Does Executive Peer Coaching Work?

Many organisations find that group executive coaching is a powerful and effective strategy for employee learning and leadership development. What’s more, it can take place in a virtual environment, making it attractive from a convenience and cost perspective, and actionable right now. Some even feel it can produce quicker results.

Executive peer coaching differs in many respects from traditional executive coaching. For starters, there are multiple participants in the coaching sessions – the ideal size depends on the members of the group and the group’s focus, but for virtual we would recommend no more than 5 or 6. Participants may or may not work in the same business unit, department or country. Instead, they are united by a common goal or goals. For example, you may decide on the group approach upon recognising that a number of executives are struggling with similar issues, say the decision-making process or discomfort in presenting to large audiences.

A key advantage of the group process is the ability of the participants to tap into the collective wisdom of the group members and hold one another accountable for moving towards a common goal. The programme can become a way for the organisation to develop greater competence while also building bridges across work functions, cultures and geographies. The shared coaching experience creates bonds that can have far-reaching benefits, long after the coaching is completed.

One caveat though. And it’s a big one.

Improperly conducted peer coaching can devolve into something akin to teacher-led training. And that can happen very easily. The group dynamic requires skilled facilitation. The coach has to be a guide, motivating participants to share their stories and insights, and enabling the group to move together on the learning path toward goal achievement. Often, the participants in group sessions (especially virtual ones) have a tendency to become passive spectators while the coach, in effect, lectures on leadership topics and conducts exercises. That’s not coaching. And it won’t produce the fundamental changes you’re looking for.

Here are some ways to help your company get the most out of peer coaching:

  • Establish confidentiality guidelines.
  • Make it clear that this is not a training or instructor-led programme.
  • Build a sense of trust – members will be more willing to share vulnerabilities with their colleagues if they do not feel threatened. Remember ‘Vegas rules’ – what happens in the group, stays in the group!
  • Create specific improvement goals and individual plans that will guide each coachee’s development after the programme ends.
  • Ensure that participants support each other with constructive ideas.
  • Develop a system of accountability and peer support.
  • Celebrate jointly to recognise even small successes and progress.
  • Following the programme, gain feedback from each participant – you want to ensure their participation has a lasting impact and delivers ROI.

While not right for every organisation and every individual, peer coaching can be a cost-effective and practical medium to gain fast results, strengthening teams and providing a means of support during challenging times.