I hosted an AC webinar last month with Peter Hawkins and he commented that when we think we are facing an “either/or” decision, we would benefit from considering that the way forward very often lies in a “third way”. That resonated for me.
I mention this because last week myself and Carol Whitaker presented our new book “Peer Supervision in Coaching and Mentoring” (written with Tammy Turner) at the South West Councils Coaching Conference in Taunton. Our presentation offered a way of bringing together both peer and professional supervision to offer coaches both an affordable and robust approach to reflecting on their practice.
Before I continue, it probably is worth stating an underpinning belief that I hold – namely that there is no such thing as “too much reflective practice”!! Certainly for me every time I reflect on a piece of work, whether independently, with a colleague or with my supervisor… I see something new.
The proposed approach offers a symbiosis – the best of both peer and professional supervision worlds. Peer supervision has many benefits. It can be accessed flexibly on an “as needed” basis, it often feels like a “safe space” to as “rookie” questions. It can serve to deepen the understanding gained from the training received (especially if you have all received the same method of training or if you are an alumni group), and it can promote knowledge sharing within your coaching community. However, it can often come with some limitations. When colleagues or contemporaries work together, conversation can sometimes slide into “cosy chats” or conversely a sense of competitiveness may emerge. Where there is a common training provider, or simply a very similar level of coaching experience, then developmental stagnation or a sense of “plateau” can occur. The benefits of professional supervision are that the supervisor is specifically trained and can bring rigour to the supervision exploration, they also provide a level of independence, and professional safety, both spotting and then managing potentially harmful group dynamics. On occasion, they may also move into a mentoring role, given many professional supervisors will have several thousands of hours of coaching experience to draw from and share. The limitations are however, that this will usually come with a financial cost and often the very nature of the role of “supervisor” implies a degree of formality (no matter how personable the supervisor may be). Depending on the supervisor, they may not always be available “on demand” like a colleague may be.
So in Taunton, we outlined what a hybrid solution could look like. An example would be that a group of coaches could come together perhaps 6 times a year to reflect on their work. Of those six occasions they could be partnered by a professional supervisor for two of them. Ideally the professional supervisor would support them at the beginning of their journey, helping them define their Contract in a way that “sets them up for success”. At this early stage they might also demonstrate a couple of supervision techniques that the peers could use independently. The coaches would then meet a couple of times without the professional supervisor to reflect on their coaching practice. Half way through the cycle the Professional Supervisor might re-join the group, observe how they are working together and offer some developmental feedback for the group. Where there is appetite the supervisor might then demonstrate some new techniques which they could experiment with in the coming months. At the end of the cycle the Professional supervisor would join them to review progress, revisit the Contract and help them consider what their peer group supervision might look like in the year ahead and how they want (or don’t want!) to leverage the Professional Supervisor going forwards. This kind of hybrid approach not only provides accessible and robust supervision, it has the benefit of up-skilling all the coaches in a continuous improvement manner. Over time this may allow some of the coaches to prepare for becoming a coaching supervisor themselves.
Now, you might expect me to say what I am about to say …. becoming a professional coaching supervisor is quite a journey. It requires a substantial track record of coaching hours, and it requires a significant investment in specific supervision and group dynamics training. Most professional supervision programmes will span a year of training in order to get sufficient underpinning knowledge (not to mention self-awareness) to be in a position to confidently navigate the complexity of the group supervision task. Of course these skills are not uniquely the domain of the external supervisor. Nonetheless they will take time and money to develop internally. So, meanwhile, proactive organisations could begin their journey through this “best of both worlds” model.
So how would your organisation configure both peer and professional supervision in a way that helps you get the “best of both”? If you’d like some help thinking this through, then do get in touch.
Michelle Mobile : 07717 122950