Peer coaching groups - connecting leaders for development

Aly McNicoll

A recent article in ‘Psychology Today' magazine stated that 82% of new leaders derail because they fail to build sufficient connections with subordinates or peers. This can mean they feel like they have to go it alone with challenges, when in fact help could be close at hand.

New Zealand Coaching & Mentoring Centre have developed a unique addition to leadership development tools to ensure leaders build the skills and habits of learning with and from their peers. Peer Coaching Groups can be used to reduce the isolation that many leaders feel plus ensure they realise the benefits of investing the time to build these vital learning connections with others.

Peer coaching groups combine the powerful benefits of coaching with the insights of peer-to-peer learning. They use what is probably the best learning resource an organisation has - its own people. A peer coaching group comprises 4 - 6 leaders, often from different parts of the organisation, who meet on a regular basis to reflect on their leadership, share successes and challenges and assist each other to develop leadership competencies.

Through participating in a peer coaching group, leaders get access to regular coaching whilst simultaneously learning the skills necessary for collaboration. Through learning with and from their peers, they develop the capacity to reflect, they build skills to coach others as well as strengthen their network of learning relationships across the organisation. Coaching, collaboration and knowledge sharing across functions and locations promotes innovation, solves problems in real time and facilitates development (Emelo 2013).

Peer coaching partnerships must be based on mutual respect and trust. Equality, reciprocity, and the absence of power in a peer coaching group, contribute to honest and mutually rewarding learning exchanges (Ladyshewsky & Varey 2003 ). Ensuring these exchanges are free from judgement or evaluation takes skill and a good process is required to help groups avoid common pitfalls.

The NZ Coaching & Mentoring Centre has developed an experiential workshop to introduce leaders to peer coaching and a peer coaching toolkit. The toolkit contains 7 structured, easy-to-use tools that tap in to the inherent knowledge and wisdom within a group. Revealing issues and challenges in front of others takes courage but by using specifically designed tools, high levels of trust and synergy can be established so the energising conversations that typify excellent coaching take place. The structured approach ensures absolute value for time from the coaching process and provides the psychological safety required for the transformational learning that leadership development entails.

How does it work?

The key to this approach is the toolkit which defines the process. In a peer coaching group each person takes a turn as the coachee whilst being coached collectively, by the other group members. The coachee selects the appropriate tool to match their coaching need which then determines the process that the group will follow. A facilitator ensures that the group adheres to the chosen tool and completes it in the timeframe available. The tools balance advocacy and enquiry and provide a mechanism for critical reflection that is enhanced by the sharing of multiple perspectives. Participants may gain insight through both coaching and being coached as a parallel learning process exists. A typical session lasts for 1.5 to 2 hours for 4 or 5 members.

Peer Coaching in Action

Peer coaching groups are adding value to leadership development in a range of organisations and professions. We have worked with a number of clients on building the peer learning techniques into their mainstream programme. 

A large NZ bank has incorporated peer coaching groups in to all their leadership development programmes. The peer coaching toolkit is introduced to participants on the afternoon of the Orientation Day and groups are formed for the duration of the programme. Leaders from different parts of the business form a group and meet once per month in between leadership modules to provide confidential coaching and support. The organisation also introduced peer coaching groups as phase 2 of their Senior Leaders Development Programme. They brought graduates together in their programme cohorts for a 4 hour training workshop where those who felt it would be worthwhile, committed to meet as peer coaching groups for 12 months to continue their leadership development process.

Unitec NZ ( large tertiary education institution) runs a Graduate Diploma in Not for Profit Management for leaders and managers in Not for Profit organisations. At an early programme review, students cited the peer learning as one of the most valuable components of the programme so a Management Practicum paper was established to make sure that this ‘counted' in terms of credit within the programme. Participants were placed in groups of 5 and met independently once per month to coach each other through a one year practicum experience. They used the peer coaching toolkit and focused on individual development goals plus assisted each other to transfer training to the workplace thus developing their skills specific to not for profit leadership. Assignments were designed to deepen reflective practice and capture the learning.

In one leadership programme we have evaluated, participants rated their peer coaching group second when asked which aspect of the programme had had the most impact on their leadership development. Peer and group learning techniques are rapidly becoming mainstream as organisations recognise that the challenges these days are too big for individual leaders and that collaboration is vital for an organisation to remain competitive. Peer coaching groups provide both the tools and the mechanism for collaboration and promote learning as a way of being for individuals and teams.

The Power of Peer Coaching course is a one day programme and is available as a one day pucli course, and can be delivered in-house to organisations. 


R. Emelo. ‘Connect to Collaborate'. Diversity Executive. January/February 2013
R. Ladyshewsky & W. Varey. Peer Coaching: A practical model to support constructivist learning methods in the development of managerial competency. Paper presented at the First Evidenced Based Coaching Conference, University of Sydney, School of Psychology, July 2003.
Williams, R. Why CEOs fail and what to do about it July, 2010

Aly McNicoll

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