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Peer Coaching Circles: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD and William Stockton, PhD

The profession of organization development was born -- and transformed -- in our lifetime. In the past, organizations counted on us as practitioners to intervene from the outside and lead change on the inside. Today, we've learned to coach individuals to lead change inside themselves, and work together to lead change inside their organizations and communities.

We now understand that all individuals, not just those at the top, must function as leaders. At the individual level new coaching models cultivate leadership development primarily in a one-on-one coaching format. At the organization and community levels we strive to find a highly accessible way to coach for leadership and development among all stakeholders. Now we have the tool: peer coaching circles. Using this new tool, we can expand the delivery of coaching services and development of coaching skills throughout our organizations and communities.
A Definition

A coach in sports is an expert who tells athletes what to do to improve performance. The nature of personal and professional coaching is very different. Personal and professional coaches work in partnership with clients to support their development in life and work. The partners work primarily from the nature and needs of the clients to help them set their own goals, carry out action plans and learn along the way. Coaching is very much about facilitating long-lasting change in people and organizations. (For a description of how coaching fits within the context of organization development, see "Holistic Organization Development: A Paradigm for the Future" at http://www.managementhelp.org/misc/new_OD.htm on the Web.)

Format and Process
Coaches usually work with their clients in a one-on-one coaching format. The coach and client soon establish the trust necessary for effective coaching, and confidential matters are contained within the coaching relationship. Coaches use any of an increasing number of coaching models, each having their own working set of principles (often these principles share much in common). The coach uses a variety of approaches and skills, for example, values clarification, deep listening, probing questions, brainstorming, supportive challenges, etc.

Results: Amazing Growth and Performance
In the midst of change, people do not get stuck merely because they lack some key piece of information. They get stuck in how they think and feel about situations in themselves or their organizations, or both. Coaching helps clients move forward by guiding them to take a complete look at their situation, explore various alternatives, set realistic goals and then take actions toward reaching those goals. Coaching places strong emphasis on action and learning.

Expanding the impact and skills of coaching requires us as practitioners to look beyond the scope of the typical one-on-one coaching format. We invite colleagues to apply a new, highly accessible and practical tool in their practice: peer coaching circles. This new tool leverages the power of peer resources to produce ongoing actions, reflection and dialogue across organizations and communities.

Developing peer coaching Circles
peer coaching circles can be formed by integrating a core coaching model into the Authenticity Coaching Circles(sm) framework. (Authenticity Coaching CirclesSM is a registered service mark of Authenticity Consulting, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota). As an example of a peer coaching circle, we present integration of the Mobius Model(c) into the Authenticity Coaching Circle process in this article. (Mobius Model is a copyright of Mobius, Inc., of Minneapolis, Minnesota.) The Mobius Model is a perfect example because, where some other coaching models are a loose collection of principles, the Mobius Model clearly depicts a highly integrated set of relationships among coaching concepts. The model also raises development in circles to organization-wide development.

peer coaching Framework: Authenticity Coaching Circles(sm)
· Authenticity Coaching Circles were developed by Carter McNamara, now President of Authenticity Consulting.
· The Circles process is based on the Action Learning process originally developed by Reginald Revans 50 years ago. The processes used in coaching and Action Learning groups are very similar.
· In Circles, members learn how to coach and get coached by each other.
· The exact format and group process depend on the outcomes desired by members and the sponsoring organization. For example, an organization may want coaching for employees, training around a common topic or skill, or resolution to a complex organizational challenge. Outcomes for members depend on the needs they bring to their Circle.
· In their first meeting, members learn the Circle process, including basics of coaching, and how to present and get help in the group.
· Typically, the same members meet regularly in two- to four-hour meetings (meetings become shorter as members become more efficient in helping each other).
· In each Circle meeting, each member works on a self-selected goal by presenting their goal and requesting help from other members.
· Members support each other by exchanging advice, materials, probing questions and supportive challenges.
· Each member is encouraged to take at least one action toward their goal between meetings. In the next meeting, each member reports what they did, what happened and what they learned.
· Members use a variety of means to record their results and learning. At the end of each meeting, each member evaluates that meeting's process.
· After every third meeting, members evaluate the meeting process, their own outcomes and the quality of the facilitation.
· (To learn more about Authenticity Coaching Circles theory and outcomes, see http://www.authenticityconsulting.com on the Web.)

Sample Core Coaching Model: Mobius Model(c)
· The Mobius Model, developed by William Stockton, is a guide for coaching and facilitating leadership and organization development through ongoing actions and dialogue in the workplace.
· The model provides a practical process for understanding and transforming our conversations (internal and external) to create the organizations and communities we want.
· The model works by identifying what is already present in our conversations that contribute to the results we seek for ourselves and our clients, what is missing and possible in our conversations that would enhance our success, and the most powerful next steps to realize the possibilities we seek.
· Circle members easily look to the model as a clear roadmap for learning how to coach themselves and each other.
· A premise underlying the Mobius Model is that individual and systems development are the same phenomenon understood from complementary ways of knowing.
· While it may appear that an individual is developing within an unchanging organization or system, in fact the system changes as individuals change.
· Similarly, when a system changes, individuals that make up the system also change. We all know this in theory; peer coaching circles will enable us to put what we know into practice
· Peer coaching circles are, by design, a system (circle) of relationships to coach individuals to develop as leaders as well as to develop the capacity of the circle itself.
· This complementary focus, on the development of the individual and the development of the circle, provides an experience of knowing that is at the heart of effective leadership in any system.
· The model's dual focus on individual and system promotes the balanced perspective required for the kind of leadership necessary to develop healthy and productive workplaces.

Benefits of peer coaching Circles
Careful design and development of a peer coaching circle provide a wide range of benefits unique from other practices. peer coaching circles accomplish the following benefits for companies:
1. Substantial cost savings because employees learn to coach each other
2. Training in critical coaching skills as they learn coaching and practice coaching each other
3. Enriched learning around a common topic or skill as members apply new information and then exchange feedback around those experiences
4. Continuous learning for employees as they develop skills in dialogue, inquiry and reflection
5. Ultimately, shared vision among members as they continue to dialogue and take actions in a fully authentic manner

FUTURE OF peer coaching CIRCLES
peer coaching circles will become a major means of delivery for providing and developing skills in coaching and organization development. In addition, these groups will be used to form highly accessible, local learning communities. For example, materials will be downloaded from the Web to form training and development programs focused on, for example, supervisory development, project management, sales training, organization-wide leadership development for organization development, etc. (See the Free Management Library on the Web at http://www.managementhelp.org for a collection of materials that could be used in these groups.)

Call Authenticity Consulting, LLC, at 763-971-8890 or Mobius, Inc. at 651-927-7141. peer coaching facilitator guides and member guides can be purchased on-line at http://www.authenticityconsulting.com on the Web.