People & Human Resources

How peer coaching could help your business

Eve Ash /

Peer education is powerful. Sometimes you learn so much more from a colleague who’s been on the job longer than you, than from a designated trainer, a guru giving a TED Talk or that well-remunerated speaker who was brought in to rev up your business breakfast. 

Peer-based learning

Decades ago the phrase “sitting by Nellie” was popular — when you started a job you sat next to someone experienced who would show you the ropes. The innuendo over the years was that this was an inferior way to learn as it relied on Nellie, who might not have the necessary coaching skills. The reality is that this is the favoured method of learning for many people initially thrown into a new role, at least for a time until they ‘overtake’ or ‘outgrow’ Nellie’s fountain of skills and knowledge.

It’s tempting in a new job to feel simultaneously defensive and overly rah-rah about what you can do. You may not welcome being shown the ropes by someone whose style isn’t especially compatible with yours. But if you put aside pre-conceived notions of what your job entails or who’s in a position to do the explaining, there’s invaluable ways to build skills from peer-based learning.

Two-way fluid learning

For a start, it’s well-recognised that while peer education is a teacher-student relationship, the roles are more fluid. You are in fact teaching and learning from each other.

Recognising the other person’s greater experience in the area while communicating receptivity and alertness to what they are saying rewards you both. If the advice and insights offered are both constructive and helpful, this generally motivates the learner to reciprocate in other ways. Moreover, this gradually builds trust and an informal atmosphere of continuous improvement, not to mention transparency and honesty, which are excellent builders of a positive office culture.

Proactively seek a variety of peer mentors

You don’t necessarily have to share the same career goals with peer mentors; often it’s useful to consult and learn from people whose experience and aspirations are different from your own.

It is likewise valuable to seek out colleagues from other cultures and make a conscious effort to discover skillsets and knowledge that round and broaden your understanding. Be proactive and seek to learn from others, extend your networking and communication with all members of the team. Everyone will have something to offer that promotes new thinking.

Communicate with care

With increased migration and greater diversity quotas, offices are rapidly evolving, posing challenges on cultural, social and training levels. Insensitive pairings and lack of awareness about basic ground rules of communication can cause feathers to ruffle.

Always seek to be open to learning, communicate with care and be supportive of others. Suspend judgments and assumptions. Be aware that idioms or colloquial language have the potential to cause offence when peer mentoring, so proceed with tact and caution.

Using technology

Digital communication, especially in video and audio forms, can be especially useful when your office is geographically dispersed. Skype, various communication apps and live-streamed coaching can provide real-time communication. And simple pre-recorded video clips to showcase new skills, ideas and methods of doing things are a bonus for coaching. 

As this article makes clear, learning from talented colleagues on the front line (as opposed to more traditional training videos, or for that matter, management) is far more likely to sharpen skills and awareness. The beauty of videoing what you’re doing is so that you can analyse and improve, with input from experienced peers.

The old saying that your sporting game improves when you play against someone better than you holds true in the workplace. Accept, appreciate and enjoy what peer mentors can demonstrate. 

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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