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Peer coaching: here’s what the buzz is all about.

Peer coaching: here’s what the buzz is all about.

Co-written with Shana Montesol Johnson of Development Crossroads

Last week, we published a post on whydev about the importance of peer coaching as a means to overcome challenges that many aid and development workers face. In partnership with Shana Montesol Johnson of Development Crossroads, we are in the process of developing a peer coaching matching service. In our recent post, we asked people to complete a survey, letting us know if they would be interested in participating in such a program.

It is fair to say that Brendan, Shana and I are absolutely overwhelmed by the positive response we have received so far. In less than a week, we have had over 130 people pass their details to us, expressing interest in being matched with a peer coach. When we first hatched this idea, we had a feeling it would tap into a need in the aid and development community — and this amazing response is a gratifying confirmation of that hunch. We’re looking forward to integrating all the feedback that we have received into a relevant and useful service.

We are grateful that many other high profile bloggers have shown their support for our concept by publishing their own posts to promote our no-cost service. Thanks also to those of you who have passed on the good word via tweets and retweets.

The more people we have signed up for this service, the greater the chance that we can find a good match for you – so please encourage anybody in your networks to register their interest and complete our survey, through promoting it via Twitter, Facebook, email or any other method.

So what have we heard from these 130 people? Here are some highlights from our survey, including concerns and issues raised by respondents which we plan to take into account as we design the program.

Why would I want to do this? Perceived benefits of peer coaching

Here are some of the ways in which respondents to our survey framed peer coaching and its potential benefits:

“A mutual source of support and sounding board.”

“A great way to make contacts in the field.”

“The chance to…clarify issues and think of approaches I wouldn’t have thought of before.”

“I feel isolated, uncertain and a little forlorn about finding my way into development-related work, and would like to have someone to share my experience with, who is perhaps also experiencing the same thing.”

“My job has been stressful at times, and in isolated environments, there are rarely people to talk to.”

“There are an enormous amount of issues and questions that crop up as I make my way into international development – I’d love to a) get some answers and b) be reassured that it isn’t just me who doesn’t know these things!”

“…it would be nice to have a productive session that doesn’t involve leaning on my overworked bosses.”

From the above, it seems that some of the perceived benefits of peer coaching are: to overcome isolation, gain support, have a fresh perspective on work issues, relieve stress by debriefing, have a sounding board, discuss work issues with someone other than a boss (or colleague), experience the solidarity of knowing someone else is going through the same thing, and expand one’s network.

Am I the right demographic for peer coaching? tends to be targeted at young professionals and students in the field of development. However, it’s worth noting that this peer coaching service is relevant for anybody, regardless of experience or years under the belt. As Shana wrote recently on Development Crossroads, people at all levels of experience (and ages) can benefit from peer coaching.

Here are some concerns that people starting out in development had about their suitability for peer coaching:

“I’m not sure I have enough experience to be a worthwhile coach as yet, having only (sic) worked overseas for three months, but when I do (sic) I think it would be fantastic.”

“I would love to, but am not sure I’m qualified enough to serve as a coach as I’m not full-time in the field of development. I’m more interested in human rights law. I would love to learn from a peer, but as I’m starting my career I am not sure I can serve as the best resource.”

“I would, but I struggle a little right now to know how I might be helpful. All of my experience is from volunteering and at this moment I am not even certain whether I have a viable career in development.”

Shana, who is a certified professional coach and knows about these things, responds to these concerns this way, “The effectiveness of a peer coach is not based on one’s technical knowledge, life experiences, or number of years on the job. It has a lot more to do with the ability to listen without judgment, ask good questions, and be a sounding board.”

Survey respondents at the other end of the work experience spectrum expressed concerns such as:

“I would want to make sure that my peer was that, my peer in experience and in general, in the same age-range and professional level. Otherwise, if matching experienced professionals with junior professionals that would also benefit junior professionals a lot but more then might be needed for senior level professionals…” (from someone who has 10 years of experience in international development)

“…if the person had skills of relevance so I could get/give substantive support, that would be of interest — but a hard match!” (from someone who has 8 years of experience in international development – who was one of the few survey respondents who said they would not be interested in the program)

We agree that a critical success factor in any coaching relationship is a good match between the partners. The more people who sign up for the program — from all backgrounds and levels of experience and fields within development — the greater the chance that everyone will find a suitable peer coach. We are delighted to have received survey responses so far from people with all levels of experience, and we encourage more of our “seasoned professional” colleagues to sign up.

What all of these concerns reflect is that no matter what demographic participants come from, more than likely, there is always going to be someone else who is in a similar position. If you are hesitant at signing up because you are not sure you fit the correct demographic — we’re here to tell you that there is no “correct demographic,” it’s entirely defined by the demographic that signs up.

How much time is this going to take, anyway?

Some people expressed concerns about the format of the peer coaching and the amount of time they would be able to devote to it:

“I think there are benefits of working with someone in a structured way, and it opens your networks beyond your current colleagues and friends.  However, it does seem risky in that you would give more than you would get, or it would waste your time.”

“Time constraints may tempt me to say no, but I definitely think it’s a great opportunity and I’ve enjoyed that from colleagues in the past.”

Although whydev and Development Crossroads will help provide a structure and suggested guidelines for peer coaching, there is enough flexibility in it so that the details are entirely user-defined. You and your peer coach will decide how long your peer coaching sessions will be, and how frequent. Based upon an agreement with the correct peer, you can devote as little or as much time as you like.

If you are at all interested in peer coaching, or even if you are just a little hesitant, I recommend you head on over and fill out our survey.

Because, as one particularly astute participant wrote:

“…sometimes we need to get out of the bubble of our own thoughts and have someone else give us perspective.”

The survey to help us design the peer coaching matching service can be found here.


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Weh Yeoh

Co-Founder & Board Member at WhyDev
Weh Yeoh was born in Sydney, Australia, and has lived, volunteered and worked in Cambodia for the past 3 years. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed an MA in Development Studies. He has a diverse background, having travelled through remote parts of Asia, volunteered in an orphanage and adult shelter for people with disabilities in Vietnam, interned in India, and studied Mandarin in Beijing. He is an obsessed barefoot runner and connoisseur of durian.

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6 thoughts on “Peer coaching: here’s what the buzz is all about.

  1. […] ended, especially when you’ve seen things you wouldn’t wish on anybody. It’s good to have a mentor or coach that can help you through your ups and downs and generally just listen when you need to talk. […]

  2. […] ended, especially when you’ve seen things you wouldn’t wish on anybody. It’s good to have a mentor or coach that can help you through your ups and downs and generally just listen when you need to talk. […]

  3. […] describe the initiative in a couple of posts, and have a short survey you should fill-out if you’re interested in the […]

  4. Jorge P. Artiles

    I've already signed up thinking that this scheme is excellent to relieve anxiety from the work at the field but also for those, like me, who are looking for a new assignment…..

  5. Lara

    really looking forward to it! well done you three on putting this together, it is no doubt a great deal of work.

  6. Rita Alam

    i usually work alone and its good to have a sounding board

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