Managing Stress With Peer Consultancy Groups

Customers who consistently use our protocols and are a part of active Peer Consultancy Groups (PCGs), often talk to me about the “unexpected” benefits of these tools. A typical comment sounds something like this: “It is such a relief to work effectively with my colleagues to actually solve our problems and work together to improve our products. I actually look forward to these meetings!”

This kind of comment is noteworthy for a couple of reasons:

  1. It links the act of working together with pleasure.
  2. It implies that solving problems together and improving your work is a *positive* experience, instead of a negative one.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that most people associate working together on problems and giving feedback to colleagues, with some level of unpleasantness or stress. So then: Why don’t people in Peer Consultancy Groups feel that same level stress and discomfort?

As a consultant in stress management, I know that stress is mainly caused by three things:

  1. Feeling a lack of control
  2. Being subjected to unpredictable conditions
  3. Feeling a lack of social support

With these facts in mind, let’s look at why Peer Consultancy Groups not only don’t produce stress, but are actually good stress relievers:

Control — PCGs are built around the assumption that participants will only bring work or dilemmas to the group that they have some control over. In other words, PCG members develop skills to discern what things they can change and which of those things they want to spend time and energy changing. Getting ideas from colleagues about how to improve a situation, a piece of work or a practice is very empowering. Presenters leave with a fist full of next steps and a “Yes! I can do it!” attitude.

Predictability — PCGs can be an island of predictability in the ocean of chaos in which we so often find ourselves in our work lives. Aside from the pressure of normal workloads, problems with colleagues and bosses, difficult new procedures or products, unexpected new responsibilities, and seemingly a million other challenges can pop up at any time. PCGs can provide a safe haven—a place where employees know they can take their work or their dilemmas. The system provides structures that ensure predictability. There is a prescribed way to talk to one another that allows for a specific actionable outcome. Other issues that arise during the process are not allowed to derail the proceedings. They are simply set aside (in the “Parking Lot”) and dealt with at an appropriate time.

Social Support — A Peer Consultancy Group is a group of colleagues who support each other in the constant pursuit of improving best practices and solving problems. Each PCG is a place where an atmosphere of “safe risk-taking” has been carefully constructed over time. Therefore, a member of the PCG knows that they can bring work or a professional dilemma to the group and her/his colleagues will spend the time needed to give thoughtful, creative and in-depth feedback. During PCG time, each member has a chance to “get help” and many chances to “give help”. This continuously strengthens the collegial bonds between the group members.

PCGs are especially valuable in times of turmoil and change. Like the restructuring of a business, the implementation of new programs, or the adjustments made during a change in management. But even when the stakes are smaller, on a day when stress levels are normal, and the issues to be addressed not so enormous, a PCG session can feel like a gift to the participants.

Although stress management is not the principle function of Peer Consultancy Groups, it is one of the many “hidden” benefits.  Imagine leaving a meeting feeling excited and empowered with a multitude of possible answers where there were only questions before. Who doesn’t want that?




About Michele Mattoon

Michele Mattoon is chief executive officer of Coltrain Group, LLC. She works with businesses, organizations, and educators around the world in professional collaboration groups, strategic planning sessions, conflict resolution, mediation and other work related to collaboration and communication.

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