Individual and Organizational Trust in a Reciprocal Peer Coaching Context

Aug. 01, 2012

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning Vol. 20, No. 3, August 2012, 427–443
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores organizational and peer dynamics that impact the potential for productive, trusting peer relationships.

An in-depth phenomenological study of five peer coaching dyads was undertaken to examine the establishment and maintenance of reciprocal peer coaching scheme introduced for academic staff in a faculty of education at a UK University.
At the end of the management initiated scheme, independent qualitative data were gathered from five, all female, peer coaching pairs. Joint phenomenological interviews were conducted in order to explore issues arising for the dyads during the coaching experience. One of the significant issues was trust.


Findings indicated that trust in a reciprocal peer coaching context is formed through the development of emotional attachment and mutual confidence enhanced by confidentiality. In addition, the openness that comes through trusting enough to make ourselves vulnerable leads to the confidence to share plans for the future and to reveal important values.
The findings here also suggested that relationships held together by a voluntary bond appear stronger, and therefore potentially more productive than those held by control. The voluntary nature of the scheme was felt by participants to be vital and it may be that any monitoring of the scheme could also be voluntary—as a way to increase trust in the organization. The organization would then appear open (and seemingly vulnerable) and people would respond accordingly.
Clarification of the role and the expectations of management is crucial, and a three-cornered contract that can be articulated will inevitably support the process. It has been argued that trust is like a spiral (Egan, 1998), starting small, tentative, weak, and gradually developing. In peer coaching, however, the dynamic could be likened to Fermat’s spiral (Lawrence, 1972) that illustrates a yin/yang development which, with balance and reciprocal care, feeds a reciprocal growth of trust over time. In addition, as well as describing the growth and interchange of individual trust, findings begin to suggest that such a spiral could also describe the development of trust between employees and the organization, with similar growth of mutual trust and understanding.


The formation of trust was seen to be influenced by three needs: a noncognitive, values-based attachment; confidentiality within the relationship; and the subsequent capacity of both peers to make themselves vulnerable. Shared values were important, but confidentiality, in particular, was seen as a contributor to trust development, interweaving with other factors and leading to the openness necessary for the foundation of trust and ongoing performance in the relationship.

Findings from the study also highlighted the importance of contracting with its emphasis on clarifying boundaries and expectations. The open agendas generated by participants tended to focus on workplace problems that were impacted directly by issues of organizational trust. In this regard, the importance of organizational culture was discussed and the study showed how suspicion regarding management motivations might undermine the true intentions of the organization. The need for organizational transparency and nonintervention is important here.

The author suggests that peer trust development could be represented as a reciprocal spiral, where the strength of the trust evolves over time through the exercising of mutual respect, shared values, and the meeting of expectations.
Based on her phenomenological study, the author urges peer dyads and particularly their organizations to be transparent and contract clearly and systematically for the needs peers have when coaching. Organizations also need to recognize that an assurance of confidentiality allows for the openness and vulnerability necessary for productive and developmental peer relationships.

Egan, G. (1998). The skilled helper (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks-Cole.
Lawrence, J.D. (1972). A catalog of special plane curves. New York, NY: Dover.

Updated: Nov. 30, 2016


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