How Peer Coaching Boosts Engagement in the Workplace

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“External motivation is a form of control.”

–Edward Deci

Have you ever wondered why we do not have to motivate children to play and we spend a lot of time and effort to motivate employees to perform? The answer may lie in what psychologists call ‘intrinsic motivation’.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potential. When you pursue an activity for the pure enjoyment of it, you are doing so because you are intrinsically motivated. Your motivations for engaging in the behavior arise entirely from within rather than out of a desire to gain some type of external rewards such as prizes, money, or acclaim.

External Rewards Kill Intrinsic Motivation

In work settings, for instance, productivity can be increased by using extrinsic rewards such as a bonus. However, the actual quality of the work performed is influenced by intrinsic factors. If you are doing something that you find rewarding, interesting, and challenging, you are more likely to come up with novel ideas and creative solutions. Researchers have discovered that offering external rewards or reinforcements for an already internally rewarding activity can make the activity less intrinsically rewarding.

Performance Needs Psychological Well-Being

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan established that there are three basic needs that each person has that are fundamental to their psychological well-being: (1) competence, (2) relatedness, and (3) autonomy. While all three are important, the need for autonomy (read: the lack of control, manipulation, coercion, etc.) is critical for people to be productive, motivated, and satisfied. People like to feel in control of their own lives.

Peer Learning and Coaching: Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence

For intrinsic motivation to flourish, people need autonomy, relatedness and competence. Peer learning and coaching groups are a perfect vehicle to bring intrinsic motivation and engagement back into your workplace. Working autonomously on issues and challenges that they deem most relevant to them allows the small groups of peers to decide what they want to resolve and how. They are in control.

Being physically together, peer groups allow the managers to come from behind their emails, memos and reports to connect with one another as humans and rekindle the collaborative spirit and support that is so badly needed (and missing) to get work flowing smoothly and productively across the organization.

Peers Engaging Peers and Beyond

Learning from one another in a peer group allows the participants to strengthen their competence and develop new skills. The experience of the participants in the room shared openly and without supervision opens up new avenues for learning, creativity and collaboration.

Being in a group of peers also offers an opportunity for challenge: people are more motivated when they pursue goals with personal meaning and when attaining the goal is possible but not necessarily certain. These goals may also relate to their self-esteem when performance feedback is available. The storytelling and sharing of peers stimulate curiosity: new ideas and perspectives grab the individual’s attention and activate their sensory and cognitive curiosity. This can translate into greater effectiveness and productivity.

Meeting in a psychologically safe environment, participants enjoy having their accomplishments recognized by others, which can increase internal motivation and engagement. They feel that their contribution is valued, acknowledged and validated by their group of peers.  Once this happens, the sense of recognition  extends broadly to other individuals, groups, departments and the whole organization.

How Can You Engage Your Managers More?

Not by offering more rewards and perks, which may be welcome in the short term, but their useful life is short. Rather, consider allowing your managers get together to talk to each other, and find ways to jointly resolve their common issues, brainstorm new ideas and find ways to collaborate that only they know how to make work.

The peer learning and coaching program is more than professional skills development: it is an opening for authentic autonomy, relatedness and competence which your managers need to perform well.

Peer Learning and Coaching at Your Organization

If you are interested in how you can motivate and engage your workforce in better collaboration and increased productivity that may lead to higher financial results, please contact us to check how peer learning and coaching can lead the way. You can reach us at 608-219-3594 or

Peter Korynski

Chief Program Officer

The Peer Learning Institute

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