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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Gomm

The use of the 3 Ps (Philosophy, Purpose and Process) in supervision

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

One of the ways in which we pursue our own development

is to try out different approaches to supervision. We were very impressed and intrigued by Jackson and Bachkirova’s Three Ps model, in Eve Turner’s The Heart of Coaching Supervision. This suggests that one useful way of approaching a supervisory conversation is to invite the practitioner to explore their Philosophy (what they believe about what they are doing when coaching); their Purpose (what they are seeking to achieve) and the Processes they use (questions, and other interventions) and the links between the three.

In this blogpost, we reflect on a few occasions when we have used this approach.

The first occasion was with a group of experienced coaches who work for a national charity.

It was intended that the approach – Philosophy, Purpose, Process – would be explained at the start. The coach would be asked to describe her experience and the outcomes she sought from the supervision; the supervisor would provide the space first to fully explore the experience then to generate reflection using the 3 Ps. The listeners would be asked to offer reflections on the process.

In this example, the coach plunged into describing her experience before an explanation of the process could take place and the supervisor decided to let her continue. At an appropriate moment, he introduced the approach and sought agreement from the coach to continue the supervision on that basis. The 3 Ps were used in the following way:

  • · Philosophy – the supervisor asked the coach to explain her coaching philosophy that she brought with her into her coaching practice.

  • · Purpose – the coach was asked what her purpose was in terms of this particular client.

  • · Process – the coach was asked to consider what processes would work to help her achieve that purpose.

The switch from one P to the next was segued by the coach’s responses enabling the exit from the first to become the entrance to the next.

Towards the end of the supervision, the other practitioners in the group were invited to share their reflection on the approach. They said that it had felt like a light structure, but was in fact really deep in what it covers. They also said that would have been helped by more clarification about the meaning of each of the P words. The approach forced a stepping back at quite a high level which enabled an overview of the situation; this is a technique that could be used quite frequently

The practitioner being supervised then shared her reflections on the process. She said that she found she connected with the process; it drew her away from being in the middle of the situation and enabled her to reflect more broadly.

The second occasion we reflect on was in a one-to-one supervision. The approach was discussed with the practitioner, and agreed in advance, as (in part) a learning experiment.

When discussing the client, the supervisor asked the questions in a different order (probably inadvertently) starting with purpose, then philosophy, then processes. The model seemed to work well in that order, too.

One of the interesting issues that arose was that the client’s purpose changed throughout the coaching period, but the practitioner’s purpose remained constant (to support the client’s learning and well-being etc through a stressful period). The practitioner found that a helpful distinction and realisation.

The practitioner being supervised found that it was helpful to articulate the links between the three Ps, both to validate the work done, and to gain new insights.

We have also found that, when discussing more generic supervision issues, for the benefit of both the supervisors and practitioners involved, it provides a very rich framework for developing and sharing different perspectives on the topic under discussion; it helps us move away from our tendency to think in practical terms and to focus on the ‘why’ as well; it also affirms a lot of our usual practice, by demonstrating the links between what we do and our purpose and underlying beliefs; and also helps us to expand all three levels: better philosophy, richer purposes, and more options for processes.

Overall, then, we have found the Three Ps to be a very useful, simple, and powerful structure for both for supervision, and for broader explorations in the context of learning.

Definitely one to add to our toolkit!


With thanks to Alex Block and Mark Fletcher-Brown for sharing their photos on Unsplash


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