Getting more from coaching supervision
Updated: May 20, 2021
by Jan Allon-Smith and Andrew Scott
Image: Marek Levak on Unsplash
We have had a co-supervisory relationship for several years, and over that time, we think we have learned a few things that will be of value to others in getting the most from their coaching supervision.
We always found our supervisory sessions very valuable as learning conversations; but there is always the risk that one then gets overtaken by busyness, and reverts to habitual ways of working, so that the insights and good intentions generated though the supervisory conversations get lost and forgotten. Therefore, we agreed that a useful follow-up to our supervisory conversations would be each to write up our notes, including our plans to implement any learning, and send those notes to the other, so that we could re-visit them at the start of our next meeting, and check that we had taken the actions to which we had committed ourselves.
Building on that, we developed a practice of reading each other’s post-session notes and then adding our reflections to the other’s notes and returning them. This has proved a remarkably valuable addition to both of our reflective processes. Despite having written one’s own notes, or possibly because of that, one reads the others with a sense of surprise: Is that what you thought was going on!? I thought it was… or sometimes: Yes! Or likewise: No, I saw it like this… or Oh, I hadn’t noticed that …
This process has many benefits. The first, and perhaps slightly less obvious, one is this: knowing your supervisor is going to read and engage with your notes may prompt you to write them with more thoughtful or analytical reflection than otherwise. Just knowing that someone may ask: What question or intervention contributed to that insight? Or Why did you decide not to intervene at that point? prompts you to ask yourself such questions as you write your notes.
Secondly, of course, getting your notes back with comments on is invariably enriching of understanding. Thirdly, reading the other’s comments always adds more perspective and understanding. And finally, the appreciation implicit, and often explicit, in the process is very supportive of a high trust/high challenge supervisory relationship.
Sharing our preparation
A further improvement we have developed is to share our preparatory notes. We both recognised that we get more from the supervisory meetings when we are better prepared, so we developed a pro forma that we believed would help us prepare well. That includes:
· a review of the previous session’s notes for themes etc,
· a reflection on actions since the last meeting;
· a précis of our coaching sessions and relationships since then focusing on our coaching practice;
· identifying patterns, themes or particular issues of practice, clients or sessions for discussion;
· deciding what to bring to supervision;
· checking if there is anything we are avoiding discussing;
· reviewing where we are up to in our supervisory journey.
From developing a joint approach to preparation, it was a short step to agreeing to share that in advance; both as a way of supporting each other’s intentions to do this properly, and also to inform each other before the session of the issues we want to discuss.
And of course, reading each others’ notes means that sometimes one of us sees a theme that is worthy of exploration that the other has missed – a blind spot, an assumption, or so on. These topics help inform agenda-setting when we meet, with coaching practice always a priority for time and focus.
Experimenting with different approaches
As we both studied supervision in more depth, we agreed to vary our approach; and in particular to try out different models and techniques, and to share our sense of what worked and what didn’t as part of our mutual learning journey. So, we have experimented with Hawkins’ seven-eyed model, with the Thinking Environment approach to supervision, with the use of pictures and dice, exploring Philosophy, Purpose and Process, different perceptual positions, shifting stories, and so on.
This has been an excellent way of developing our understanding, as coaches: being subject to different supervisory approaches prompts different kinds of reflection and cultivates a richly resourced ‘internal supervisor.’ And of course, it also supports our learning and development as supervisors as well. Being in an established supervision partnership provided an opportunity to play creatively as we explored different supervision approaches and developed our own practice frameworks.
Broadening the agenda
One of the impacts of using these different approaches has been to broaden the agenda of our conversations. Not only do we discuss particular coaching sessions, or coaching clients, and patterns of practice; we have also started to pick up on broader themes that we wish to explore to develop ourselves as coaches. A recent example that arose from our consideration of various client situations was power; we both agreed to do some reading and thinking about this and had a rich and thought-provoking discussion about it, drawing on many sources and perspectives, and leading us to identify the next question that we need to explore.
Likewise, our exploration of Hewson and Carroll’s work on reflective supervision has led us to think further about the concept of a coach’s practice framework, and how supervision can help a coach to make that more explicit, and then to modify and improve it in the light of reflective practice.
We have found that by continuing to review our supervisory relationship with both creativity and critical reflection, we have made it even richer and more resourcing; and also continually refreshed. It requires more effort and commitment at every stage, but the rewards have amply repaid that.