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Peer to Peer Coaching

Communicating Within the Team

As I reflect back on my own experiences as a member of a team, whether that includes sports, the military, or the corporate environment, I could think of several instances when my teammates coached me up, rather than being silent and allowing me to perform below a level I was capable of performing.

When I was preparing to go to Ranger School, I was working the hardest I ever had in my life to improve my physical conditioning. Numerous buddies gave me advice during my preparation phase to include how to get more out of my strength training.

Friends who earned that Ranger Tab also gave me tips on how to take care of my feet and prevent blisters, especially during long, grueling ruck marches. These tips were essential in getting me in the best possible condition in order to handle the rigors of Ranger School and successfully make it through.

A leader spends between 70% and 90% of their time communicating. Much of this communication involves mentoring and coaching those on the team. However, it is important for a leader to create an environment where their followers feel comfortable communicating with one another and coaching one another.

Peer to peer coaching creates efficiencies and effectiveness but will only occur when the leader has established trust throughout the organization. A trusting environment within the team will allow teammates to focus on competing against external adversaries rather than competing among themselves. That way, the success of an individual becomes a success the entire team could celebrate. 

The Problem with Failing to Communicate

If peers are hesitant to have conversations with one another about how they could improve overall team performance, negative feelings become bottled up. At some point, these bottled up emotions must be released and that is when things explode, arguments ensue, and significant withdrawals of trust occur.

When teammates help one another improve their individual performance the performance of the entire team gets better. After all, a team is only as strong as the weakest player. The leader or the coach cannot be all places and cannot see everything. The organization will miss opportunities to improve overall team performance if everyone is not involved.

I have seen in some organizations that peers and teammates do not want to hurt a teammate’s feelings by bringing to light an area where that teammate could improve. In some cases, peers simply want to avoid possible confrontation so just remain quiet. Perhaps expectations have not been set by the leader that allows for open dialogue between teammates regarding ways to improve.

There may be other cultural or historical reasons peers remain reticent to coach up one another. These are common reasons for stifling constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, they all lead to lower overall team performance.

Setting the Right Environment for Peer to Peer Coaching

A leader must set expectations that peer to peer coaching is not only acceptable but essential for team success. The leader does this by having an open discussion about the concept. The leader should also facilitate a conversation with the team about the proper way to communicate.

The communication must be done with dignity and respect. The focus should be on behavior and performance, not the person. The teammates must feel safe to offer and receive peer to peer coaching and understand it is conducted with the best of intentions. Everyone must realize that peer to peer coaching is about helping teammates improve so team performance is enhanced.

Neither the person offering advice nor the person receiving the peer to peer coaching should feel threatened. Peers must ensure the nature and tone of the coaching is encouraging. Folks should not be placed on the defensive.

There are certain communication skills members of a team should develop in order to engage in effective peer to peer communication. At a recent leadership seminar I was facilitating, I asked team members what attributes they thought were important for peers to communicate with each other. The group generated ideas to include:

  • Be an active listener. This means giving the person you are listening to your full attention and paraphrasing what they are saying to ensure you are receiving the information correctly.
  • Provide an affirmation before providing advice. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer is now a high school football coach. He uses a technique to correct behavior he calls, “You are awesome, but…” For example, he may say to his quarterback, “that was an awesome throw, but your read was wrong.”
  • Understand the personality of the person you are talking to so you could communicate better. Demonstrate empathy and do your best to understand what the person you are talking to is feeling.
  • Be honest with your communication. Do not try to manipulate the other person during the conversation.
  • Be a courageous communicator. Sometimes things need to be said to someone for the good of that person and the good of the team. However, communicate with sensitivity and dignity and respect.
  • Ask permission to give someone feedback. Sometimes people may be distracted or not ready to have a conversation. Respect that.
  • Communicate confidently. Think about what you want to say and get your thoughts together before you provide feedback.
  • Leave emotions out of the conversation. If you are emotional, wait until you calm down before you communicate.

It is ultimately an individual responsibility to have an open mind and the right attitude to accept advice and coaching from others. This takes humility and understanding you may not have all the answers no matter how experienced you are.

Teammates must understand they have an obligation to receive coaching from their peers with a positive attitude. I have found that no matter how experienced I am or no matter how long I have been on a team, I could always learn something from everybody, even those with less experience. Everyone brings some talent to a team, even rookies. For example, I am willing to learn what I can from a 14-year-old high school freshman when it comes to using social media platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat.

Teammates must leave their egos and thin skins at the door. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, tempers could flare a bit, no matter how high functioning the team is. When peer to peer coaching occurs in those situations, teammates must not take a loud voice or a terse reply personally. The team must understand they all in the fight together.

If you want to lead a winning team, encouraging those you lead to communicate in a straightforward and respectful manner, and to coach each other, will go a long way in achieving success.

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