I recently attended the Oxford Brookes Coaching Supervision Conference and one of the sessions presented by Katherine Long of the OCM outlined the findings behind the design and pilot of an internal supervision programme. Katherine asked us at the start of the session for our views on whether supervision can be carried out by internal supervisors within the organisation. Responses were interesting with a few raised eyebrows but the gist of it for me was ‘it depends’.
In exploring this theme some great questions were asked:
- What is ‘good enough’ supervision in this context?
- Who is the main client of supervision in this context?
- How can internal supervision balance responsibility for the quality of coaching delivered whilst offering a safe space for coaches to explore their practice?
- What barriers and enablers are there to offering effective supervision internally?
I believe these are all useful questions for any supervisor to reflect on. If I were to take a ‘purist’ view of coaching supervision then I may well expect that only external supervision will provide quality of supervision necessary. However, my own sense of this is that there is a place for both external and internal supervision and it would be naïve of us to assume that only external supervision can provide the rigour and objectivity needed to support internal coaches.
It is also a challenging market in which we operate, organisations are striving ever harder to minimise expenditure and keep costs down and whilst I don’t believe that is an excuse to compromise on professionalism, I do believe we need to find ways of supporting organisations to get the supervision they require in a cost effective way. I have been fortunate to work within an organisation providing supervision to around 20 coaches and the success of the intervention I believe was largely down to flexibility of approach and encouraging peer support in coaching as well as external supervision.
Katherine Long’s research had highlighted ‘the wide range of supervision practice taking place within organisations, from no supervision of coaches, to line managers with little or no coaching experience taking on that role…’ That too has been my own experience when engaging with organisations, some offer external supervision, others peer supervision and many offer no supervision at all, leaving it to the individual coaches to decide whether to take this route. One way then of engaging organisations is to help them to raise the standard of peer support or lead coach support as it is sometimes described so that quality and contextualised supervision is available.
Working with organisations to raise awareness of the value of supervision and to support both internal and external approach to supervision seems to be a useful way forward. What was good to hear from Katherine Long was the decision to reframe the questions asked as follows:
- What supervisory activities can / should internal coaches take responsibility for?
- How do the these activities need to connect to internal pools of coaches, other CPD and development, coaching strategy, HR, opportunities to share organisation learning / themes to board…..
- Where can external supervisors add most value?
In this way we are clearly defining the role of the internal supervisor in the context of the broader system in which supervision takes place and there are many ways of developing the skills and self-awareness for the coach, of which supervisions is one.
Whilst the thought of coach supervision being carried out by internal supervisors may raise some eyebrows I would encourage flexibility of thinking from the supervision community supported by a rigorous debate on both the benefits and pitfalls of this approach.
Katherine Long can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Brause CSA Accredited Coach Supervisor