Do you ever feel disconnected from your colleagues? Do you wonder if there’s an easier way to do something that one of your peers has already been through? Or, if you’re an entrepreneur, do you ever feel like you’re on your own island?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, peer coaching might be right for you! Peer coaching increases engagement, builds morale, and even boosts productivity.
In this article, we’ll look at what peer coaching is, peer coaching activities with examples, the benefits, and best-practice do’s and don’ts.
What is Peer Coaching?
Peer coaching involves two or more peers who work together or in similar industries, sharing feedback and ideas, learning new skills, and solving problems. Peer coaching programs are often implemented in organizations seeking to build culture and improve communication, performance, employee engagement, morale, and innovation.
Peer coaching in the workplace typically consists of a structured program that may include study groups or assigned one-on-one or group connections with peers. However, peer coaching is not necessarily limited to the workplace. You can also seek peer coaching independently by joining groups or clubs of peers working in your industry.
In a typical peer coaching session, you might ask the following questions every time:
- What successes have you had this month?
- What are you struggling with, and what challenges are you facing?
- How can we help each other?
- What are your goals before our next session?
Maybe you’re wondering, “Can my manager be a peer coach?” The answer is no.
The important thing to note about peer coaching is that it is about connecting with peers—in other words, people who do not oversee you or work for you. There are contexts for which coaching is necessary from a manager, but that is not considered peer coaching.
Here are a couple of different ways to set up peer coaching structures and assignments:
- Assigned based on qualities/competence: Peer coaches often assign roles where someone in the organization is identified with great coaching qualities and competence. They may then be given the responsibility of coaching multiple peers.
- For example, a seasoned teacher at a school may be assigned as a peer coach to the new teachers for the year.
- Assigned based on shared factors: Another structure might be to create groups or connect pairs of people who work on similar projects or in similar roles, where the assignment is focused on learning from each other. For example, team leaders may be paired up or grouped to learn from each other about how to lead their teams best.
Now that we know what peer coaching is let’s look further at the activities involved.
What are Peer Coaching Activities?
Peer coaching includes sharing feedback and ideas, learning new skills, and solving problems. These activities can take place in group settings, one-on one-settings, or even online.
Some of the contexts for peer coaching activities include:
- Weekly one-on-one meetings with a peer: For example, someone on your team, another team, or even someone outside your company within your industry
- Monthly group meetings with cross-functional teammates who don’t necessarily work in the same department: For example, new managers, project managers, creatives, etc.
- Connecting with employee resource groups: For example, women, BIPOC, veterans, religious groups, etc.
- Conferences with other industry peers and leaders where you can learn from one another about best practices
- Online groups via LinkedIn industry groups, Facebook Groups, or a multitude of other online peer groups: For example, HR professionals, Designers, Freelance writers, Moms of toddlers, etc.
- Mastermind Groups with like-minded peers who care about the same issue or industry and meet regularly
Let’s look at examples of these activities in action…
Sharing feedback and ideas
One of the primary responsibilities of a good coach is providing helpful feedback. In the context of peer coaching, it involves listening to your peers share about a particular issue or idea they have, encouraging their effort, and providing a helpful or alternative perspective. In the peer setting, this coaching is mutual and goes both ways.
Our article on coaching techniques identifies three key components of sharing feedback you can use to engage with one another. In a one-on-one setting, take turns going through this process. In a group setting, there may only be time for one or two people to share and receive feedback (unless you divide people into smaller groups).
- Recognize effort, not ability. Celebrate successful outcomes, but don’t forget to celebrate the risks and steps it takes to get there to encourage a growth mindset.
- Listen as much or more than you speak. Encourage reflection on personal success, failure, goals, and vision.
- Follow up. Take notes on what you learn and ask your peers about their progress.
- Bonus for peer coaches: Share your ideas! More often than not, your peer has likely dealt with the same issue or project you’re facing, and vice versa. Welcome your peers’ perspectives; you may find that you can solve problems much faster!
Sharpening and learning new skills
One of the benefits of peer coaching is the opportunity to hone or learn new skills from people in the same boat as you. It might involve discussing using specific programs exclusive to your industry, sharing best practices, or getting exposed to new ways of doing things. It may also include learning soft skills like the best ways to engage with a specific client or methods to conduct an effective team meeting.
Learning new skills in the context of peer coaching might include activities like…
- Peer group lunch-and-learns. Invite a speaker or have someone in the group teach on a topic related to your work—maybe it’s a new program, trend, or process.
- Taking online courses together. Learning with others is one of the best ways to retain information and discuss how to apply it to your context.
- Book clubs or study groups. Take turns choosing a book or study that relates to your industry or context. This is a great affordable way to learn together!
- Attending conferences. Getting out of your element with others can be a great way to build camaraderie while learning new skills.
- Tag-along and peer observation. Observing our peers in their element can be a great way to learn new skills beyond simply discussing them. The education and medical industry are often places where you’ll see this practice. Be a fly on the wall, or let someone else be a fly on the wall and see what you learn!
Solving problems and innovating
In the context of sharing feedback, ideas, and learning together, one of the natural byproducts is an environment where problems get solved. As peers continue to meet, they build up mutual trust and respect for each other, creating an environment for psychological safety. Not only do problems get solved, but people also learn how to take more innovative risks.
It’s important to note that solving problems doesn’t have to be limited to peers working within specific departments or industries. Solving problems within the context of your job is great, but another benefit to peer coaching is the opportunity to solve problems in other contexts too.
For example, a peer group of new managers might be leading teams in various departments. One manager might have an issue he’s dealing with in IT, and another might have a unique perspective on that problem from her department in marketing. Had they not been able to connect with their peer group, the IT manager may not have gained a brilliant new idea.
Activities you can implement to solve problems with peer coaching include:
- Presenting your problem and asking for advice
- Discussing case studies from others with a similar problem
- Doing a problem-swap and offering a possible strategy for someone else and them for you
- Engaging in lower-stakes problem-solving activities like games, puzzles, and riddles to get the juices flowing. This is a great ice-breaker activity to start a peer group meeting where you know you have a bigger problem to solve.
How do you know if peer coaching is right for you or your organization? Let’s look at the top 10 benefits!
Top 10 Benefits of Peer Coaching
Peer coaching creates a cross-functional connection culture that ultimately improves company communication. As people connect and learn from one another, they eventually build trust and mutual respect, breaking down silos and creating more ease of communication between departments and groups.
When you receive feedback from a superior, it may be helpful, but sometimes it feels like their perspective is from a place outside their purview (think the captain of the ship vs. the engineer in the engine room).
However, feedback from a peer can often feel more relatable because they’re more likely to be in the same shared context. Their feedback usually comes from mutual understanding, often making it more relatable. Additionally, research shows that giving peer feedback can boost confidence in the feedback giver’s understanding of a concept.
Peer coaching improves collaboration, especially on cross-functional teams. As people continue to connect, they’re more likely to have others at top-of-mind when it comes to overlapping projects or initiatives that impact others.
Peer coaching also creates a natural environment for people to bring their ideas and hear new thoughts from others. In employee resource groups or online peer groups, collaboration is often a byproduct of networking and exposure to each other’s ideas.
Peer coaching creates a unique setting for problem-solving. Research shows that mutual respect built from connecting regularly allows people to develop creative ideas more frequently. It comes down to marrying the benefit of the trusted relationship with another perspective. Ultimately, peer coaching will enable others to see problems from a new angle.
Deeper learning and skill development
Taking part in idea sharing, feedback, and observation with your peers are great ways to learn new skills. Adding activities like book clubs, study groups, lunch-and-learns, online courses, and conferences can bring the peer coaching experience to another level. Ultimately, gaining a breadth of knowledge around best practices and understanding from others benefits you and your organization.
Companies that intentionally create an environment for connection through peer coaching see that employees experience greater job satisfaction. Research shows that when people feel like they have a friend at work, they are happier and ultimately more engaged and productive.
Increased engagement and retention
People participating in peer coaching are more likely to feel seen and heard. They often gain new friends and find a space where they feel encouraged in their work. As a result of these connections and the opportunities for learning and problem-solving, companies see a higher engagement rate and overall employee retention.
Accountability propels progress when people feel seen and heard and know someone will follow up and connect with them about their ideas, goals, or issues. People show up differently and are often more motivated simply by knowing someone will ask.
The ripple effect of peer coaching that improves communication, connection, engagement, problem-solving, and learning, among many other benefits listed above, ultimately influences a company’s bottom line. At the end of the day, when employees are happy, connected, growing, and engaged, they become more productive.
11 Peer Coaching Tips: The Do’s and Don’ts
Do’s: Best practices of peer coaching
Do set clear expectations
When creating a peer coaching program in your organization, set clear expectations so your staff understands the goals. Start first by putting someone in charge of leading the program.
Identify the structures, timeframes, purpose, and activities involved. For example, you may decide that one-on-one peer coaching is structured in seasonal timeframes where a peer coach works with three to five people at a time on a seasonal basis and meets with them once a week.
You can also create peer coaching groups centered around specific roles; they can get together weekly or monthly and even attend conferences.
Do create a feedback loop
Feedback is a valuable part of peer coaching. Great peer coaches are highly observant and make a note of effort. Throughout the coaching experience, feedback should be followed up to hold people accountable and celebrate progress. This is the value of what is often called a feedback loop.
However, not only should sharing feedback be part of one-on-one and group coaching, but feedback should also be part of the program’s structure overall. For example, at the end of each structured season of the coaching assignment, allow people to process what they learned.
This might look like taking a survey or having a feedback session about what worked and didn’t work, then adjusting the program to make improvements.
Do identify ideal qualities in peer coaching candidates
If you’re assigning a peer coach to work with a group of people, you want to ensure that you’re not going to end up doing more harm than good. When identifying potential peer coaches, whether for your organization or independently, look for the essential qualities and attributes that make a great coach.
Consider these factors in your peer coach candidates:
- Do they display competence in their role?
- Where are they located? (This could impact the dynamic for remote employees).
- Do they have the capacity?
- Do other colleagues see them as positive, supportive, trusting, observant, knowledgeable, respectful, and patient?
Do create a culture where peer coaching is encouraged
If peer coaching is something you tell people to do without setting expectations for how to do it or not giving people the time to take part in it, it will fail. To benefit from the success of peer coaching, add structure to it and make it part of your culture.
Put peer coaching in your everyday workplace vocabulary. Talk about it, celebrate it, and create space for it on the calendar. And if you’re a leader in the organization, walk the talk. Do you have a peer coach? Share your story with others.
One way to add structure is by putting someone in charge of running the program. Let them identify and assign peer coaches, create sign-ups for peer groups, plan lunch-and-learn activities or book clubs and discussions, etc.
Pro Tip: If you’re not a leader and your company doesn’t have a peer coaching program, you still have options:
- Ask a peer you work with if they’d be interested in peer coaching.
- Consider submitting a proposal for peer coaching to your higher-up or HR.
- Look outside your company for peer or industry groups you can be part of.
Do reward the added value coaches bring
This point is part of creating a culture where peer coaching is celebrated, but it deserves to be mentioned on its own as well. There is power in reward. If you want more of something good to happen, reward it!
Here’s an example of what happens when you don’t reward a great peer coach:
Let’s say you’ve assigned a highly competent and encouraging teacher to peer coach the new teachers in the building. She’s doing a great job, and the new teachers are performing well, but maybe you haven’t acknowledged her impact.
Perhaps she’s not being compensated for the extra work she’s putting in to encourage the new teachers. She might even be spending her own money on resources. How does that make her feel valued as a peer coach? Chances are, she will not volunteer to do it again next year.
But what if she was rewarded? The reward and compensation for a well-done job reinforce that she’s brought value to the school, increasing her motivation and making her excited to volunteer again.
Do train people how to coach others well
Giving and receiving feedback, listening, being empathetic, encouraging others, setting goals, and holding people accountable are all excellent soft people skills that don’t just make a good coach but also make a great teammate.
By training your team and engaging in training yourself, you improve your coaching skills in all settings and set yourself up for tremendous success in the long run. Consider online courses, conferences, study groups, books, and other resources to build soft skills and equip coaches.
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
Do join a peer group in your industry (especially if you’re an entrepreneur)
Whether you work within an organization or you’re an entrepreneur out on your own, there are opportunities to reach beyond your inner circle and connect with others in your industry or area of interest. Joining a peer group is also an excellent way to network and get to know new people!
Still trying to figure out where to start? Try this LinkedIn guide to using groups. Use the search bar and type in your industry. For example, “Communications.” Then go to the “Groups” or the “People” tab. Use the filters to narrow your search and connect with someone new!
Don’ts: Peer coaching fails
Don’t leave coaching solely up to managers
There’s undoubtedly a place for coaching from managers, and it should be part of every manager’s team development plan. However, if coaching is confined to the employee/manager relationship, your organization is missing out!
Peer coaching is a great way for colleagues to learn from one another, share ideas, and promote more cross-functional communication, among many other benefits (see benefits above!).
Don’t allow a poor coach to keep coaching without training
It’s important to recognize the signs of poor coaching and when someone may require additional training.
For example, a poor coach may…
- be extra critical
- beat around the bush
- be a bad listener
- use information against their peer
- take ownership of their peer’s win
- talk badly about their peer behind their back
Poor coaching qualities are especially critical to pay attention to in a structured peer coaching assignment where you’ve given an employee the responsibility of coaching a group of peers.
If you identify poor coaching qualities, it’s best to take that coach off the assignment and provide additional training. If you find yourself in a situation where you have a poor coach, speak up to your manager, or end the arrangement.
Don’t force anyone into a coaching relationship
While peer coaching can be an excellent benefit for your company and your employees, if someone is not interested in being coached, you may want to find out why, but it’s important not to force anyone into it.
Create a safe place for people to express their concerns. You may discover they don’t feel comfortable being coached by a specific person. You may also find out that they don’t understand the goal or expectation of peer coaching. Address these issues accordingly.
Consider how you’re communicating the program overall or if there is peer coaching training that is needed.
Don’t assume people know how peer coaching works
Communication and training are key. For peer coaching to work, remember that setting expectations, structuring the program, and walking the talk are key components to success. Additionally, it will likely not work if people don’t understand what it means to be a good coach. Build the program into your culture and train people to be good peer coaches.
Peer Coaching Key Takeaways
To summarize, take note of these best practices to implement an effective peer coaching program:
- Remember, peer coaching includes three primary activities: sharing feedback and ideas, learning new skills, and solving problems.
- Set clear expectations. Set a goal, communicate the vision, add structure, and make it part of your workplace culture.
- Create a feedback loop. Make sure peer coaching includes follow-up to hold people accountable and celebrate progress.
- Identify ideal qualities in peer coaching candidates. Identify factors including competence, capacity, and character.
- Reward the added value coaches bring. If you want more good to happen through the benefits of peer coaching, reward it appropriately with additional compensation and incentives.
- Train people on how to coach others well. Equip coaches (and your staff) in the soft skills that make a good coach: Giving and receiving feedback, listening, empathy, goal-setting, etc.
- Join a peer group in your industry. Even if your organization doesn’t have a peer coaching program internally, you can seek out peer coaches within your industry or area of interest.
- Don’t leave coaching solely up to managers. Peer coaching adds a different level of collaboration and connection that coaching from a manager does not always provide. Peer coaching offers an element of relatability and shared experiences.
- Only allow a poor coach to keep coaching with training. Recognize the signs of poor coaching and when someone may require additional training.
- Don’t force anyone into a coaching relationship. If someone isn’t interested, find out why and address it, but don’t force it on anyone.
- Don’t assume people know how peer coaching works. Train your staff on effectively coaching their teammates with helpful resources and courses.
For more coaching ideas, check out our article, 5 Coaching Techniques to Turn Your Employees Into All Stars.