A crucial step to building a successful company is building up your people. But this doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of dollars on experts or professional workshops.
Odds are, you already have a wealth of knowledge in your business: your teams.
Each employee has unique talents and understandings they can share with their peers. Peer coaching can help build a more cohesive workplace, and is also a valuable tool for entrepreneurs to expand their own skill sets.
Peer coaching definition
Peer coaching, or peer-to-peer coaching, is a form of professional development where peers provide support and guidance to each other. Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers developed the concept in 1980 to improve staff development. Since then, peer coaching has become widely adopted across industries and company sizes.
Peer coaching is a powerful tool for developing individuals, teams, and entire organizations. It consists of sharing feedback, knowledge, challenges, and best practices. There are different forms of peer coaching, including one-on-one reverse mentoring and group coaching workshops.
Benefits of peer coaching
Peer coaching differs from traditional mentoring, where a senior employee teaches a junior employee. In a peer-to-peer mentorship, both employees are at the same level, but have unique experiences and skills they bring to the table.
This makes the interactions less intimidating and encourages the mentee to engage and ask more questions. It’s like learning from a friend at school — you want to become a math whiz like them, so you ask them to tutor you instead of the teacher.
In the workplace, peer coaching can benefit everyone involved, including the company.
Bettering connections and learning
Since peers see eye to eye, the lessons taught are more relatable. The coach can explain situations and ideas in a way that makes sense to the student. Since the coach is from the same department or field, they can bring up scenarios the student is familiar with and offer tips based on their past experiences.
“By coaching with your peers, you learn better from one another, as you’re both at similar stages of business development or learning,” says Sukhi Jutla, co-founder and COO at MarketOrders, a B2B sale platform for gold and diamonds.
The same isn’t true when a senior leader coaches an employee, as they may not understand the employee’s daily challenges. Therefore, their tips may not be as relevant, which can make both sides feel like the coach is out of touch.
Builds lasting relationships among teams
Tutoring each other furthers relationships, and it’s reassuring to know a teammate is there to answer questions and provide constructive notes to improve your skills and outcomes.
Peer coaching allows employees to learn from co-workers who went through similar struggles. This creates a culture of openness and transparency, and prevents workplace toxicity such as unhealthy competition and back-stabbing.
When teams play well together, it enhances the work environment, improves productivity, and increases talent retention.
“Peer coaching encourages a solution-based mindset to develop in the business as you’re encouraged to set goals, share challenges, and ask for help or feedback when trying to solve obstacles. This type of coaching is more collaborative and encourages teamwork,” says Jutla.
Imagine a developer who is struggling with a bug in the code. This isn’t the first time, and it’s hurting their ability to complete the project on time. So they reach out to a fellow developer who worked on similar codes.
This co-worker reviews the code, points out the major bug and other smaller errors, explains why they're incorrect, and teaches the mentee how to prevent the mistake in the future. The project’s back on track, and the original developer has confidence these problems won’t happen again.
When teams willingly help each other, it promotes accountability and responsibility. It helps both established organizations and entrepreneurs looking to build a stronger business.
“I attended a small business retreat with 15 other peers a few years ago, and the peer coaching aspect of the retreat completely turned my business around,” says Ashley Cummings, who owns a freelance writing and content marketing consulting business. “We did hot-seat sessions where we talked about business challenges we were facing and identified ways to solve those problems and grow.
“It helped me identify what I was doing wrong, how to level up my processes, how to charge more, and find ways to scale. Peer coaching is particularly helpful because your colleagues do exactly what you do. They face the same challenges and know what solutions work. While business books can be helpful, there’s nothing like getting personalized feedback from professionals who do what you do.”
Creates better leaders
Leaders aren’t born; they’re made. The best leaders know how to take feedback and improve their flaws, while coaching others to better themselves.
In a peer coaching relationship, both sides learn empathy and communication skills, like giving feedback without being judgmental or condescending, or taking criticism without feeling attacked. The experience also gives insight into how to motivate people and get them to perform at their peak.
“I found staff were readily coming up with more solution-focused actions and were empowered to suggest new ideas and ways of working. They felt their voice was better acknowledged, so they were more at ease to ask for help when needed,” says Jutla.
Examples of peer coaching in the workplace
A web developer needs help with Web3. A product designer struggles with UI design. A team leader is feeling a disconnect with their younger colleagues.
Peer coaching comes in many forms. It could be one-on-one sessions with an assigned team member. Or it can happen in a group setting with multiple employees battling similar issues.
There’s no one way to implement peer coaching into your business. Some develop an internal peer coaching program with designated coaches, topics, and schedules. Others take a more informal approach.
Novakid, an edtech startup, opted for the former.
“We actively use formats of peer-to-peer training such as peer mentoring during onboarding training, and we’re creating a base of internal experts,” says Tatyana Mosina, the corporate training team lead at Novakid.
“The firm runs a ‘League of Experts’ project, which involves employees with differing expertise in the training process. Internal experts will release their own courses, lectures, workshops with full assistance of the Training Team. The purpose is to enhance the knowledge and abilities of the Novakiders in different spheres and to build the corporate learning culture.”
Peer coaching activities
There are many activities entrepreneurs can try to incorporate peer coaching into their businesses. For example, you can:
- Create brainstorming sessions to promote finding solutions as a team
- Develop guided mastermind groups within each department (e.g., product design, human resources, sales, marketing)
- Give every team a specific Slack channel to share insights, ask questions, and collaborate
- Design a searchable forum where teams share knowledge and have discussions
Peer-to-peer coaching doesn’t have to be in person or in real time. Consider async options, like knowledge bases or wikis built by teams, or video calls for remote coaching sessions.
Peer coaching tips
To get the best results from peer coaching programs, consider implementing the following best practices:
- Ensure coaches are truly peers of the coachee (instead of managers coaching subordinates)
- Pair workers based on the skills and knowledge gap the coach can fill (and how well the two will click)
- Make coaching a part of your culture by hosting events where employees can group or pair together based on skills
- Help employees set goals for their learning and the problems they’re trying to overcome
- Collect feedback from participants to identify issues and ensure goals are met
- Keep peer coaching teams small with no more than two to three co-workers, to make it easier to bond
- Offer a way for employees to submit requests to be coached by a peer, such as a ticketing system
Overall, peer coaching is an excellent tool to eliminate gaps in knowledge, skills, and understanding. It can be used for everyone, from interns and trainees to managers, senior leaders, and entrepreneurs.