The Struggle and Joy of Peer-to-Peer Coaching

By Mollie Otieno, a Learning and Development expert

Peer-to-peer coaching is scary. Peer coaching often reveals a lot of our own insecurities. What will my team member think about me?  Will they still like me? What if they someday become my boss, will they seek to avenge my coaching efforts?  Am I putting my job at risk?  These are the thoughts that often course through my brain when I think about coaching a peer at work.

However, this a part of my job title – Learning and Development Specialist. 

It is in my job description to coach my peers, my company’s executives, my direct reports, and even my direct boss.  Yet, after three years in this role, I still get shaky, sweaty hands and hear a trembling in my voice.  These signals of distress are likely imperceptible to the person I am talking with – yet my echoing voice shows that I feel overcome by fear. 

So how do I do it?

I have taken classes and put into action lessons I have learned.  I have also spent a lot of time critiquing every conversation I have had where I felt uncomfortable (often at 2 or 3 am.)  I have exceled in these conversations and also fallen on my face.

Peer-to-peer coaching isn’t as simple as saying to your co-worker, “I’ve noticed some behaviors that are concerning, and are impacting our team; when would you have a moment to chat?”  For a leader, this is an expectation of the job.  For co-workers, it is a high-risk proposition. There are no steadfast rules to guide an employee through the office politics of peer-to-peer coaching. All of the googling in the world will not make the conversation feel comfortable.  Because there are no inherent consequences for your peer to listen or to take your words seriously. Your coaching could result in your peer throwing accusations at you, stop collaborating with you, or make certain you get the hardest tasks.  It is possible you might get lucky and they will hear you, and realize for the first time that their actions really do effect other people. All of these perceptions are reality and there will always be stories written about who you are as a person, both favorable and unfavorable. 

I’ve excelled in Emotional Intelligence (EQ) at work. I’ve been a peer of many people and teams and often found myself in the role of unofficial supervisor.  Leadership has known I would get the job done and help guide my team through the emotional turmoil of life – professional and personal.  This hasn’t been an official part of my job, never something I’ve been directly asked to do. But something my leaders have appreciated and have learned to expect this extra from me.  One leader said they have never seen a person in my position and with my title take on this kind of leadership. I take great pride in my work, my team’s work, and the work of my company and continually strive to make improvements in all of our efforts.

Peer coaching should become the new norm for the office and something that should be identified during the interview process. Peer-to-peer leadership should become a part of every employees’ purpose, a part of why they show up and give their all for 40 plus hours a week, a critical piece of the organization’s DNA! 

About Mollie Otieno

Mollie is a Learning and Development Expert for a $2B+ Asset credit union. Over the past few years, she worked her way from teller to her current role. Mollie brings some fresh thoughts and compelling insights as she talks about working in a complex organization nurturing new professionals into the credit union world. Enjoy Mollie’s unique and entertaining ideas, a must-read for every aspiring professional.

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