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It can be seen as untapped resource in any organization and as an effective cost-reduction strategy. Peer coaching is like a special kind of friendship, providing a structure for personal development and growth. Found in many forms and used in multiple situations, the idea is simple; rather than hire an expensive external consultant, a peer coach can:

  • Walk beside new hires until they are up to speed, sharing his or her knowledge of the organization’s processes and culture;
  • Show the ropes to a person with a less-than-stellar record of achievement for a given period of time, focusing on those areas that they have jointly identified as needing attention;
  • Stand by employees being groomed for greater management responsibilities and teach them how to give feedback and supervise others, modeling the expectations for supervisors or managers in real work situations;
  • Support a colleague in solving a problem by sharing experiences which can lead to skill building and increased awareness.

In any of these scenarios, confidential peer coaching can serve as a useful 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; or solve problems. It is built around the philosophy of learn-teach-learn, and can be implemented at a very low cost, without tapping scarce training funds.

One must wonder: Why isn’t peer coaching adopted more widely and consistently in business and non-profit organizations and government agencies? Is it too good to be true?

Obstacles that reduce the impact of Peer Coaching

Peer coaching is not without its challenges. The objections or issues that I’ve encountered in the organizations I have worked with go like this:

“The peer coach is busy!” Peer coaches have their own jobs to do.  When coaching, they may feel pressure to get back to work. Because of this, peer coaches might take short cuts, present incomplete information, or neglect altogether the needs of their coachees. At other times, busy peer coaches might forget something, or not fully recognize as part of their job the need to provide emotional support when their coachees are challenged by difficult tasks.

“The peer coach is not a coach!” Much of what a coachee learns is dictated by the peer coach’s own way of working. But if the peer coach cannot clearly communicate with the coachee, it may lead to greater confusion. Knowing a subject matter does not guarantee being able to share it clearly and understandably with others.

“The peer coach is not able to connect with the staff member!” In organizations with dispersed offices, it might be hard for some peer coaches to reach the staff members they are working with. This is especially true when there is no room available or no administrative support for the coaching program.

3 ways to add value to Peer Coaching with technology

Peer coaches can easily boot up their skills and use the latest technology to gain efficiency in working with their peers. Here are three strategies that I have successfully used to improve the quality of a peer coaching program:

1. Build mini e-learning modules. This can ensure consistent delivery of critical information while compressing the time to learn and reducing demand on the peer coach. Consistent messaging delivered through an intentional training design also allows you to review and assess the learner’s understanding and progress with built-in measurements.

2. Create virtual training rooms by subject matter. If your peer coaching program relies exclusively on the phone or on Skype, you are undermining its effectiveness. By using a web conferencing system, you can minimize duplication of effort and share information more quickly. The system will enable you to use the same rich-media meeting room  again and again for the same topic. In other words, you do the work once and set up several meeting rooms, each on a particular topic, uploading relevant files, creating polls, etc.  When it’s time for a session, the peer coach and the coachee together simply access the room devoted to that subject.

3. Encourage the use of an “Online Learning Journal.” This creates a personal bridge between online and face-to-face coaching; something the learner always has access to. Besides helping with knowledge transfer, note-taking encourages reflection in action and often results in powerful insights. Learners can use checklists to record what they’ve learned as they advance. This can serve as a progress report for the learner, the peer coach, and his or her supervisor, enhancing the level of accountability in the program.

Last but not least: Train your coaches in effective coaching techniques. The best peer coaching programs include a coach development component. Coaches should learn to use deep, probing questions as a way to review what was learned and assess the person’s understanding, while encouraging further inquiry on a given topic. In supporting self-assessment, the coach might plant a seed of reflection and self-improvement that can go well beyond the peer coaching program.