Developing a model of peer support

From the earliest stage in writing a GM bid for the Early Outcomes Fund to developing a GM project plan, peer support was identified as one of the main approaches we would use in Greater Manchester to helping localities to increase the scale and pace of SLC pathway implementation across the region.

This recognises the expertise and experience that exists within the 10 localities and the relationships that are already established within the Greater Manchester Local Authorities, NHS providers and wider partners. The GM project is very much a collaboration between 10 localities and colleagues within the GMCA (combined authority). It is teamwork at its best.

At the GM Pathways to Talking Project Implementation Group meeting this week, time was provided for GM locality leads to share their Theory of Change and implementation plans with other GM project leads on a peer support basis. Partnerships between two localities were suggested, based on some similar implementation priorities. Colleagues were asked to talk through their Theories of Change and implementation plans and with their peer support colleagues were asked to consider the following questions:

• Is the Theory of Change problem clearly defined?

• Are the long term outcomes/goals clear?

• Is success measurable?

Peer support, also sometimes called peer coaching is a term often used in leadership development. It’s not a one off activity but designed to be a continual process where participants learn from each other, share ideas and get a perspective which is different from their own. It’s not a hierarchical relationship and the strength is that participants are learning from each other in a completely non judgemental environment. I quite like the description i’ve read about it being a process of ‘leaning on’ each other.

The benefits are multiple in that peer support can provide colleagues with a safe space where they can share and gain insights into problems they face, gaining feedback on their own leadership capabilities and through providing support and advice to others, participants are developing their coaching and leadership skills. An online lesson on ‘study.com’ in coaching and peer support in leadership development identifies 4 goals of peer coaching:

  • Building leadership skills
  • Collaborating on problem resolution
  • Learning from each other
  • Opportunity to reflect in a confidential environment

So are we achieving these goals in our GM Pathways to Talking project?

I wasn’t at last weeks session as I was away all week but involved in the planning and kept in touch on the day and afterwards with other members of the team. I even got a text message on the day, saying the peer support session was going so well that the agenda was being revised to enable a longer time for the discussions. What better indication is there of something working well? As I wasn’t there, I can’t share my observations on this, but Kathryn, one of our project leads shared some of her thoughts and feelings from the peer support session:

‘I found the session to be extremely useful. We were paired with another locality as we have similar priorities and it was useful to take the time to reflect upon our theory of change and implementation plans together. It felt like a supportive yet challenging space which enabled me to look at our plans from different angles and make connections. This process has reinforced my confidence in our local plans and further equipped me to focus in on outcomes both short and long term. I also felt that the conversation benefitted my colleague as we could share experience and suggestions from points along a similar journey.’

Thank-you Kathryn for sharing your experience 🙂 (can just about see you in the photo below!)

Professor Deborah James from MMU, who is leading on the leadership coaching part of the GM programme has also shared her perspective on this aspect of the GM pathways to talking project:

Building community in early years leadership across the workforce is a key aim of the project and in our monthly leadership coaching sessions we zoom in on the social processes that enable participants to construct the principles by sharing perspectives with each other.

In these sessions a safe space is created through modelling and practising unconditional positive acceptance of each other. We are creating a common purpose across GM by appreciating the unique formation of individual values and considering our individual ways of enacting and responding to the collective moral and social good that underpins our motivation and understanding of ‘helping work’.

We work in a practical way with each other using micro analysis of social interactions to explore the moments where the value of the self and the other is observable. By appreciating the skills (that we are so in danger of taking for granted) that create safe, inclusive working spaces in ourselves and in each other, we are literally building the social infrastructure on which systems transformation is built.

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