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Most leadership programs develop the skills and let the individual select the challenge of issues that will be addressed after the sessions.  We ask: how do you design a leadership program so that its cohorts develop collectively a powerful aliveness and zeal for change and use it to tackle an organizational challenge immediately in the context where it’s needed most?

When it comes to leadership development a peer leadership program can act as a powerful catalyst to mobilize internal resources for change. Encouraging such vibrant communities in your organization for the sake of developing leaders is a sure way to move your business towards lasting change.

INFORMAL GROUPS AS THE HEART OF CHANGE

A peer leadership program is based on peer coaching. Peer coaching is defined as a process through which “two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace.” (How to Plan and Implement a Peer Coaching Program by Pam Robbins)

In a peer leadership program uses peer coaching as a way to develop leadership skills. The assumption is that the leadership skills developed in the program are only as good as the movement generated on the collective challenge that the community of learners identifies as urgent.

Organizational design traditionally focuses on creating structures, systems and roles that achieve relatively fixed organizational goals and that fit well with other structural elements of the organization. The goal of a peer leadership program is instead designing for aliveness and real change by bringing a community in the picture and leverage its own internal direction, character and energy.

Informal groups are the backbone of an effective peer leadership program and the most effective way to tap into the power of the energy of the community of the peer practitioners to mobilize an organization’s informal knowledge for change.

THREE PRINCIPLES

From our experience the killer app for effective peer leadership programs in an organization is called Community of practice. Building a peer leadership program is about creating a thriving community of practice around leadership and organizational change. If you had the experience of working in a vibrant community of practice, you know the unbound exhilaration of having worked seamlessly with peers that shared your purpose and sense of getting the work done.

Effective peer leadership programs require clarity of three key components.

1. STRONG AND SHARED PURPOSE: What do we want to change together?

The premise for this kind of program to work is the identification of a challenge at the organizational level that the community wants to address collectively. A peer leadership program becomes a real chance to exercise leadership in action, a true leadership lab that develops and tests the skills learned in class. The purpose needs to be general enough to make a difference for the overall organization and specific enough that the work of the community can generate some impact. The ability to zero in on a major challenge of the organization allows for the energy of the peer leadership program community to make a difference.

2. ADAPTIVE DESIGN: What balance of freedom/structure allows this community to accomplish its purpose?

What is the role of design in a peer leadership program that is, by definition, marked by natural, spontaneous and self-directed drive? Community design often involves fewer elements at the beginning than does a traditional organization design. And the focus of this way to design is not so much on the WHAT and the HOW but rather on the WHO. Strong communities are built around a strong sense of identity that develops over time based on the connections created authentically, not with ice-breakers of exercises but from an intentional “getting to know each other deeply” before the start.

3. DIALOGUE SKILLS: How skilled are the community’s members in engaging in dialogue? 

Effective community design is built on the collective experience of community members. Only an insider can appreciate the issues at the heart of the domain, the knowledge that is important to share, the challenges his field faces, and the latent potential in emerging ideas and techniques. Only an insider can know who the real players are and their relationships. Yet to be effective and not insular, a community of practice needs to nurture and develop dialogue skills and conversational spacesin order to see new possibilities and effectively act as agents of change across departments with competing mindsets and differing perspectives. Dislogue skills anchor the work in a shared modus operandi that guides the agenda definition and the selection of appropriate meeting framework ( for example, forum, community conversation, brainstorming) to get work done.

What could a peer leadership program accomplish in your organization?