Learn to be an Exceptional Peer Coach

4 steps to increasing your peer coaching effectiveness.



Who can be a coach?

It is natural to consider coaching as the domain of an expert, the responsibility of the manager or part of a high-potential talent development program offered by HR. However, coaching can exist between peers within the same department or role and provide myriad benefits for both the individuals and the organization.

Peer coaching, initially developed as a way to train new teachers, has seen effective crossover into the business world. Developing peer coaching skills can have benefits for individuals and the company.   It can be used in any department struggling to find ways to train new hires or support a stretched-thin manager.  Additionally, since peer coaching relies on building strong, positive relationships amongst co-workers and developing competence it can act as a strategic employee engagement technique.

People who take on a helping role are often able to understand a rote process in a new way, as well as reap the feel-good benefits of facilitating an “a-ha” moment for a colleague.  Coaching coworkers gives employees a chance to develop important managerial skills, or enlarge their job responsibilities for an added challenge.  The most effective peer coaching relationships are built on mutual trust and confidentiality, and involve refining and building new skills and competencies that are identified early on in the relationship through use of specific objectives.

Here are four ways you can become an exceptional peer coach.

Learn to help others set specific goals.  It is difficult to coach or be coached when the goals is to “Become a better widget maker.”  What does better mean?  What does it look like when you’re successful?  How will others know you’re a better widget maker?  How will you know when you’ve reached the goal? Help your colleague set specific goals for the peer-coaching relationship either by relying on the job description, manager input, or coachee self-identified skill deficiencies. The more control the coachee has over the process, the more likely he or she will be invested in the outcome.

Learn to ask open-ended questions.  Correctly identifying the error the coachee is making isn’t the point of a coaching session.  Instead, developing possibilities for solutions, identifying what led to to the error, or what assumptions are being made are much more crucial.  Taking a non-judgemental stance and asking questions such as “How did you determine that would be your next step?”  “How can you improve on this for next time?”  “What did you learn from this?”

Develop a non-evaluative attitude. Taking on a coaching role does not give you more power over your colleagues and as such you should not be evaluating their work as “good” or “bad.”  However, any time someone is given feedback it is instinctive to feel defensive.  Rather than asking “Why did you…” questions that push your colleague toward justifying their actions, use questions that help diffuse tension such as “what evidence did you use for that decision.”

Develop a reflective mindset.  In his book Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky wrote, “Most people do not accumulate a body of experience.  Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested.  Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns and synthesized.” How do you create your own reflective habits?  What open-ended questions do you ask yourself?  Set aside time during your week to process your own experiences and consider areas of growth as well.

For Further Reading.

Peer Coaching.   R. Ladyshewsky (2014). Chapter 20 in The Complete Handbook of Coaching.

Honing your skills as a peer coach.  S. Friedman (2010). Harvard Business Review.

This post was initially published on LinkedIn on August 6, 2015.

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