Hello everybody. In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, I'm going to talk about running a peer group, or an action learning group as it's often called, in coaching.
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Let me start by describing how peer groups work, Then I can talk to you about the role that the coach has in running those peer groups.
Peer groups are where groups of individuals – in our case business owners or business leaders - come together to share experiences, to focus on individual problems and to jointly find solutions to those sorts of problems, and they are peer groups in the sense that everybody has a say, everybody has the experience to bring, and nobody's an expert, but obviously, some people have particular experience of an individual issue more than somebody else. This allows them to share that experience and for others to learn from that peer group.
Some peer groups are run by the government - There's a program at the moment called ‘peer networks’ and this is completely free to members and they meet monthly. They get a little bit of one-to-one coaching separately from that, but really, it's a three-hour session and about 11 people and business owners are in each cohort.
Other groups are paid groups - something like Vistage or YPO (Young Presidents' Organisation) - you pay to be part of that group. The people that run those groups are coaches, but they're not the subject matter experts. They're not the people that know the answers. It's not an educational program from them, but they are facilitating the conversations between the members. Encouraging individual members to make themselves vulnerable, to open up and share their experiences.
The subject matters are clearly anything and everything that's impacting a business. Now, in recent times that would have been issues around the pandemic, around furlough, around HR or around the different dynamics of Brexit, all of the obvious big stuff, but often it's not the big stuff – often it's really normal, everyday business problems that people look for help with.
In family-owned businesses, often it's family conflict issues, and people are looking for advice and support around how they might deal with other members of their family. In some businesses it's to do with sales development; they don't know how to generate leads well enough. For some people it's finance; they're not sure how to make the most of the information that's put in front of them or to understand it.
If you've got a group of, say 10 or 11 people, there is a lot of built-up experiences, years and years and years of insight that can be shared amongst the group. The role of the facilitator, the role of the coach in that particular event is to make sure everybody participates. We don't want a lot of shrinking violets who are doing a lot of taking and not a lot of giving, or indeed not participating at all and getting little out of there at the same time.
And so, the role of a coach was very much around encouragement. Their role is very much around helping people get the best from the conversation. This is not networking in the context of getting new opportunities for your business – it may be a side product that you find that these are people in the room that you want to buy from, or you want to sell to - but that that's not the reason, that's not why they exist.
They exist to help you as an individual, learn from your peers. They exist to help you help your peers. It is a two-way street. As I said earlier, group sessions should last normally around about three hours because you've got to get into the detail, you got to have time for various subjects to be aired and solutions proposed.
They work really well if it's a diverse group -so different ages, different trades, different sexes, different outlooks on any aspect of the business. And so, the more diverse the group, the stronger and more helpful the group as a whole is in tackling the issues that each other have so that people willingly participate and are prepared to open up about what they have done in the past, which usually means you don't have competitive businesses. So, you don't have two building companies in the same group. You don't have two firms of accountants in the same group, because that could well be commercially sensitive.
The other spinoff often is that from the one-to-one coaching that might run alongside, the actual peer group meeting is that there'll become common themes for learning. You might even organise formal, structured learning from subject matter experts outside of the normal peer event.
And that again can be extremely valuable because not only are you learning in that environment, you're learning from people that you know, people that you trust, and they're learning and the way in which they interact, it will help and add to your learning. So, peer groups, coaching of peer groups is a real skill because it's a lot of people in a room, a lot of people with often a lot to say, and certainly a lot of experience that you're trying to get access to so coaching a peer group is really a challenge.
The best way I've seen people manage this is to try to persuade people, to make it clear and describe in detail what the challenge is that they'd like some help with, and then to ask other members of the group to ask questions, to get more insight, to get more detailed before they share their experience or make their proposals as to what the person might want to do with their challenge. And so that it's not a matter of people just saying, 'Well, I think what you should do is XYZ', it's a matter of getting very deep insight into what has happened or is happening and therefore using that. To shape your understanding, and therefore your suggestion to your colleague and strictly adhering to this kind of process, rather than just people leaping in with solutions enables the whole team, everybody in the group to get the depth of understanding of the challenge and the complexity often that would not be there by just jumping to a conclusion.
So, peer groups; coaching peer groups, are really valuable learning tools, are really valuable ways of gaining insight and developing yourself. And if you don't belong to a peer group as a business leader, I'd encourage you to find one and to join them. And they're a fantastic way for a coach to hone their skills in developing people within that group to be the very best that they can be.
So, there you have it, the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at theexecutivemindset.co.uk
If you want to reach out you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org you can book a free 30-minute coaching session at theexecutivemindset.co.uk which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.
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