With a little help from my friends: The power of peer-to-peer support
As the title of the famous Beatles track suggests, we all get by in life with the support of others. What we can often forget though is that this is as true in our professional lives as it is in our personal ones. So, whether you’re an in-house staff member or a freelancer, remember we can all do with a little help from a friend or two at some point in our careers.
As fundraising consultant Lisa Clavering says in one of her blogs, having the support of your peers “can provide insight and advice” as well as “help reflect on personal growth”.
But what is peer-to-peer support and coaching? And how is it different to mentoring? Peer coaching tends to be an informal arrangement between two or more people of the same professional level (e.g. two communications managers), with individuals sharing advice and experiences. Mentoring on the other hand tends to be a structured, long-term relationship between a senior and a more junior professional.
Where to start?
You might find peer-to-peer support among your immediate circle of contacts, or you could hunt it out in online groups, or through organised schemes.
Peer support is “about mutual sharing and learning”, says digital communications freelancer Kirsty Marrins, who meets with her peers over lunch or a coffee from time to time to find out what they’re working on and to keep up to date.
What to expect?
It may be a one-off chat about specific projects you’re working on, or it might be regular calls to give each other ongoing support with tasks. You may choose to have some flexible guidelines that you try to stick to, but be prepared, you probably won’t set formal objectives as you would with mentoring.
“It’s about being proactive and reaching out to your peers internally and in your networks,” advises St Joseph’s Hospice’s head of events and appeals, Sarah Goddard. “Peer to peer support is about framing your challenges in a way that means your network can help you find solutions. It’s not about having a moan; it’s about sharing successes to help each other out.”
Need some ideas?
There are lots of great examples of peers supporting each other in the sector, so I have gathered some together to help you. Here’s what they’re up to:
- Phone and video calls
Having a peer who you can pick up the phone to for some friendly advice can be useful, particularly if you don’t have the time to meet in-person.
Freelance copywriters Trina Wallace, Sarah Myers and Matt Chittock have a weekly 30-45-minute phone call to chat through the projects they are working on. Trina says: “It’s great to hear what the others are doing and get advice.” The group start the calls with a check-in to find out how everyone is doing and share tips for staying motivated and managing their time.
Lisa Clavering and digital marketing consultant Fran Swaine also use a similar system of having regular video calls to discuss work goals, sense check each other’s work and provide reassurance.
- Online buddies
There are plenty of opportunities to get support from peers online. For example, the Third Sector PR & Comms Network on Facebook is a friendly forum for people working in both big and small charities.
While similarly, members of the Lucidity Network — set up by Lucy Gower to provide a support network for professionals across all sectors — can access online toolkits, a Facebook community, group coaching calls and face-to-face meetings in return for a monthly fee.
- Meeting for coffee
You might have some of the nicest colleagues in the world, but you’ll get a fresh perspective by having a chat and coffee with someone from outside your organisation.
Girlguiding’s membership communications officer, Daisy Lindlar, met with WaterAid’s partnership communications manager, Larissa Abl, for a one-off chat and coffee through the CharityComms Peer Support Scheme.
“It’s a chance to get some insight from someone you wouldn’t necessarily meet and who has a different experience to the people you see day-to-day,” Lindlar explains. But it’s not a one-sided relationship. Abl says that it’s nice to be able to share your expertise and knowledge to potentially help someone else. “It’s a great way to connect people within different organisations.”
Why is peer support useful?
Just like a good friend, a supportive peer can be a sounding board: someone to share your thoughts with and help you decide on next steps.
Lloyds Bank Foundation’s communications officer – digital, Stephanie Hubbard, says: “Having someone to bounce ideas about with is incredibly valuable. There were things I hadn’t previously thought about.”
If you’re the only staff member working in comms, it’s especially important to have a supportive peer. This was the case for Cherelle Harroo, who stepped into a sole comms role at the Psychosynthesis Trust having previously worked in administration and events.
She explains: “Having peer coaching helps to affirm what I’m thinking and doing in the early days in my role. It boosts my confidence and supports me in working towards my objectives.”
For others it’s having a forum where you can speak openly about some of the challenges you’re facing. “It’s having a safe space to ask questions and get things off your chest,” says Becky Slack, founder and managing director of Slack Communications.