at reduced cost but also in a behavioral reboot for all employees.

According to Marshall Goldsmith, a New York Times best-selling author and authority in executive and peer coaching, the coach is a “thinking partner,” offering fresh, objective support. Goldsmith also considers accountability a key ingredient in successful peer coaching. His research shows that when peers holds others accountable for their actions, they themselves commit to improving performance.

Peer-to-peer coaching in practice

Leena Nair, a Young Presidents’ Organization member in Bombay since 2011, explains the importance of peer coaching at Unilever, where she is senior vice president of Leadership & Organization Development and Global Head of Diversity. Unilever is committed to “leaders developing leaders.”

“Peer coaching is a key feature within all our management development programs,” Nair says. “This approach has been very effective in helping us build a cadre of leaders who are not only more self-aware, but who also know how to help others get there.”

Like Unilever, more and more companies are exploring the coaching method. Helgesen explains that with careful planning the peer-coaching process is easy to implement.

First, a professional coach helps internal sponsors pair individuals based on company objectives and personality types. Typically teams participate in a full-day session where they get to know another, learn about individual strengths, practice active listening and develop measurable key objectives that focus on concreate steps toward achievement.

Once these relationships are established, the pairs connect for a minimum of 30 minutes per week to access goal progress and discuss challenges such as handling stress, effective time management and meeting performance goals.

Helgesen recently surveyed members of a pilot peer-mentoring program that she helped implement for a U.S.-based insurance company.

When asked what participants found most helpful in the peer-mentoring experience, 63 percent cited that the peer relationships help address immediate workplace challenges and 57 percent noted that coaching helps address personal development needs. Sixty-five percent said they would recommend peer mentoring to colleagues.

“This is a way of spreading the coaching experience across large organizations and provides a great development tool for smaller companies that can’t afford coaching,” says Helgesen. “Having a conversation with someone on a regular basis, a resource invested in your development and to whom you are accountable, can provide far-reaching behavioral shifts. And if 20 percent of the participants show real commitment to the process, then it’s already life changing.”

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