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Feature: Peer-to-Peer Coaching


Executive meeting When it comes to executive development coaching is a tried and tested method. In this article, Gareth Chick, Founder and Director Spring Partnerships, explains the simple but brilliant idea of peer-to-peer coaching groups. The groups, a valuable networking aid, offer support and development, enabling executives to get a fresh insight on their business issues.

This year’s Financial Times’ executive education survey highlighted a number of interesting corporate learning trends. Whilst the number of CEOs and leaders opting for executive education has risen; 71% of companies questioned demanded more customised strategic courses and consultancy style teaching to help drive strategic corporate change. In many cases, the demand for this kind of learning is taking precedence over traditional forms of executive learning, such as MBAs, where numbers of applicants are reportedly dwindling.

Today’s time poor CEO may not have the time or inclination to undertake MBAs, but they still recognise the importance of learning to help them handle strategic issues and problems, such as how to deliver profitable growth, downsize, engage with their employees or how to effect successful change.

Executive education is no longer seen as a ‘nice to have’ or too costly to undertake, it is being viewed as a strategic asset. Many business leaders now see their continual learning and professional development as essential in giving them the ability to address leadership challenges, enhance business performance and ensure the competitiveness of their organisation. However, they are looking for a new kind of learning which focusing on strategic challenges. So, if the demand for MBAs is waning, what other options are available to CEOs who are passionate about learning and development?

One of the executive learning trends that is on the rise is peer-to-peer coaching, where business leaders learn together in a challenging stimulating, confidential and supportive environment. Having delivered peer-to-peer training at the Hertfordshire based Academy for Chief Executives, a forum comprised of over 400 chief executives, and having worked with a wide range of companies delivering executive level coaching through Spring Partnerships, I have witnessed first hand the multiple benefits of collaborative and supportive learning and how it can deliver powerful cultural change.

Peer-to-peer coaching brings together groups of non-competing business leaders in a forum where experiences are exchanged, specific business challenges addressed, opportunities are clarified or business strategy is refocused. What binds these CEOs together initially is a common feeling of restlessness and possibly even isolation, and the sense that solutions are out there in the wider experience. The coaching takes place in small groups of 12 to 15 CEOs or MDs and is led by a highly experienced chairperson who facilitates training on a particular subject, such as culture change or coaching and then invites individuals to partake in open discussion forum.

Within each session, an individual is called upon to present a business problem or challenge to which the group responds, brainstorming ideas and offering frank, open and objective advice. It provides the individual with the collective support of a group who can effectively act as a sounding board of non-executive directors. Airing such issues in a supportive forum of knowledgeable business leaders, who might have experienced similar challenges also often results in multiple solutions being provided; solutions which can drive organisational change and business growth. Real rather than hypothetical problems are being discussed so very real solutions ensue which can positively impact on business performance; this is what makes this kind of learning so powerful.

All too often, a business leader is unable to see objectively or with clarity how to solve a problem within their own business, but can immediately pinpoint a solution for someone else. Peer-to-peer coaching encourages a free exchange of knowledge. The success of this type of coaching is based on the group being wholly supportive and sharing a vision and belief in enhancing business performance and in growing people. They will understand that one month their problems might be solved and then for the next 10 they will be helping others work through their own challenges, although it soon becomes apparent that learning comes from every single interaction with their peers. It is this environment of mutual sharing and collaboration that is proving a highly effective and popular learning model.

According to the CIPD, the UK is still lagging behind its European counterparts in terms of productivity, yet, as peer-to-peer coaching demonstrates we have a pool of talented business leaders, who can collaborate to drive business growth in the UK and increase competitive advantage.


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