Coaching supervision has existed since at least 2006 as a distinct practice.  Since then, there has been a continual rise in the number of coaches engaging in supervision globally.

Curiosity about coaching supervision is rising among many in the coaching community. We frequently meet coaches, those who lead internal coaching practices, and those who buy coaching for their organization who are seeking more information about:

  • what coaching supervision is (and is not)
  • how it works
  • in what ways supervision is different from other forms of CPD
  • the value of supervision and how it can benefit your practice

This article is the first in a series of pieces where we’ll share information about supervision based on our experience, the theory, and evidence-base from research.

What is Coaching Supervision? 

Coaching supervision traces its origins to the practice of supervision in counseling, psychotherapy, and social work. From these origins, it is generally accepted today that coaching supervision has three main functions:

  1. ensuring the quality of coaching, upholding professional and ethical standards (referred to in the literature as the Normative or Qualitative function)
  2. facilitating the personal and professional development of the coach’s skills, capacities, and capabilities (the Formative or Developmental function)
  3. providing the coach with the support for the emotional labor of coaching (the Restorative or Resourcing function)

At CEC, we view supervision as a dialogue where coaches reflect on issues, questions, cases, or coaching experiences from a personal, professional, and systemic perspective. For us, supervision is also a forum for sharing the latest thinking, practice, and cutting edge research.

How does supervision work?

There are three main formats for supervision: individual or group supervision with a qualified Coach Supervisor, or peer supervision.

Individual Supervision

Individual supervision involves one coach working with one supervisor over a sustained period of time (months or years). They typically meet regularly to reflect together on the coach’s practice. This reflection is designed to:

  • develop insight into patterns in the coach’s approach to coaching
  • address difficult issues in the coaching engagement
  • formulate effective responses to those issues
  • assist the coach in developing and maintaining professional practice, so that the interests of the client, coach, and the coaching industry are served

Over time, the focused nature of individual supervision is useful for working on insights that emerge as patterns across multiple cases or aspects of the coach’s practice that the coach and the supervisor explore. The relationship a coach develops with their supervisor is often a catalyst for deep personal reflection and transformational learning.

In later articles, we will address key questions for coaches considering individual supervision, such as: how to select a supervisor and how to get the most from your coaching supervision.

Group / Team

Group Supervision uses an experienced supervisor to act as a guide and resource to the group. Group Supervision typically involves a mix of peer-to-peer dialogue and supervisor guided reflection.

Compared to individual supervision, Group supervision provides the coach with multiple perspectives on an issue and the opportunity to learn from issues brought by other coaches. Coaches participating in group supervision also learn about group dynamics and learn how to effectively contribute as a member of a supervisory group.  Each group develops its own unique dynamic and may utilize different supervision methodologies.  Group supervision can be a good way for a coach to experience a range of different supervisory approaches.

Group supervision differs from Peer Supervision in that it has expert guidance from a qualified Supervisor. A qualified Supervisor enhances the group’s learning through direct observation and expert instruction coupled with peer dialogue.

There does not appear to be a consensus on frequency or duration of sessions – a selection of published studies shows a range:

  • Group meeting monthly for 1.5 hours (Armstrong and Geddes, 2009)
  • Group meeting quarterly for half a day (Butwell, 2006)
  • Groups that meet for 1.5 – 2 hours, every 4 – 6 weeks or quarterly (Lawrence, 2019).

In practice, without any evidence to support a particular cadence, logistics and cost tend to determine the frequency and duration of supervision sessions.  Our own experience is typically 1.5 or 2-hour sessions held monthly.

Peer Supervision

Peer supervision is held in pairs, trios, or larger groups. Peer supervision can be more convenient to set-up than finding a supervision group or individual supervisor and it has the advantage of (usually) involving no financial cost. Peers can find it easy to understand each other’s cases and challenges, especially if they are within the same organization or community of practice. Peers typically choose to work with each other based on respect for each other and a prior relationship that facilitates trust and rapport.

Many coaches are experienced in peer-coaching from their coach training and therefore may see it as a simple step to peer-supervision. However, whereas peer-coaching is focused on the development of skills and performance, supervision goes beyond this and requires the peers to have knowledge and capabilities that are additional to that of a coach.

For all its advantages, peer supervision also comes with some drawbacks that must be carefully managed, such as: ensuring the peers have supervisory knowledge and skills; the potential for unintentional collusion if the peers lack diversity of approach and theoretical perspectives; the dynamics of the peer-relationship that exists outside of supervision that may affect the supervisory dialogue; a need a self-regulate the process and structure used in the supervision sessions as there is no clear leader.

How is supervision different from other forms CPD?

The findings from our own study and those of other researchers have shown that confusion exists about supervision, partly due to the use of the word which carries connotations of oversight, control, and authority.

Among coaches who have not previously experienced supervision, it may be hard to differentiate between supervision and coach-mentoring, co-coaching, or ongoing accreditation in a particular model or tool. All of these have an element of evaluating the quality of the coach’s work and developing their skills and capabilities.  However, supervision adds to this with the emotional resourcing function and a broader developmental aim. In our view, the developmental aspect of supervision has the purpose of helping the coach to see more than they can currently see, in themselves, in others, and in the systems in which they operate.

Who engages in supervision?

Participation in supervision varies by region – two studies from 2006 and 2017 show it to be highest in the UK and lowest in North America, but increasing everywhere.

The professional coaching bodies may play a role in influencing coaches’ and organizations’ decision making about supervision.  At the time of writing, the professional coaching bodies have different views on supervision:

  • Association for Coaching specify a ratio of 1 hour of supervision for every 15 hours of coaching at Foundation and Coach levels, 1:30 at Professional level and 1:40 at Master level.
  • EMCC require 1 hour of supervision per quarter for Foundation and Practitioner level, and 1 hour per 35 hours of coaching for Senior Practitioner and Master level.
  • ICF does not require supervision for certification. Once accredited, a coach may submit up to 10 hours of Coaching Supervision (delivering or receiving) as Core Competency Continuing Coach Education (CCE) units toward their credential renewal.
  • APECS requires evidence of, and commitment to, continuing personal professional development including supervision.

While meeting the requirements of a professional body may initially motivate a coach to engage with supervision, there is evidence that suggests that once a coach has experienced supervision they see its value and are likely to continue with it for more intrinsically motivating reasons.

Find out more….

This article is the first in a series in which we aim to share information with the coaching community in service of raising awareness and understanding of supervision.  In our next article, we will illustrate the value, benefits, and impact of supervision.

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To find out more about our approach to coaching supervision visit our website.





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