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Try a Coaching Circle for peer-to-peer coaching and feedback

admin June 10, 2024

As we talked and echoed each other, I felt as if we were gradually getting clearer on our issues, and that certain strategies and solutions were emerging. I felt my spirits slowly lift, and by the end of the walk I felt ready — dare I say enthusiastic — to go back to my client with a renewed confidence and to act on the new insights I’d gained.

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Four principles of peer-to-peer coaching

From this process I can distill a few principles of peer-to-peer coaching:

  1. A problem shared is a problem halved.
  2. By being witness to another person’s issues, we gain insights into our own, especially when their issues have resonances with ours.
  3. Listening to and echoing another person is usually more effective than giving advice, especially when the advice is unsolicited. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when we hear our thoughts played back to us we tend to hear them in a different way than the usual repetitive dialogues we have with our ourselves internally. This can help open up new areas and options that we were previously unaware of.
  4. Asking open questions — ones that encourage exploration, reflection, and discovery — is an effective way to help someone clarify their issues and challenges, and to help them find ways to move forward.

Try a Coaching Circle for peer-to-peer coaching and feedback

The power of a group’s questions

If sharing insights and questions with a peer can be so helpful and insightful, how much more so could it be with a small group of peers?
A coaching circle is a small group of six to twelve circle members plus a facilitator who meet approximately once a month over a period of several months. The format I will describe is based primarily on an approach called action learning. Founded in the 1950s, action learning is a proven method in the world of professional development. It’s all about transformation for both the individual and the organisation, and has earned a well-respected place on many management, leadership, and professional development programmes.

During each meeting, a couple of “issue holders” have the opportunity, one after the other, to be coached by the rest of the coaching circle members on a work challenge or issue that is current to the issue holder. The facilitator keeps the time, may act as a circle member, and may provide guidance and interventions along the way, depending on the nature and maturity of the group.

Try a Coaching Circle for peer-to-peer coaching and feedback

As the coaching circle members ask more probing questions, the issue holder is encouraged to dig deeper to find answers and overcome challenges. At the same time, the circle members are practicing the art of asking open questions, a skill that is useful in all areas of work, including consulting, mentoring, and coaching.

Some of the greatest insights that I’ve received over the years have been as a circle member rather than as an issue holder. It turns out that the challenges we face — whether they be inter-personal, emotional, or processual — are often not that unique after all.

Learning = action and reflection

Action learning, as the name implies, is all about action and learning. Which means that issue holders receive support and accountability for their committed actions and their progress month-by-month. Each time the coaching circle meets, they practice reflective learning through providing individual progress updates to the group and ending with a group retrospective.

The power of a supportive community

Work can often be quite a lonely place. Coaches, managers, and consultants frequently spend the majority of their time supporting others while they themselves feel unsupported. A coaching circle is a safe place to explore one’s fears and concerns. Being asked probing questions from circle members allows the issue holder to work through problems that often they’re not able to work through on their own, while developing networks and relationships that are deeper than most work relationships.

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