Executive Coach, Facilitator and Coach Supervisor
Kaleidoscope Consulting, Melbourne, Australia
This action research explored a group coaching supervision process over three years with a group of coaches in Australia, from the perspective of the coach supervisor, to inform on the groups evolution and the deepening of the practice of the coach supervisor. The methodology included data gathered from the group coaching supervision process, the coach supervisor’s reflections on her experience with the group and as supervisee, supervisee comments and reviews and notes from communication with the sponsor. Findings suggest that group coaching supervision has benefits for the group, sponsor and coach supervisor. Recommendations are made about implications for the practice of group coach supervisor, critical competencies required of a group coach supervisor and contracting in group coaching supervision based on the type and characteristics of the group and the specific setting.
Keywords – Action Research, Coach Supervision, Executive Coaching, Group coaching supervision in Australia.
The purpose of this action research is to explore a group coaching supervision process with a group of mentors and coaches in Australia over a three year period, and how this informed the groups evolution and the deepening of the practice of the coach supervisor. This is from the perspective of the coach supervisor who is the author of this paper.
Whilst coaching supervision is advocated by coaching associations throughout the U.K and Europe as an effective means of supporting executive coaches in their continuing professional development it is a ‘slow burn’ in Australia. The foundations of coaching supervision in Australia commenced in 2004 when the Institute of Executive Coaching (now IECL), a coach training organisation offered supervision in Australia in its communities of practice. This practice draws on knowledge and experience from the fields of psychology, counselling and social work. In these related fields, however, supervision has been a mandated part of training, and an activity that most practitioners engage in an ongoing basis. It has been observed that this “had not filtered into the culture of organisational coaching until 2006 when there were publications emerging about coaching supervision” (Hawkins and Schwenk, 2006; Hawkins and Smith, 2006; Butwell, 2006; Grant, 2006 and Hay, 2007 in (Armstrong and Geddes, 2009).
In Australia, unlike the U.K. and Europe, coaching supervision has still not fully captured the hearts and minds of the coach community with exceptions such as the emphasis placed on “coaches being engaged in supervision as a critical component of professional practice” (from Standards Australia Guidelines for Coaching in Organisations 2011, pp.62-64).
Research has provided reasons why coaches have not attended regular supervision which include, “a lack of organisational requirement, cost and the absence of qualified supervisors” (Hawkins and Schwenk, 2006). Passmore and McGoldrick (2009) suggest that this was because coaches did not understand why supervision was important.
Bachkirova (2011) believed that the lack of take-up was that supervisors were failing to position supervision effectively with the value proposition for coaches needing to be much clearer.
In Australia another influencing factor may be the significant role of the ICF (the largest coaching body globally) since its inception in 1999. The ICF has long advocated coach mentoring however it has recently strengthened its recognition of coaching supervision. Supervision is recommended as a professional development intervention for full-time coach practitioners, however is not a requirement for ICF membership which may diminish the perceived relevance and importance of coaching supervision for coaches in Australia.
In addition, as Grant points out, there is no peak industry body for coaching in Australia that facilitates the communication of information about coaching supervisors and their services more broadly. This information sits within specific coaching organisations and there is little formal communication between coaching organisations (Grant, 2006). Despite this, with some greater recognition of coaching supervision globally there has been increasing demand for and growth in coaching supervision globally and in Australia in the past 8 years (Hawkins & Turner, 2017).
However, research and evidence -based literature in coaching supervision and by extension coaching supervision with groups in the Australian context is sparse, with a few exceptions (Armstrong and Geddes, 2009, Defilippo, 2013, Grant, 2012, Moyes, 2007, Salter, 2007, in Armour, 2017). This action research in coaching supervision with a group attempts to address a need for research that can provide insights from the coach supervisor perspective about the experience of group coaching supervision in a specific organisation setting. I have referred to, “coaching supervision”, “supervision” and “group process and development” literature broadly, to support the action research.
The Context and the group
The group coaching supervision was undertaken with a sponsoring organisation that provides executive development and leadership consulting services. I was recommended to the Chief Executive of the organisation as a potential supervisor by a colleague. I met with the sponsoring Chief Executive in late 2014. The sponsor sought supervision services for a group of mentors and coaches. Experienced managers and directors in portfolio careers and coaches were contracted as associates to perform in mentor and coach roles. The sponsor was an advocate for supervision and communicated an expectation to mentors and coaches that they participate in supervision such as internal group coaching supervision and peer to peer coaching. The sponsor organisation advised its business clients that their associates were in supervision as a value-add proposition. Since 2006 the number of organisations employing external coaches with expectations of coaches having supervision has increased (Hawkins and Turner, 2017).
The Chief Executive preferred that supervision be provided for two hours every six weeks so approximately six-eight sessions a year. This decision appeared to be based on the history of the group’s supervision work and existing supervision practices in the organisation. This seemed correct based on my readings of suggested supervision ratios. (Bluckert, 2006; Proctor, 2008; and De Haan,2008). Later in contracting with the group the supervisees also felt that this was the right amount of supervision for their work.
The decision for the group to be an “open” group was made by the sponsor. The sponsor was looking to grow the business in the region, hence the supervision group needed to be open to new membership and a changing organisational context at any time (Inskipp and Proctor, 2001). This is a notable feature as the group composition changed ongoingly during the three year period impacting the group work and dynamics.
During this period one original coach supervisee left, three mentor supervisees remained and four additional supervisees, two mentors and two coaches, joined the group. The age profile of the group is in the 40’s – 60’s age range.
Definition of terms
“Two words – super and vision – as in supervision – it is the process of helping you to step back, metaphorically, from your work so that you can take a meta-perspective, or broader view of your practice”, (Hay, 2007). The purpose of supervision has been variously described as: ‘educational, supportive, managerial’ (Kadushin, 1976), ‘formative, normative, restorative’ (Proctor, 1997) and ‘developmental, resourcing and qualitative’ (Hawkins & Smith, 2006).
Coaching supervision – a definition
“Coaching supervision is a co-created learning relationship that supports the supervisee in their development, both personally and professionally, and seeks to support them in providing best practice to their client. Through the process of reflecting on their own work in supervision, the supervisee can review and develop their practice and re-energise themselves. It offers a forum to attend to their emotional and professional wellbeing and growth. Through the relationship and dialogue in this alliance, coaches can receive feedback, broaden their perspectives, generate new ideas and maintain standards of effective practice”, (Hodge 2014).
Group coaching supervision – in the absence of a formal definition this definition from “group supervision” has been applied.
“In group supervision the supervisor requires additional functions and skills such as management and facilitation of time, task, process, content and flow with attention to the group dynamics and relationships” (Proctor, 2008).
The sponsoring organisation or “the sponsor” – the Supervisor’s client who sponsored the group coaching supervision.
The group – the mentors and coaches in the supervision group.
Associates – the organisation term for the mentor and coach contractors
Supervisees – members of the supervision group.
Coach Supervisor and thereafter called “Supervisor” – the role undertaken by the author of this paper.
Mentor – the term for associates employed by the client as mentors.
Coach – the term for associates employed by the client as coaches.
Organisation clients or “client” – The organisations and coachee/mentee clients of the associates.
In this project and paper action research was the chosen methodology by the coach supervisor/author. Action research brings a pragmatism and humanity to the theory of coaching supervision. It was chosen because it is “a way to reflect on and improve practice” (Whitehead, 1989). Proctor (2008) says, “Group coaching supervision is a complex subject. Writing about it is not a medium that easily conveys the flavour of the experience.”
To convey this more directly the experience with this group provides a real and practical insight into group coaching supervision from the perspective of the supervisor. A core tenet of action research (McNiff & Whitehead, 2009) is the personal change for the practitioner together with changes to the group and the system in which the intervention has been undertaken. This is reflected in this paper. My method of data compilation consisted of the following:
• My notes written immediately post the group coaching supervision. This is based on “stream of consciousness” writings (Hay,2007) with the intention of capturing as many recollections as possible and to act as a clearing process;
• These writings transformed into reflections, questions, thoughts, feelings and actions, viewed through the lens of various theories and approaches by authors in the field. These reflective writings, with time passed, have taken on a different hue giving rise to deeper reflection supporting the action research methodology;
• Preparatory notes by the coach supervisor as supervisee for her own supervision;
• Individual supervisees comments and feedback in situ in supervision; email communications and documented reflections of their experience in group coaching supervision; (where quotes have been included from supervisee’s their permission was sought prior to inclusion)
• Supervisor and sponsor communication notes.
A three-year supervision journey
In this section the stages of development of the group (Tuckman, 1965) are described year by year. This review includes: elements informing supervision and the various interventions used; positive progress made by the group; challenges faced by the group and coach supervisor and critical moments and shifts in the group. In addition, the author’s experience as both coach supervisor and supervisee.
a) Getting Started and Year One
Contracting with the sponsor
The supervision group comprised three mentors and one coach, three of whom had experienced supervision for the previous five years. The fourth was a new mentor joining the group. Their supervision had been with a supervisor who had died, suddenly and prematurely, being of similar age to the group members. The supervisor had forged a strong and lengthy relationship with the group in group supervision. This presented as both an opportunity and a challenge for me as their new supervisor.
Clear contracting with the sponsor was important. Hay (2007) refers to contracting on three levels, procedural, professional and psychological, to ensure that those involved share the same idea of the purpose of the relationship, respective roles and responsibilities are explicit and boundaries and communication methods are clear and agreed. The Chief Executive wanted some increased structure in supervision with the group. We discussed the purpose of supervision in the context of the organisation. The sponsor wanted client case-centered work to be done with the group and to understand more about organisation and client centred themes and coach professional development needs.
In contracting I referred to the ethical boundaries of supervision around group confidentiality. We agreed that in providing feedback I would observe supervisee confidentiality and request permission before sharing information with the Chief Executive. From an ethical perspective
I clarified that I was providing supervision only and not services as a coach for this sponsor. I wanted it to be known that I was not competing for work with the associate coaches who would be supervisees. At the end of our conversation the sponsor made a comment that left me a little uncertain. The comment was about the need to assist some in the group to improve coaching skills. As I understood these coaches to be older, experienced coaches I wondered why they would need to improve their coaching skills.However, before questioning this, I erred on the side of first meeting with the individual supervisees in the group.
Before meeting the group, I was introduced to a new Business Development Manager for the sponsor organisation whose role was to grow and develop business for the region and support the group in arrangements for supervision. He was not a mentor or coach however wished to participate in the group coaching supervision. The group supervisees welcomed him with the aim of business building however shared concerns with me when we met about his participation in supervision due to a perceived conflict of interest. This alerted me to a potential lack of trust in the system and my responsibility in contracting with this group to ensure that the group felt safe especially with me as a new supervisor. I contracted with the sponsor and BDM around his role and relationship with the group. We agreed that he would not attend supervision however this decision was open for review in the future.
Contracting and relationship with the group and events of supervision
The group included three mentors from business backgrounds and one coach with a psychology and business consulting background. In our first supervision I shared my career history, experience and learning journey as a coach supervisor. I sought their views about work with their previous supervisor, honouring and giving recognition of their time together. We talked about how we could build upon their body of work creating a new space together and forming a new group (Tuckman, 1965).
The group were cautiously open and optimistic. They had found their previous supervisor helpful, offering different perspectives, stretching and challenging them. The previous supervision had been “supervisor led”, an interesting and enjoyable conversation. At times if a session was not as fruitful it was generally because they may not have had work that provided content for supervision. The venue for supervision was informal, being at the home of one of the supervisees. I wondered about contracting and boundaries between supervisor and this group. The sponsor had said that there had been an absence of developmental objectives and connections to client outcomes.
Given the history of this group it was important to observe and understand how pre-existing work, and possibly social, relationships, might impact the group coaching supervision itself (Hawkins and Smith, 2006). Three supervisees had contracted for some years with the sponsor organisation. There was some deference from the mentors in the group to the coach who had a psychology background and a strong base of coaching experience. I trusted my felt sense that the existing relationships in this group were strong and supportive. There was also the mentor in the group who was known but new to supervision.
Each supervisee brought their professional discipline and maturity in career experience and skills to their role as mentor or coach. The group had discussed “not drifting” and “making supervision count”. They shared a desire to challenge themselves for new learning and growth in their roles. Coaching qualifications and skills across the group were diverse, from limited to strong. There appeared to be a valuing and appreciation of coaching skills however the mentors seemed somewhat challenged by aspects of coaching. This explained deferential behaviour, framed in light hearted, self-deprecating banter, by the mentors toward the coach. I now understood the desire by the sponsor for mentors to improve coaching skills. Each supervisee also participated in peer coaching however opinions about the value of this experience varied, based on the peer within the sponsor organisation with whom they were partnered.
In the context of their work as associates for the sponsoring organisation the group appeared to view themselves as a “poor cousin” to head office, a geographical outpost of the firm, which manifested in highs and lows in the amount of work assignments and a perceived absence of professional development offerings. The group valued being offered supervision.
I began to have a sense of a physical and psychological distance between the group and the sponsor organisation, “a felt or fantasized distance between parties” (Hay, 2007). We discussed ways to feel more connected with the organisation. I reflected on my role and the importance of my own efforts to connect with the sponsor as a role-modelling opportunity.
“Groups can be far more than the sum of their parts. Groups within organisations exemplify many of the spoken and unspoken tensions that permeate the organisational system and reflect the organisations’ levels of stability and cohesiveness, or turbulence or chaos at any point in time.” (Grant & O’Connor, 2015).
After early work with the group a draft “working agreement” (Hay, 2007) was shared and agreed. This included sponsor context and aims, group aims using the alliance model (Inskipp and Proctor, 2001), roles of supervisor and supervisee, agreed dates for supervision and a change of venue to an office space for the group. One supervisee wrote to me:
“I think the session last week forced us to re-evaluate what we want and how we get it. I think a step change is overdue which supports the approach you have documented! The worst that could happen is we discover it is not working for us. That is unlikely! If something emerged we would just align and move on! I think you are going to be good for the group”.
In the following section I describe the context informing my supervision methods and approach, the group’s expectations and engagement and the impact of methods and approaches.
The group had been used to an informal conversational setting so I chose an approach that would be more suitable to the way the group had previously worked. This was a participative type of supervision “In the participative group, supervision is with the group so the supervisor is responsible for supervising and managing the group and also for inducting and facilitating supervisees as co-supervisors” (Proctor, 2008). In adopting a participative approach and with a sense of the group as open but cautious, I ensured a scaffold at the outset of supervision framing our work. The benefit with this approach was twofold.
I could invite requests from the group, manage time and reduce uncertainty for the supervisees about the content of the session (Proctor, 2008). I introduced the practice of checking in and checking out and this sometimes took on a life of its own requiring group management however this was necessary for the group to reconnect (Proctor, 2008). In the early sessions the checkout shared by supervisees provided confirmation that their experience of supervision was positive, relevant and useful. It also signalled an openness to new approaches. One supervisee shared this comment.
“I have found the focus on restoring me as coach helpful, centering for me to restore between sessions. I also need to pay more attention to what is going on inside me in relationship to the client and to identify if my current approach is challenging enough for him.”
The group were focused on “building their toolkit” looking for tools and resources. Whilst encouraging them to look at themselves as their own “toolkit”, in response I introduced new concepts and models for interest and potentially new learning. These were in response to themes arising from supervisees about themselves in practice and their client casework. I
decided to take some risks especially with concepts like centering practices for supervisees to be self-restoring and present in the group and with clients (Murdoch & Arnold, 2013). This practice landed well with the group. We discussed psychological contracting (Hay, 2007), transference and counter transference (Hay, 2007), the seven-eyed model (Hawkins and Shohet, 2012) and the differences between mentoring and coaching skills and practice (Hawkins and Smith, 2006). The group responded with interest and motivation.
An early challenge for the group was in understanding that group coaching supervision aimed to facilitate support for each other as practitioners with their work with clients, through “coaching and supervision skills”, a practice of inquiry with the practitioner rather than advice giving or solving the problems of the client. A few of the supervisees showed this latter behaviour in supervision and I recognised that this was a parallel process, “the phenomenon whereby dynamics between people are repeated between others” (Hay, 2007), reflecting the way in which the supervisees worked with their clients.
Based on the work of Senge et al (2004), I invited the group to consider themes of presence and curiosity in their work with others. We worked with client cases, where the practitioner shared their client and other supervisees listened. This was followed by each supervisee asking one question of the practitioner and the practitioner choosing the question that they thought could be most useful for exploration (Hay, 2007). In checkouts the group communicated their valuing of the new approaches in supervision. The awareness of challenging self, other supervisees and clients was an important aspect of the group’s work. At our first session we talked about the importance of challenge and the group advised that challenge and a robust discussion was important, however would ideally be delivered as “carefrontation”.
Critical moments and shifts in the group
From the initial forming stage the group moved through a storming stage (Tuckman, 1965) with some critical moments and discussions. A supervisee had shared difficulty in helping a client who was experiencing a serious illness and had not been able to tell his spouse. The supervisee shared that he did not know what to advise him. I asked the supervisee about what might help the client to explore his emotions about the issue rather than first providing advice. The supervisee said of his practice, “it has been effective to date so why change it.” I invited the supervisee to consider how their own stated development aims in the group of “being less directive and giving advice to clients” was consistent with this perspective.
The supervisee replied, “I only made that up because I felt I had to have some development goals.” I thanked the supervisee for honesty and this led into a group conversation about authenticity and what we might need to do to be in service of our clients. This moment was challenging in the group and clarifying for me as supervisor about the supervisee’s tolerance for challenge and potential commitment to personal learning. It also set the tone with the group about developing ourselves in our practice and in how we could make the most of supervision.
At times, supervisees would discuss their roles as being mentor and not coach. The role of the mentor was viewed as one who could guide and offer experience with advice and direction. The provision of advice and direction was pervasive in the group’s work and I observed some “resistance” to coaching. Whilst the mentors shared an appreciation of coaching skills to support the client, I observed the mentors in the group as feeling unskilled in coaching and unsafe about crossing boundaries with clients into unknown terrain.
As Cavicchia writes, “This scepticism or resistance would appear to mask insecurity, fear of exposure and the potential for shame, amongst coaches, especially those who have been practising for many years and who may have become coaches through routes other than formal coach training programme” (Cavicchia, 2010). This challenged me with questions.
“Should mentors and coaches be combined in a group for coaching supervision? “Can mentors and coaches with varying levels of experience and skill in their practice be combined in a group for coaching supervision?” These were interesting questions in the emerging field of group coaching supervision. Armour asked a similar question when comparing supervision and coaching supervision. “How then are we to determine which model or approach to supervision or other form of professional support would be appropriate for executive coaches? This may depend on the nature of the conversation, the relationship between executive coach and client, and the context in which the coaching engagement takes place.” (Armour, 2017).
I wanted to provide group coaching supervision that was “fit for purpose” and this was the organisation and group context that I was servicing. I understood the desire from the sponsor for mentors to improve their coaching skills. However it appeared the sponsor and group supervisees had different expectations. The sponsor had an expectation that the mentors would improve coaching skills and invest in their own professional development in coaching skills. The mentors had an expectation that they were contracted as mentors, not coaches, and that the sponsor should provide professional development.
With the aim of clarifying roles we discussed similarities and differences in mentoring and coaching. In this session the differences were made clearer.
We reviewed coaching competencies broadly and the potential benefits for associates, clients and the sponsor of enhancing coaching practice with professional development. Bluckert refers to the five competencies of “business, coaching, psychological, interpersonal skills/relationship management and professional practice” and that “for executive coaches the issue is more about finding appropriate training and development to address the gaps – a critical challenge for many executive coaches”, (Bluckert,2006). Whilst clearly committed to their work with clients the supervisee’s appeared to be less interested in undertaking further training or qualifications in “coaching”.
Re-Contracting with sponsor and group
I reflected on my contract with the sponsor. My aim was to supervise the group with a focus on “practice” that was “fit for purpose” in service of clients, rather than getting caught up in roles of mentor or coach. Bluckert (2006) describes, “what is required is to equip people better and to alert them to sound professional practice so that they work within their genuine competence whilst simultaneously growing it”. Therefore I defined our work and reflective practice with the group as “valuable to anyone who engages in an activity that is intended to contribute to the development of another human being” (Hay,2007).
I was concerned about the reality of the expectation of the sponsor that the mentors would improve in coaching skills and so I clarified with both the sponsor and the group that the purpose of group coaching supervision was not to be a training course in coaching skills. I posed with the sponsor the merits of further communication with the mentors about the competencies required to be better skilled in coaching and the potential value of professional development for the mentors work prospects and for success of the sponsor organisation. I believed this was the extent of my responsibility as supervisor. However I also reflected on my contracting with the sponsor where our communication methods had not been fully explored or agreed. As it was early in contracting I decided to see how things evolved.
The group working agreement had included six sessions and a review. I sought open and candid feedback from the supervisees about their experience of supervision and relevance of our working agreement. The responses from the group affirmed a positive supervision experience and agreement with small clarifications and all wished to continue. The group identified themes of their client work to be shared with their sponsor employer as per the contract. I provided feedback to the sponsor and contracted again for a further six months. This became an established process for all three years of supervision, feedback and contracting with small variations. These are supervisee comments received at the close of the year.
“I like this, seeing it again now after we’ve been working together for a while. It helps create the structure/agenda for our meeting. Thanks, as always for a very good supervision session on Monday. I am enjoying the work you are doing with us.”
“I have reviewed the Working Agreement for next year and am in fundamental agreement. However, I wonder if you might be a little more specific about some of the practices or “thought pieces” you are considering bringing to the group next year.
I have found the “centering” exercises as well as concepts like psychological contracting (Tribe & Morrissey) and psychological coaching (Bluckert) thought provoking and useful. As this document is going up the line as well as acting as our rules of the road for next calendar, you may be underselling the value you will be providing (and have already brought) the Melbourne group in terms of practice learning. As (name of other supervisee) and I keep saying…we want more tools for our toolkit. Hope this makes sense.”
Towards the end of the year the sponsor advised that a new mentor would join the group coaching supervision. The introduction and welcoming of new supervisees into the group was my and the group’s responsibility so as a group we identified how new supervisees should be introduced and oriented and included this in our working agreement. I decided to first meet with the new person separately, to assist them in understanding supervision and to get to know them and their work, because it is an important practice (Proctor,2008). This, together with the group welcome, generally contributed to the new supervisee feeling familiar with supervision and as comfortable as possible as a new member of the group. This occurred with all new supervisees thereafter.
Supervisor relationship with self and as supervisee
Who was I to be a supervisor and will I be good enough? Whilst I had facilitated groups, I had not previously “supervised” a group. The group didn’t choose me, I was chosen for them. As Proctor states, “supervisees may have little choice about what supervision they are offered or required to have” (Proctor, 2008). This perceived absence of experience led to some self-doubt which initially impacted my experience of group coaching supervision. As Grant (2006) said, “group coaching supervision is a complex skillset that requires that the group facilitator have both supervision skills and the ability to facilitate group process – a sophisticated combination that requires significant training and development”.
In preparing for my first meeting with the group I felt excitement and trepidation. I shared my “script” for the first session with my own supervisor as I felt in need of a trusted perspective, which I received. Two days before our first group supervision I broke my ankle and struggled in to greet the group in a moonboot. I felt physically fragile and vulnerable. Whilst this felt awful at the time, upon reflection, I think I had role-modelled resilience which was not lost on the group. After supervision I shared my celebration with my supervisor.
“Mmm, I think it went ok, I was myself and pleased when they, following my lead on discussing my own need to go deeper and grow, each talked about the need for their own goals or focus or to challenge themselves this year. They were keen on “not drifting”, making our time together count, and shared some personal anecdotes – I saw and felt so much more about each of them – it was wonderful – they embrace each other and I think it was a good start to embracing me too – the group were appreciative of my effort to make it in a moon boot and meet the commitment. Thanks for your support.”
In early sessions managing the individual supervisees and the group was somewhat overwhelming. “Things are happening, things are popping up, you’re getting signals, you’re trying to figure out the meaning of them as you’re interacting there” (Schon,1982).
As a coach and supervisor I was used to working with individuals and struggled with the challenge of meeting both individual and group needs. My heart and curiosity desired more intimate conversations with individuals and my head said create the space for the group to learn, develop and grow. At times I noticed my psychologically minded “coach” bias and frustration with my inability to help supervisees see the benefits of coaching skills such as being present, listening and asking questions to facilitate their clients own process, rather than giving the client advice and solutions. I noticed the “parallel process” where I was drawn to advise and teach and resisted the temptation to take control. Whilst prepared, I entered group supervision feeling nervous and vulnerable.
Despite the positive checkouts and feedback from the group I was experiencing self-doubt. This explains my hook, my own need for safety with preparation and structure and certainty that I would have the answers and could make a difference to the practice of the supervisees. Rationally I knew that I needed to trust in myself and my process, surrender to be “in the moment”, in a dialogue without having the answers. I felt this intuitively as a parallel process in the group. The need of supervisees to feel safe, having the answers, rather than allowing themselves to be vulnerable and open to letting go and learning as much about themselves as the client. In supervision we discussed how it might feel to not have the answers and “not be the expert” (Raab,1997) and the consequences for ourselves and the client.
My aim was to create a safe container and build trust with the supervisees. I gave myself permission to take the time and space to learn and grow in the role of supervisor. I clarified personal boundaries for myself and with the sponsor and the group. I considered what may be realistically achievable in “improving practice” in two hours of group coaching supervision every six weeks with a group that was “open” with diverse skills and a limited number of clients. I mentally handed back to the sponsor and the individual supervisees the responsibility for their work and choices about their commitment to their practice and supervision.
“As clients become more aware of their practices, assumptions, belief systems, attitudes and behavioural patterns they move into a position of choice – to stay with them or to change. The responsibility for this choice is with them” (Bluckert,2006).
supervision was invaluable during this year as I explored and unravelled my supervisor journey in a safe, supportive and confidential space. As a result I could also offer new learnings, perspectives and resources with the group. With an established relationship with my supervisor who knew me quite well, I felt able to voice my early doubts. Early on I questioned myself and my style when I experienced a critical moment with a supervisee. Supervision gave me clarity. In experiencing the supervisee as resistant to the challenge of self-reflection and learning I lacked empathy for him in this new supervision space. I needed to meet him with compassion and invite him in exploring this aspect of his practice.
“We need to highlight and give permission to “not know”, and at the same time inspire curiosity to explore and learn rather than provoke defensiveness and the need to demonstrate expertise” (Schon, 1987).
De Haan, (2016) describes, “Supervision is exposing: a light into ‘dark corners’ of your practice”. I had been a manager, facilitator and coach for over 25 years. It was being a supervisor that brought me up close and personal with myself and my fears about working with a group of sage professionals who had their own fears, hopes and expectations. I struggled with letting myself be seen because I had not seen myself as a group coach supervisor and felt vulnerable in this role. I, like the supervisees, had an established career in which I felt a comfortable confidence where having expertise was rewarded. Supervision was beckoning me and the group to confront our fears and self -doubt about “not knowing”. This was a critical stage in my and our work.
“Critical moments go hand in hand with doubts; Those doubts usually come down to “what is going on?” and “do I have an answer to it?”; or “what do I see?” and “how do I respond?” (De Haan, 2008).
My supervisor helped me to normalise my doubts and use them as helpful data. I steadied myself, reconnected with my confidence, patience with myself and found courage to be coach supervisor. Knowing that I could tend to focus on mistakes made rather than what had worked well my supervisor generously shared her template, “Making the most of supervision” which prompted me to commit to a reflective practice with a more balanced view of the strengths and gaps in my supervision experience and practice. Bailey (2004) comments that “Supervisees benefit more from supervision when they learn how to make the most of it”. I introduced this template to the group, shared my own doubts and invited a discussion about doubts and how they “can be useful to our practice when we celebrate its potential to hold untapped insight” (Lucas, 2017). This was well received. One supervisee commented:
“I really need to allocate more time for reflection because I know when I do this, my work with my clients is richer for it.”
b) The Second Year
Contracting with the sponsor
Early in the year the departure of the Business Development Manager meant that some in the group had limited work and this was concerning for a few of the supervisees both in terms of contracting and ability to bring clients to supervision. I consistently encouraged the group to consider bringing broader practitioner or practice related issues. With the groups permission I shared our working agreement.
Mid-year the sponsor Chief Executive contacted me about the actions of two supervisees that had culminated in the organisation receiving some negative client feedback related to boundaries. The sponsor asked to see if this could be addressed in some way in supervision. This presented me with the challenge of exploring the issues and re- contracting with the sponsor around the purpose of supervision and the responsibilities of supervisor, sponsor and supervisees. The sponsor had provided feedback and encouragement for both supervisees to bring the situations to supervision for exploration.
I shared with the sponsor that in supervision we discussed contracting ethics and boundaries as formative learning and if the supervisee decided to bring their situation to supervision I would work with the supervisee to explore it from multiple perspectives. This was an interesting parallel process (Hay, 2007). The issues raised by external clients were around ethical issues and boundaries and in this conversation with the sponsor we were also discussing roles and responsibilities, ethics and boundaries. In retrospect this was a missed opportunity to discuss the influence of “psychological distance” on this situation, i.e. the psychological contracts involving the three parties, e.g. sponsor, associate and the external business client (Hay, 2007), the distance between parties and potential strategies to minimise the distance between associates and the sponsor organisation.
In our end of year review the sponsor and I shared and discussed the changes and challenges of ultimately forming as a supervision group. The sponsor was pleased with how things were travelling based on anecdotal supervisee feedback and an evaluation being sought from supervisees. With the groups permission I sent the sponsor the groups working agreement for the year ahead. The sponsor advised of intentions to visit to develop business in the region. I thought this would be a positive step to increasing a presence and communication with associates in the region.
Contracting and relationship with the group and events of supervision
I met with a new mentor joining the group. The group demonstrated commitment agreeing to supervision dates for the year and our working agreement. In the first session of the year the new mentor was introduced to the group. I invited the group to share their expectations, hopes and fears for our supervision this year and the essence of this conversation went to trust in the system.
“I don’t really have any fears but if I had to drag it out I am concerned about whether I will have the work therefore the clients to bring to discuss.”
“We have trust, it is important. In fact if it wasn’t for the social aspect, that I like everyone I may not turn up.”
“Trust for me in this group is I can share everything and won’t feel I’ll be trivialised.”
A supervisee who had been in the group for five years said to the new mentor,
“I have an expectation that you won’t interfere with the current group dynamic which is working well.” The new mentor responded saying, “I don’t intend to but time will tell.”
This affirmed for the supervisor both the strength of the established group norms and the expectations held by that supervisee. This was a prelude to potential storming and a new group dynamic however a month later the group was impacted by two important events.
Critical moments and shifts in the group
The first event was the coach departing from working with the sponsor organisation and therefore supervision. The coach informed the group of this at what was to be their last supervision and so the ending to the relationships in the original core group happened quickly. It was only later that some impact of this became clear. The second event occurred in the next month when one of the two original mentors unfortunately experienced a heart related illness and was absent for a few months to recover.
Mid-year the three remaining mentors attended for supervision. This supervision had the feeling of being “a business meeting” rather than supervision as each mentor enjoyed discussing current affairs, describing past work experiences, establishing position in the group with advice and some debate. Storming behaviours (Tuckman,1965) were evident. Whilst attempting to create a scaffold for supervision (Proctor, 2008), I felt I had lost my way. I experienced resistance from one supervisee to the process of supervision and noticed myself feeling stressed and disempowered. The positive aspect was the group supervisees getting to know each other better however this was not “supervision”.
At checkout it was difficult for the supervisees to identify any learning or outcomes for themselves or their clients. Six weeks later at the next supervision I shared about losing my way and being vulnerable at the previous supervision and asked the question “What is it like to be vulnerable in our practice?” This opened the door and the supervisees walked through sharing vulnerabilities in the group and with clients. These included:
- Struggle with feeling stuck with a client – not having the answers;
- Struggle with the question, Am I adding value? making a difference;
- Struggle with knowing how far one could go with a client into personal territory, understanding the acceptable boundaries;
- Struggle with the concept of self-disclosure, vulnerability and sharing feelings.
This started a shift in the groups work as we explored these “struggles”.
In August the entry of a new coach into the group brought coaching skills and experience with the expectation that supervision could assist her in her growth as a coach. In the same month there was a noticeable shift for one supervisee who had been focused on “building a toolkit” in the group. The supervisee, who had been performing strong work over time with a client, happily declared “I am my own toolkit.”
In September I spoke with a supervisee whose journey had been dogged by work and personal challenges. My aim was to see in what way supervision could support the supervisee given their experiences. This led to a conversation about struggles with supervision and changes in the group, feeling badly for colleagues who had less work assignments, challenge with a client and commitment to supervision. Following this dialogue I saw a shift for the supervisee to reconnect with me as supervisor and the supervision group. “Each person will have individual needs that may trigger their shame or vulnerability, perhaps from their own personal history and the impact of a specific incident or relationship with a client. It is up to the supervisor to create the safety for this to emerge and enable learning from this”, (Hodge, 2014). This conversation was in some ways a reflection of group coaching supervision in the previous five months. At times one member can embody or reflect the sentiment or energy of the group, (Proctor, 2008).
With the many changes and disruptions throughout the year the group was disjointed. There had been the departure of a supervisee, the entry of a new supervisee, varying attendances from all supervisees due to illness, holidays and commitments. The absence of continuity of attendance for the group reduced its chance to establish and form a group identity.
In a carefully worded email I communicated with the group sharing sadness about events that had occurred i.e. departures and illness, disappointment about the absences of people and the perceived struggle in forming as a group. I offered understanding, flexibility, support and invitations for supervisees to express thoughts and feelings about supervision. There was also a positive reminder of their earlier shared commitment to the group in our working agreement and supervision as a place of restoration, support and an opportunity for learning. I also communicated, within bounds of confidentiality, with the sponsor about the challenge of forming as a group and my actions as supervisor.
Responses came promptly from all supervisees confirming attendance for supervision. “In the learning environment called supervision, it’s the supervisor who accommodates, who moves, who adapts to the learning needs of the supervisees…. ‘Having a flexible attitude and a curious mind are highly rated supervision characteristics” (Carroll, 2012). The remaining supervision sessions for the year were characterised by support, listening, empathic responses and questions for the practitioner. It is difficult to define the confluence of factors that enabled the group at this time but there was a shift forward. The storm seemed to have passed. These were some comments from supervisees at the end of the year.
“I decided that my ego was in the way. I learnt about building connections with stakeholders and that my blind spot was my competitive instinct overwhelming my need to let the team find its own way and my emotions in managing this.”
“I don’t want to bring my negatives to mentees – the resonance – the sweet spot with clients – I’d like to get to this more often.”
“I really value the opportunity to participate in the supervision and got good value from the last session despite the low attendance numbers. I can do any of those days at this stage so just let me know what works for others.”
Supervisor relationship with self and as supervisee
At the beginning of the following year I made my own transition to a new supervisor. This year was an emotional roller coaster ride that afforded great learning for me. Upon commencing work with my new supervisor I reflected on her comment about the group, “Lets trust that they are valuing the support”. I recognised that both supervisee and sponsor feedback had viewed supervision as benefitting the group. Trust was the key theme. The trust in my own process and in the group then extending to work with our clients. In early supervision sessions I felt relaxed striking a better balance between providing a structure and enabling a free-flowing dialogue (Proctor, 2008). I increased my reflective practice which was essential and rewarding.
I reflected on what was working with the group and those missed opportunities in supervision which most often occurred due to my own doubts, questioning and self-editing (De Haan, 2008). I encouraged the group to make the most of supervision with reflective practice post supervision and started noticing more references being made to personal reflections by supervisees.
I had felt disappointed that the only “coach” in the group had left as she had contributed “supervisee” skills. I expected that two of the supervisees may have shared similar feelings however it was only later one of them shared a sadness about this, highlighting to me the importance of “endings” in supervision. I invited supervisees to share experiences of “endings” and ways we prepared for “endings” in client relationships. An important insight for the group was in how we all experience “endings” differently and the need to create a space for supervisees to express feelings about endings (Batista, 2014; Proctor, 2008).
Mid-year, amidst the group changing and the challenge of the group forming I was struggling and felt anxious. In exploring these emotions my supervisor affirmed that it was normal to struggle in supervising a group in storming mode (Tuckman,1965) and bringing my vulnerabilities to the group as brave.
This presented possibilities for the supervisees to be brave, self-disclose about challenges, understand each other better and grow as a group. An extension to my supervision was my wider reading about supervision and groups. I considered my decision to have a participative form of supervision with the group, questioning whether that was the right approach given the level of coaching skills in the group.
I felt somewhat reassured by this comment, “group coaching supervision – especially in a participative or co-operative group is a formidable management task”, (Proctor, 2008). I clarified my thinking about the needs of the group in supervision and reflected on my expectations of the diverse group and to that end the potential expectations by the sponsor of the mentors to improve coaching skills. My aim was to meet the group where it was at, create a safe, relaxed space with practical support and resources.
“This process of deeper reflection is less likely to occur with newer coaches who perhaps understandably seek more tools and techniques to add to their “toolkit”. While they may benefit from hearing about other colleagues’ experiences and issues, they may find it more difficult to present and reflect aloud on their work in front of others” (Hodge, 2014).
“The nature and complexity of coaching in an organizational context is demanding and challenging for executive coaches” (Bluckert, 2006, Hawkins et al 2006). “They are drawing on a diverse and extensive range of skills and knowledge, at the same time needing emotional resilience and awareness to handle whatever emerges. There is pressure for the coach not only from the individual coaching relationship and assignment but also from the organizational client system, with its cultural and contextual demands and the impact these have on achieving specific coaching outcomes. These pressures can trigger self-doubt in the coach” (De Haan, 2008).
At the close of this year I experienced a mixture of clarity, relief and satisfaction.
I felt I had shown resilience and stayed true to myself and the group. We had all persevered in one way or another and weathered a storm. I shared this reflection with my supervisor.
“I am feeling increasingly better in my “supervision skin” whilst still being nervous before supervision (it’s like jumping off a cliff every time) – the nerves are good – I use them to help me show up, care and work better.”
c) The third year
Contracting with the sponsor
There was minimal communication with the sponsor and whilst this did not directly impact the group’s supervision work the “distance” I observed in the group remained.
Relationship with the group and events of supervision
We commenced with agreed dates for the entire year and attendance by all supervisees at supervision remained a constant that year. Supervisees began to know each other more, relationships were strengthened and the group process and learning with better established. I focused on supervising the group with practical resources along common development themes provided by the group which were written in our working agreement. I continued to take risks with activities and approaches. As a group we were at supervision to “be in service of our clients” so our question at checkout changed to “How will our work today inform your practice with your clients”? The supervisees levels of experience and needs were diverse expressed in these responses at checkouts.
“I must remember to resist dealing with the problem situation, help and let the client solve the problem.”
“I understand the communication arrangements better within the company I am contracting with.”
“I need to see how I feel to know did I do the work, did I work too hard instead of the client doing the work.”
“To look at the roles I play as mentor – I know when I’m being Dad.”
“To look at how I am impacted and the influence on my coaching when the client isn’t being co-operative, like not responding, turning up.”
“To work with authentic leadership I should be asking the leader what they think “authentic” means.”
Critical moments and shifts in the group
The “open” group presented challenges in group dynamics. With additional supervisees the challenge of ensuring fairness and opportunity was ever present. I endeavoured to keep track of who had shared client casework across sessions. However, the reality was that supervision in an open, diverse group of supervisees with varying client caseloads could not be that structured. The preparation or absence of preparation by supervisees was also an influencing factor as to when and how client casework was presented. The newer supervisees asked questions that reflected a lack of familiarity with aspects of the operations of the sponsor employer and they did not have the client work to bring to supervision. With no prior experience of supervision, understandably new supervisees were not used to presenting their own client casework and shared fears of, “not having client work to bring”, and “being in the spotlight”. The support from the supervisor and those more experienced in the group was essential to create a safe and trusted space together.
Early in the year a supervisee shared frustration about the groups work with me after a session. It was a good sign that the supervisee could be open with me. I offered listening, understanding, support and an invitation for the supervisee to co-supervise, to assert and let the group know about their preference for how others engage with them on client casework. I knew that challenging clients appropriately was an area that this supervisee wanted to develop further. I also recognised that we needed to continue building “supervisee” skills.
Whilst at times coaching was referred to as “the grey area” there was a shift in how people were viewing different ways and skills to be in service of their clients. Mid-year there was a cascading effect from my own supervision to the group – open generative dialogue, relaxed, warm, flowing within a scaffold with learnings. Each supervisee commenced bringing and sharing pieces of information about themselves and their lives, positive experiences and successes as well as challenges with their clients. They were also sharing resources such as articles, books, slides and good presenters. There were moments of self-disclosure and vulnerability shown by all in the group. All of this enabled the group to move forward with more understanding, appreciation and connection. A supervisee shared their struggle about mentoring and coaching a client around behavioural change. At the following supervision the supervisee appeared to understand the need for relational coaching skills better after experiencing some professional development. “I see the value of questioning a client but it is difficult to do when you know what the answer is and you want to share it.” This sentiment was shared in the group, that is, the temptation of advice giving, problem solving and solutions for the client. This moment affirmed for me the importance of professional development in coaching competencies for supervisees outside of group coaching supervision.
I reflected on how I could invite supervisees to engage with a “tool for the toolkit” that helped them in creating a safe space, asking questions and exploring more with each other in group coaching supervision and with their clients. I introduced an exercise called “the Yellow Card”. It was a practical exercise where yellow cards inscribed with words which read, “No advice please, No fix it now, No, what I would do is…” were placed in the centre of the table.
In our client work if a supervisee spoke advice or tried problem solving anyone could pick up and hand that person a yellow card. It proved challenging in a fun way and enabled experiential learning (Hewson and Carroll, 2013).
With appropriate setup and invitation this tool was well-received and exceptional in reinforcing our aims in supervision. Supervisee comments included:
“For me the penny dropped.”
“Our goal is to unpack the practitioners experience, not to discover the best solution to their problem or best intervention for their client.”
These comments are extracts from supervisee’s reflective pieces at the close of the third year together.
“I have been participating in Supervision for well over a decade. Most sessions and constructs have been beneficial. I like topic learning. It provides another chapter in the file toolbox. I enjoy discussions around coach experience and feedback. I often think we need a construct that focus us into the discussion and at the close of the discussion. But the reality is we have a group with significant differences in experience!”
“Coaching is not about us. We are in service of the client. Being the expert can get in the way. Let go. Don’t promote learned helplessness. Failure isn’t necessarily failure … just more input for coaching practice. The life of a coach can be solitary. Coming together provides a sense of community. The group coaching supervision provides a safe container for open dialogue about us and our work. The informality and the playful creates a positive atmosphere. Relax…things are going well.”
“Clients benefit from me being able to share some of what’s going on from supervision – using the observations/suggestions back with the client. Supervision has helped me clarify where I think I add value for my client.”
“I think that it is all working well. Perhaps my only suggestion is that you have a one on one with each of us during the year.”
“I felt a significant shift in the way the group was working, the yellow card exercise gave the group permission to call each other resulting in more honest conversations and disclosures. I really enjoy every session and get great value from your balance of support and challenge.
“I think you work beautifully with the group and I really look forward to the coming year. I am always up for a challenge and to try something new, so please feel free to stretch and challenge me. Thanks so much for your contribution to the ongoing refinement of my coaching practice.”
A postscript about the group:
At the end of our third year a new supervisee was introduced to the group whose role was a blend of region group leader, business development manager and coach. The group is now seven supervisees and continues to develop its supervision process. With some clear contracting and communication around roles and confidentiality this is working well thusfar. There has been development of some business in the region. This may assist in minimising the “psychological distance” enabling the group to feel better connected with the organisation.
Supervisor relationship with self and as supervisee
The relationship I had with my supervisor motivated me toward greater reflection about my relationship with the group and myself as instrument, building my “internal supervisor” (Casement, 2002). “Supervising supervisors requires a higher degree of sophistication”.
“Supervisors working with their own supervisors may not need as much of the normative or developmental function of supervision and there may be more emphasis on further reflection and awareness on self as instrument” (Goldvarg, 2017).
This is an accurate description of my supervision. In a supervision session I experienced a shift in the relationship with my supervisor. We shared the experience of loss of a loved one and associated feelings and I felt a closer connection as a result. I reflected on her courage at a difficult time and could empathise given my own similar experience. In my own reflective rewind I wrote:
“Sometimes you just need care. It is a bit like going for a massage and letting the person know if you are up for a firm or soft massage subject to where you find yourself in the space.”
In my own practice I felt calmer with a more focused energy, noticing more moments of stillness in my work, the quality of my listening and connection with myself and others as better and deeper. The questioning and doubts arose however I accepted these as opportunities to reflect and learn, take risks and try new things. I appreciated my supervisor saying that I was a creative practitioner.
I learned much that was useful for me in our dialogue. These included my level of tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty; acceptance of making mistakes; having missed opportunities; choosing tolerance and compassion rather than judgment; trusting my own process and trusting the group. As the year closed my “internal supervisor” grew and my trust in the group enabled me to do more “letting go to let come”, (Scharmer, 2009). In my own reflections I wrote:
“I am more trusting of myself, recognising good outcomes, and clangers or missed opportunities as they arise and letting them go. I am reliant on my intuitive self and less on what supervision tool or idea I should be using here or there, my sense of direction and communication is flowing better. I’m reminded of a term from drama school, “just be in the moment.”
In this next section I summarise findings from this review with discussion.
Findings and discussion
This review of three years of group coaching supervision provided rich and multi-layered content. In this section I discuss key findings relating to contracting with the sponsor, evolution of the group, learnings for the coach supervisor and implications for coach supervisor practice more broadly.
Contracting with the sponsor organisation and the group
As written in previous literature about coaching supervision clear contracting with all parties about the purpose and objectives of supervision is an essential competence of the coach supervisor (Proctor, 2007; Hay, 2007; Hawkins & Smith, 2006, Hodge, 2014; EMCC, 2013). This also means that there is “no set and forget” with contracting. My experience illustrated that it is essential for the supervisor to contract effectively and recontract with the sponsor, group and individuals at different stages.
This may be when there is new information, issues arising around ethics and boundaries or roles and responsibilities, changing membership and dynamics in relationships and the group. The aim of contracting being to maintain clear expectations, ethical practice, working relationships and professionalism in the coaching supervision process. As Proctor states, “Whatever role or decision the group supervisor is taking, her intention for respect and empathic understanding of each individual, and authenticity in undertaking her contracted duties, are the bedrock” (Proctor, 2008).
In meeting my responsibility in contracting with the sponsor we communicated about the aims and development focus of the group through the sharing of the group’s yearly working agreement. Early in the relationship we recontracted about the purpose of supervision. I responded to practice issues arising from the sponsor and reviewed the status and development of the group. There were verbal and written evaluations of the group coaching supervision by the supervisees. These evaluations were initiated by the sponsor internally in the organisation or requested by me as an end of year reflection and review. Information was also provided to the sponsor by the group on client-centered development themes.
On reflection it may have been useful to recontract around communication methods with the sponsor. Whilst not a specific element of contracting with the sponsor it may have been useful to explore how the outcomes of supervision impacted on results for the clients of the organisation. At the outset I had assumed some things and on reflection believe it would have been a better approach to ask relevant questions. We missed an opportunity to explore and understand the relevance of supervision to client outcomes, establishing what best practice looked like for the sponsor and the significance of feedback and evaluations of the performance of the mentors and coaches based on client feedback. In the supervision system and contract the roles and responsibilities of all the parties are key to understanding the impact of our practice for ongoing learning. The parties in this contract being the sponsor organisation, clients of the organisation, mentors and coaches and the coach supervisor.
The identification of the impact of coaching supervision on clients and their organisations that are paying for mentoring and coaching services appears to be a challenge more broadly for coaching supervision. In addition, the impact this may have on both the supervisees and the coach supervisor if they are uncertain or unaware as to whether the end user client is benefitting from the supervision. It is suggested that this is an area worthy of further research.
Evolution of the group
From four supervisees in the first year to seven by year three this supervision group has evolved in more than size only and in this section I review this evolution and key contributing factors.
An important foundation and expectation from the sponsor was the support for and provision of group supervision for associates. This sponsorship enabled the group to forge bonds and grow as a support network. Secondly the group members broadly shared things in common such as ages and stages of work and life, being solitary practitioners with their own clients and their shared clients in contracting with the sponsor organisation. Thirdly the group had a “shared learning and endeavour” to make a difference in the lives of their clients and to continue working and developing in their practice.
“Adult learners have the motivation and ability to co-operate with each other in shared learning and endeavour” (Proctor, 2008). These amongst many others are important characteristics of group work (Schein, 1999). Oh, and this group shared a love of good food and wine too.
Early on the group of three was a well-established group with strong relationships working in an informal way and setting. By the end of the third year the “open” and growing group had moved through the various stages of group development (Tuckman, 1965). As coach supervisor my focus is on building strong trusting relationships based on an open dialogue. My most important contributions to this group’s evolution were management and facilitative actions including contracting and recontracting throughout with a steadfast commitment to and care for the sponsor and the people in the group. Key to this were:
• an equitable, regular and consistent communication and structure;
• invitations for communication from the sponsor and group;
• contracting and creating shared working agreements;
• a clear, welcoming orientation process for new supervisees;
• provision of tools, models and resources; and
• role-modelling from my own practice in supervision for new and ongoing learning for the group.
The commitment shown by the supervisees has been essential. When I reflect on the individual supervisees in the group each person has been learning about their practice and importantly who and where they are in their practice and lives more broadly.
Each has experienced a variety of challenges and with some life changing circumstances during this period. Whilst development for each supervisee has varied, as is to be expected, they have also been “learning how to be in a group as a supervisee”. (Butwell, 2006). The group continues to develop in practice that is fit for purpose and as supervisees in supervision. The supervisee reflections identified benefits for them from their participation in supervision. These support previous findings of the benefits of group coaching supervision for supervisees (Butwell, 2006; Grant, 2006; Hodge, 2014). Supervision can offer practitioners in an, often, solitary role belonging as part of a professional community. It can be a reflective space for practitioners, providing opportunities for exploration and learning with difficult, challenging cases, sharing with and learning from others, receiving multiple perspectives and developing both personally and professionally.
“There is real value for the coaches in talking through their work with another person or group to connect with their confidence, allay their doubts, identify new approaches or interventions and refresh their energy levels” (Hawkins & Smith 2006, De Haan, 2012) in (Hodge, 2014).
Other issues and opportunities
In considering the development of a group in coaching supervision an important aspect is the “open” group as distinct from the “closed” group. In the absence of coaching supervision typologies and in applying Proctors supervision typologies to the “open” group there may be a reduced potential for the group to move from a “participative” type of group to a “co-operative” type of group with “supervisee” skills (Proctor, 2008). This is due to the time it can take for a group changing in membership to work through its stages of development. In a closed group there is a greater opportunity for the group to develop and forge closer relationships and levels of trust as supervisees are more likely to bring themselves authentically with greater self-disclosure and vulnerability in the group (Proctor, 2007).
In this “open” group the supervisee levels of experience and skills in mentoring and coaching were diverse. It is suggested that, supervisees who are new to mentoring and coaching, would benefit from individual professional development interventions such as, one to one supervision, training and/or qualifications to fast track the development of any required competencies. To this end, it is suggested that when contracting new associate mentors or coaches, consulting organisations communicate best practice competencies and standards required. In the pursuit of best practice, identify and agree relevant continuing professional development needs and interventions, alongside group coaching supervision, with those practitioners. This would necessarily include the provision of regular feedback about their practice for purposes of engagement, improvement and development.
My experience as Coach Supervisor
In this section I explore key findings and discuss personal and professional outcomes for me as coach supervisor and implications for coach supervisor practice.
Personal and professional learning
The role of a coach supervisor working with a group is not for the faint-hearted however can be personally and professionally rewarding. “Supervision is really a journey into self and the more you are open to that the more you will gain from the experience.” (De Haan, 2008)
It is impossible to know how “open” you really can be until you embark on a journey of reflection and learning. I developed a greater appreciation and enjoyment of reflective practice and the need to be more aware of myself physically, somatically, intellectually and emotionally “in the moment” in relationship with others in a group setting.
As a consequence I deepened my understanding of the need for me as coach supervisor to create a safe space for supervisees to enjoy the opportunity to reflect, openly share their practice, explore and learn, co-create, restore and refresh themselves.
This experience increased awareness of my emotions, responses and reactions to others and a deepening of qualities such as focused intention, presence, listening, engagement and relationship in my practice. I became more tolerant of myself with compassion for myself and others in a place of not knowing and learning. I knew that I could trust in myself and my process and came to accept that for me some nerves will always be natural prior to group supervision. I also affirmed confidence in my abilities to be consistent with my values, clear and assertive around boundaries, resourceful and creative in my practice. In my search for information, ideas and perspectives to make sense of my experiences with the group I broadened my reading and understanding of supervision and re-ignited old passions for group process. In sharing approaches, ideas, readings and resources with the group I hoped to role-model the joy of learning, experimenting and taking risks to find new ways of being with ourselves and in relationship with others.
Implications for coach supervisor practice in group coaching supervision
From this supervision journey I suggest that the critical competencies for the coach supervisor are in contracting, facilitation and management of group process and dynamics. These are essential for coaching supervisors working in group coaching supervision with multi-party contracting. It is recommended that Coaches wishing to become a Coach Supervisor consider specific professional development and opportunities to build experience in these competencies.
My work as a supervisee, and especially my reflective practice, was essential to my supervision with the group. I experienced a safe and confidential space where I could reflect, share and explore high’s and low’s of my practice, receive ideas and different perspectives as well as support and encouragement. The supervision space and relationship co-created with my supervisor was a template for my own aims with the group for every session.
When considering supervision with an “open” group comprising supervisees with diverse skills and experience I recommend that a coach supervisor consider the following implications:
• addressing all elements of contracting i.e. procedural, professional and psychological, (Hay, 2007) fully with clients;
• defining what “open” group may mean in the organisation context before contracting with the sponsor;
• identifying the profiles of intended group members – their backgrounds, roles, qualifications, levels of experience and skills before contracting with the sponsor;
• the importance and value of a group working agreement;
• the importance of agreed entry and orientation procedures of new supervisee’s;
• the potential changes in group dynamics with supervisees departing and entering the group;
• the potential changes in group dynamics within sessions subject to who is in attendance and who is not in attendance at any given session;
• the importance of the decision to be taken about the type of supervision format to be commenced with the group e.g. authoritative, participative, co-operative (Proctor, 2008); and
• in making this decision consideration be given to the experience and skills of the coach supervisor, purpose and objectives of the supervision, roles and profiles of the supervisees and making the decision in consultation with the group.
This group coaching supervision intervention for mentors and coaches in practice in a specific organisation setting offers benefits for supervisees, the sponsor organisation, direct coaching clients receiving services and the coach supervisor.
Where it is decided that the group is an “open” group it may take a longer period for the group to work through stages of development (Tuckman, 1965) to become a co-operative work group (as defined by Proctor, 2008) than in a “closed” group impacting the efficacy of group supervision.
Where the group comprises supervisees with diverse roles and skillsets the focus of group coaching supervision needs to be on the resourcing of the practitioners to be fit for purpose, rather than focusing on their role as mentor or coach as this can be a distraction from the purpose of supervision and the development of practice. This is best achieved through the practical exploration of supervisee client casework gaining multiple perspectives from within the group and the provision of support, tools and resources for new learning. Mentors and coaches with less experience in these roles may benefit from individual professional development interventions that are supplementary to group coaching supervision and regular feedback about practice for improvement and development.
Critical competencies for the coach supervisor are in contracting, facilitation and management of group process and development. These are essential for coaching supervisors working in group coaching supervision with multi-party contracting.
As group coaching supervision brings a different set of challenges than working with an individual it is recommended that the coach supervisor participates in one-to-one coaching supervision with an experienced supervisor as it is an essential touchpoint and support for the coach supervisor’s practice to be fit for purpose. It is recommended that the coach supervisor ensures the allocation of appropriate time for reflection about the group, individuals and themselves in their own practice.
Limitations of action research
This action research is limited to the practice and experience of a coach supervisor with a small group of mentors and coaches in a specific organisation setting. There have been findings that are worthy of consideration by coach supervisors undertaking or considering undertaking group coaching supervision and findings that may relate to a wider context.
There are opportunities for continued research in group coaching supervision. There is a need to define group coaching supervision as different from supervision in counselling, therapeutic or helping professions and to explore and create new models of coaching supervision and support that are fit for purpose and can contribute to individual and organisational effectiveness.
To identify how practice outcomes for groups of supervisees with different roles and/or diverse levels of experience and skills compare with practice outcomes for groups of supervisees with same roles and levels of experience and skills.
Further to this paper, additional research in the relevance, impact and outcomes of group coaching supervision for the direct clients of mentors and coaches and their organisations.
I would like to thank the people who made this group coaching supervision and this action research possible.
I wish to recognise the ongoing commitment to and support for professional supervision by the Chief Executive of the organisation whose sponsorship has made group coaching supervision with this group possible. Thanks for this opportunity and your ongoing support for me as Supervisor.
It has been a privilege to know and build relationships with the people in our supervision group. I am very grateful for their commitment to supervision and their interest, support and good wishes for me in completing this paper.
I send heartfelt thanks to both of my supervisors who were there “with hands on my back” during this journey.
I thank my husband Andrew for being who he is and walking by my side.
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About the Author
Lisa Baker is an Executive Coach, Facilitator and Coach Supervisor. She holds a Master degree in Social Science (MSSci), specialising in career development and graduate qualifications in Career Development and Human Resource Development. She is an accredited Professional Certified Coach and is a Coach Mentor with the ICF and holds a Coach Supervision diploma from the CSA, U.K. Lisa has worked with many of Australia’s top 100 companies including Telstra, IBM, and Westpac as well as federal government agencies, higher education and not for profit organizations. She established the Kaleidoscope Consultancy in 1994, providing services in executive coaching, facilitation, coach mentoring and more recently coach supervision.