Peer-to-Peer Support in the Workplace

28th May 2018

Posted In: In Your Opinion

Liz Cunningham, Finance Director Google on the importance of Peer-to-Peer Support in the Workplace.

When I entered the accountancy profession, it was a male dominated world.  But I was fortunate to have had a strong sense of self-belief and more importantly, colleagues who provided me with invaluable support throughout my early career.  These weren’t bosses mentoring me, but my peers providing advice and support when it was needed.

Peer-to-peer coaching remains, I believe, the single most important thing any of us can do in our organisational roles.  As the leader of your team, establishing a peer coaching network can empower your colleagues, expand their skill sets, enrich them personally and professionally, and ultimately benefit the organisation. One of my most rewarding experiences is to see people I have coached progress in their career in a way that they want to.

The informal type of peer-to-peer support comes in the form of very simple everyday interactions.  I think women are particularly good at reading a situation and knowing when someone needs that extra bit of support or encouraging word.  More often than not, it’s about asking useful questions.  It is the reaching down, the gentle nudge in a particular direction that can help change the course of someone’s career.  Or at least have them pause and ask the question ‘am I on the path I want to be on or the path people think I should be on?’.

A more formal structure to peer-to-peer mentoring in Google is our Power Program.  This is where real magic happens ­­– when you have women who are going through life experiences and career challenges and at the same time coaching each other.  The uniqueness is that we find that even though we all work in different areas, we’re experiencing the same challenges. So we can talk of those experiences and really coach each other through. So many problems or issues can be resolved through shared experiences.  It might be as simple as preparing for the next one-to-one with their manager, or knocking on the door of a leader two levels up, to say, “Look, I have seen something. I want to propose something to you.”   But at its core is the premise that we can and should learn from and lean on each other.

That was the loud, overwhelming feedback from the women who attended Google’s inaugural Compass Leadership Summit last September. These women were drawn from various walks of life – business, start ups, media, non-profit, and education.  We deliberately invited women in the early stages of their management careers.  We wanted them to hear from other female leaders including some of Google’s most senior women who inspire us here at Google each day. We learned from Compass that sharing your personal journey is very inspiring for women at every level.   We’re already planning for Compass 2018 and are looking forward to continuing to lead the discussion.

This focus on peer-to-peer mentoring goes back to the early days of Google when a few women engineers started a mailing list so they could connect with one another.  Today, we know that providing women with better opportunities to connect with one another can help build community and support career growth and development.  Google Women in Engineering and Women@Google are two of our most active employee groups, hosting summits, providing courses and offering mentorship to develop and support women.

One hugely successful programme Women@ recently ran for International Women’s Day was Director 1:1 which involved directors on the site, male and female, giving coaching support to more junior members of staff.  They were short but highly effective slots.  These were very open sessions with people coming with their biggest issues and having 1:1 coaching from directors they would never normally encounter.

I passionately believe that generating a culture of peer-to-peer support on a formal or informal basis can have a huge impact on women in the workplace, and on the business itself, leading to a more inclusive, happier and more productive environment.