What is a Peer Learning Circle?

Peer learning is a low cost, high return development investment that simultaneously delivers business results and develops leaders.  Double Helix Learning designs peer learning engagements and facilitates peer learning circles, in person or virtually.

When do organizations use peer learning?

Peer learning is a great investment if you want to:

  • Help your organization talk to itself and dissolve stovepipes
  • Accelerate integration after a merger or acquisition
  • Help leaders in new roles rapidly build networks and social capital
  • Foster collaboration after a reorganization
  • Support leaders overseeing major change initiatives
  • Help new supervisors adapt to leading others and learn coaching skills
  • Deliver the bottom line value of diversity

What happens in a peer learning circle?

  • Five or six participants bring current business challenges to their peers, seeking to help each other.
  • Participants use listening, inquiry, and reflection to explore root causes, drivers, theories, and options. The group avoids advice-giving.
    • When the group emphasizes asking good questions rather than making statements or offering solutions, thinking expands and deepens.
    • The initial challenge often gets reframed and redefined.
  • Diverse perspectives produce fresh insights, challenge mindsets, and reveal new possibilities for taking action.
  • Group members hold each other accountable for following through on stated commitments.
  • Reflection supports development of a learning mindset and mindful leadership.
  • A remarkable level of trust grows among group members as they share challenges and help each other.

Curious to learn more about how peer learning circles work?
Check out this case study

Meet Jeremy, a mid-level leader in a regional office of a federal agency.

The Challenge

Jeremy was a participant in an Executive Leader Development Program for high potential managers sponsored by his agency’s succession planning program office. As part of the leader development program, Jeremy and seven of his peers participated in a peer learning circle. The goal of the peer learning circle was to help leaders help each other address individual leadership priorities and challenges, by sharing wisdom, diverse experiences, and ideas.

The group met once a month for two hours.  At each meeting, a different group member had the opportunity to present a challenge and ask for help working through it.

Jeremy had unsuccessfully been trying to obtain management approval for an innovative agricultural intiative in his region. Feeling discouraged, he asked the group to help him “convince my supervisor to support my idea.”

Desired Results

Jeremy wanted his manager’s approval to move forward.

Coaching Outcomes

In peer learning, as the inquiry process unfolds, the person asking for help often comes to see their initial challenge in a new way – we call this reframing.  As the group asked him more questions, Jeremy realized that he had additional sources of power he could use to influence the outcome:  other enthusiastic stakeholders.

Jeremy recognized they might be able to help champion his initiative.

Circle members had helped Jeremy reframe his challenge from “persuading my boss” to “using many sources of influence to support the initiative.”  He left the peer learning group feeling energized at discovering an approach to present and win approval for the agricultural initiative, and set upon developing a new plan of action to create the ideal opportunity for his boss to hear directly from their broader stakeholder community.

A more detailed version of the preceding case study may be downloaded here.

Overheard in peer learning circles:

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