How to make the most of your coaching supervision sessions.
Photo by Robert Zunikoff
What supervision set-up suits you best? Here are some practical ways to make sure you get the most out of your regular coaching supervision sessions.
Being prepared and setting mutual expectations
Every coach is different, and every effective coaching supervisor understands how important it is to get the practical side of things right from the start. Setting up the right context for yourself and preparing well pays enormous dividends, enhancing the quality of your sessions. It also saves time because you get to the point so much faster, therefore also access the learning more directly. And clear mutual expectations are essential. The way you set up your supervision sessions, the contract you negotiate and how you agree to prepare for them all help you pin down everyone’s expectations and successfully manage them. It starts everyone off on the best footing.
Choosing the right supervisor in the first place…
It goes without saying that picking a great supervisor is crucial, whatever the context or mix of supervision types you set up. Click here to read about choosing the best coaching supervisor.
Individual, group or peer supervision?
It makes sense from the start, to decide whether you want individual, group or peer supervision. Maybe, given the number of clients you are coaching, a combination approach might be useful.
The advantages and downsides of group supervision
Group supervision lets others apply themselves to the topic, offering a different dynamic -thanks to the group process. If the supervision session is run well, it generates a pool of new ideas and creative opportunities for learning. Coaches benefit enormously from these mutual interactions and spark off each other, learning by experience as well as by observation. The supervisor facilitates this group process and uses it to enhance personal and organisational insights.
The downside of group supervision is that, depending upon the size of the supervision group, not everyone always gets the chance to talk in depth. Coaches may not necessarily receive an equal opportunity thanks to a lack of time or air space. The privileged few end the session having had their supervision needs met, but the rest are sometimes left unsatisfied.
If there isn’t a feeling of safety amongst the participants, the coach might not share what’s really going on. This is particularly true if the supervision group members don’t know each other and haven’t yet built up trust and a strong rapport.
Provided there are firm confidentiality boundaries, in-house group supervision for internal supervisors can be a great benefit because everyone is well-tuned into the context. They understand the organisational pressures and which coaching approach works best for the company’s culture. They discuss their work using unique company language and can access internal support networks.
However, this can also be a disadvantage, as things like internal politics, power dynamics, harsh judgments and the fear of leakage can also hamper real honesty. The information shared is sometimes tempered or diluted to avoid repercussions, especially if there are ethical dilemmas at stake. And there may also be a leaning towards ‘group think’ and not being able to see the wood for all the cultural trees the group are lost in. The supervisor does need to be experienced and primed to look out for these kind of areas for the session to go well.
The ups and downs of one-on-one supervision
As long as you know your supervisor will challenge you to be the best you can be, one-on-one supervision gives you the opportunity to explore your work in depth and spend time reflecting on multiple aspects of your role. It’s often easier to be honest and share what is going on with a supervisor who is independent from work, who has no hidden agendas or vested interests.
The downside is the flip side of this upside… you don’t have access to the sheer diversity of minds and practices that group supervision delivers. If you have the same supervisor for several years the process can become jaded. If you feel the need for a fresh approach you might consider changing supervisors to bring back that rich insight and rigorous thinking you enjoyed at the start of the relationship. Alternatively, maybe it’s time to add in some form of group supervision, something that draws upon broader perspectives and different viewpoints.
The ins and outs of peer supervision
Peer supervision is an interesting and valuable way of receiving supervision, providing real learning. It’s often set up on a one-on-one or group basis and is usually a slightly different contractual arrangement where people exchange time, not money. It can be an economical alternative to building supervision into your practice because, as well as allowing experienced professionals to develop, people also raise their game thanks to mutual interaction.
For it to work, however, coaches must take extra care to set up the peer contract and formally agree the way of working. Those involved need to work shoulder to shoulder, supporting and genuinely challenging each other – right at the sharp edge of their learning. The peer element means there’s usually strong mutual respect for each others’ professionalism. Because strong role boundaries are essential, it’s important to stick strictly to the roles of supervisor and supervisee, with the changeover happening in a clear way.
The downside to peer supervision is that if the supervisor and supervisee roles are not respected, the supervisory process usually lacks focus and can easily go awry. If the power dynamic moves out of kilter and the key roles are not upheld, one person either tends to assume an overall leadership stance or slips into a habitual mentoring role. Whether the peer supervisor session takes place in a partnership context or a group, because the individuals concerned usually know and like each other, at it’s worst the meeting can transform into a relaxed discussion or simply a time to banter and catch up.
Why location matters
Would you feel comfortable having sessions on your work premises or would you prefer it to take place somewhere completely different? Even if you’re an in-house coach required to stay in the building, it’s worth finding the best, most confidential and conducive space possible. Environments are important because they either enhance group discussions or distract people, which means the thinking and interactions are not such good quality.
If you want individual coaching supervision, would you be happy with a phone call or Skype meeting or is face to face the best way? If it’s Skype or a phone meeting, make sure you find that confidential space and speedy, reliable internet access. Don’t log on and talk in a busy area at the office or in a noisy coffee shop. You and your supervisor both deserve better than that when holding such important conversations.
Preparing for supervision – getting the most out of your session
Whatever the supervision context, you will need to prepare for the session and plan how you present your client work. This reflective time is an investment, so organise yourself well and prepare to reap the benefits.
The first steps in coaching supervision are to be clear about what you want, understand what you need, and communicate this clearly to your supervisor, both in the first introductory meeting and in subsequent sessions.
In the initial exploratory meeting, explain how you tend to learn most effectively, what your motivational drivers are, and the headlines of your career and coaching background to date. This fast tracks the supervisor into what makes you tick, your backstory and learning style, informing them as to how to work creatively and effectively with you.
3 tips to prepare for coaching supervision
It isn’t just about rocking up! Here are our three tips:
- Our first tip is to do the groundwork beforehand, so you know exactly what you want to talk about in the session. Doing the work before the work means carefully thinking through the main themes you’re concerned with, being totally honest with yourself, and making enough space for real reflection. Come into the meeting with some bullet points either written down or firmly at the forefront of your mind. If you’d prefer to email these to your supervisor ahead of the session, you will need to discuss it with them first and make sure they get them in good time.
- Our second tip is to take full ownership of the supervision process. This isn’t business as usual. It’s your time. Ask for what you need, take notes if it helps, and know for sure that it’s all about you. Be prepared to talk and see what emerges. Expect and welcome new awareness and insight. Be prepared to push hard in search of practical ways to apply those insights.
- Our third tip is to be courageous and constructively question yourself. Rattle your assumptions. Keep a growth mindset, take a risk and keep reflecting. Reflect before, during and after your supervision meeting. Be open to discussing your mistakes and don’t shun the learning involved. Even if you find your supervision sessions challenging, fully embrace the process. Growth might sometimes be painful but, perhaps because of your struggles, it will be rewarding. Ultimately, supervision is there to encourage you and to build your coaching capabilities so that you can become even more effective at what you do.
Want to talk coaching supervision with experienced experts?
If you would like to discuss your supervision needs and set up regular professional supervision, we will be pleased to hear from you. Contact us.