The Joy of Peer Group Coaching

Recently, I spoke to a group of academy school CEOs on the topic of peer group coaching. As I was preparing for the session, I decided I was going to go for it. I don’t mean just turn up and speak, I mean really go for it! I decided that I was going to get right out of my comfort zone, take a risk and put myself on the line. Why did I decide to go for it? Well, I believe so much in the power of peer group coaching that I didn’t want the CEOs present simply to understand what I was saying I wanted them to experience what I was saying. I wanted to go beyond the head and reach for the heart and the soul in that room.

As I stood in front of the group in the opening five minutes, I was scared. I was scared because I knew what I was going to do. And I knew that the risk was that I would lose the group and that they would disconnect from me. And this was no ordinary group. It was a group of fantastically talented CEOs. I did not want to fail in front of that group. Immediately, I invited them to get into the experience; ‘What is the best thing that has happened in your schools in the past week?’ Table by table they offered inspiring examples of their passion for what they do; helping children learn. The glacier in the room was starting to melt.

Thirty minutes in, I glanced at my watch and realised I was way ahead of my agenda; a fresh opportunity to fail. I looked out at the group and made a choice; ‘I want you to turn to the person next to you and spend ten minutes discussing what we have experienced so far and then we will bring it back together and take some questions’. It was a risk, but they chose to get further into the experience with me. I let go of the powerpoint slides and we started to have a conversation. The glacier melted some more.

With forty minutes to go they were still with me so I decided to issue another invitation; ‘I’d like a brave person in the room to come forward and work with the group on a real-life issue taking place in your schools right now’. At that moment, I looked around the room and it was deathly silent and still. Such a great opportunity to fail! I feared the glacier was about to make an unwelcome reappearance. But I held the line and waited. Eventually, a hand popped up near the front of the room. Someone had decided to go for it. I don’t mean turn up and speak, I mean really go for it. In the next thirty minutes that inspiring person got out of their comfort zone, took a risk and put themselves on the line. Why did they do it? Well, I suppose it was because they believe so much in the job that they do and they care so deeply about the education of the children in their care.

As this CEO bared his soul, the group decided to get into the experience at a more intimate level. Here was one of their own out on a limb. Not just some fancy dan facilitator who they might never see again. In their hearts they got around their colleague and you could feel the compassion and care flood into the room. There was no glacier left just waves of inspiration and insight being offered freely and without judgement. Only the loosest of touches was necessary as the group organised itself to respond to the situation in front of them. They were now completely immersed in the experience.

At the end of the session, I turned to the brave volunteer and asked him what he had got out of the peer group coaching. He looked at me in a state of shock and said ‘I feel five stone lighter’. ‘What do you mean?’ I replied. ‘I feel five stone lighter’ he repeated. It was like watching a magician pull a white rabbit out of a hat. I heard what he said but I didn’t really believe it. How could such a simple experience lasting only thirty minutes enable someone to feel five stone lighter? I couldn’t get my head round it. As the group filed out of the room, I sat down and realised I was shaking. I couldn’t get my head round it. Yet I am sure that I was shaking with joy.

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