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Case Study: Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota

A Gateway to Hands-on Learning in Coaching and Mentoring


A day doesn’t pass without some healthcare issue in the news. Often the discussion is about the high cost of healthcare administration. Inside any healthcare company, Human Resource leaders look for ways to improve the performance of managerial and supervisory staff, knowing that more effective leadership in various departments should mean greater operating efficiencies and more cost-savings. This formula is certainly true for one of Minnesota’s prominent healthcare companies, the non-profit organization, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Chartered in 1933 as Minnesota’s first health plan, it is also the largest health plan based in Minnesota, covering 2.8 million members in Minnesota and nationally through its health plans, or plans administered by its affiliated companies. Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s mission is "to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota." One of its missions within its HR programs is to find ways to make training an integral part of the lives of staff by making training easier to implement and to take root.


In 2002, Pat Brinton, Senior Leadership Development Consultant at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, was searching for a way to bring Action Learning to the organization by developing a leadership course for manager training.

"At that point in time, mangers looking to develop leadership skills had plenty of courses to take," Brinton explained. "But there was no experiential component. We wanted them to have an environment where real-time learning could take place because we felt it would be more relevant and have more staying power."

She found her method in a program that proved to be a gateway to both hands-on learning and mentoring.


Working with Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting LLC, Brinton decided to use McNamara’s Peer Coaching Group model, whereby people coach each other and simultaneously learn to coach in the process. The rewards of that method proved to be many. Brinton had found her Action Learning solution.

Since Peer Coaching relies heavily on learning by asking thoughtful questions — it tends to create a flat playing field. Participants can address the many common issues prevalent in any workplace such as problem solving, improving communication and listening skills, and learning to become better people professionally and personally, plus other workplace and life skills.

At Blue Cross and Blue Shield, McNamara convened 12 facilitators inside a "Leaders Circle®*." His objective: “We wanted to use the Circle to ensure each member got coached effectively and could then actually apply the information and the peer coaching tactic in training sessions they would later facilitate”

Brinton described the outcomes as "learning how to coach in a non-directive manner — and people made significant progress." She went on to praise not only how effective the training was but to enumerate the benefits participants experienced since that first engagement in 2002.

"Before we started using Leaders Circles, managers used to do all the talking in their one-one meetings with staff." Now they are more likely to ask questions to engage their employees.


Peer Coaching Groups are big hit at the healthcare organization. "Many people stay connected to each other long after their circles have officially been dissolved," said the 11-year veteran of Blue Cross’ HR department. Blue Cross has used the "circle" concept successfully for a number of years.

"We created mentor circles for our individual contributors facilitated by Vice Presidents. The VP facilitators get as much out of it as the participants in their groups," Brinton pointed out. "One VP said it was the best development experience that he’s ever had. I think it’s a wonderful process that’s easy to administer, allows for a variety of uses, and withstands the test of time."

®Leaders Circles is a registered trademark of The Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits.

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