Shining a light on internal coaching supervision

Shining a light on internal coaching supervision

one to one session

20 October 2023

Jeremy Gomm recently co-hosted a ground-breaking EMCC UK podcast series on internal coaching supervision. In this article, Jeremy reflects on some of his key takeaways from the podcast’s rich conversations with six different experts on this comparatively under-explored area of professional practice.

The EMCC UK podcast series on internal coaching supervision hosted by Katharine St John-Brooks and me generated a host of interesting insights into a generally dimly lit area of our profession. As Katharine and I begin the process of recording a second series, to be aired in 2024, here are some of my personal reflections from series one.

We were joined each episode by a different special guest who shared their experiences of internal coaching supervision. Between them they covered a wide range of topics, including different models for supervising internal coaches – with inhouse supervisors, who are employees of the organisation, or external supervisors who come in from outside the organisation to work with internal coaches. Our guests also talked about the value of external supervision for inhouse coach supervisors.

We explored different definitions of coaching supervision, about the quality assurance contribution supervision can offer to an internal coaching function, and the important role supervision plays in supporting the wellbeing of the internal coach.

We had some great conversations about why it can be important to continue working with a supervisor even when an internal coach might not be doing much coaching, and whether or not supervision should be mandatory for internal coaches.

Our guests confirmed that internal coaching supervision is most often delivered in groups. For some organisations, it is the only supervision offered. At one time, EMCC disregarded group supervision on the basis that only 1-to-1 supervision was truly supervision. How refreshing to hear one of our guests, Louise Miller, enthusiastically advocating group supervision because of the power of the group learning process. Like Louise, I also find a variety of supervision experiences beneficial – group, 1-to-1 and peer. There is much value in all of them.

Ethical dilemmas in both internal coaching and internal supervision came up in many of our conversations. This led to rich discussions about the importance of good contracting in internal coaching and also the challenge of noticing organisational dynamics when you are part of a system. In reflecting on this podcast series, the issue of ethical dilemmas was one of three overarching themes about internal coaching supervision that gave me much food for thought.

Ethical dilemmas

This theme reminded me how challenging at times it can be to be an inhouse coach supervisor. I grew up with a whole variety of wise axioms, one of which was, ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. This is never truer than for an inhouse supervisor, when they find themselves conflicted by their knowledge of and opinions about people in their organisation who unexpectedly arrive as the subject of a supervisee’s ethical dilemma.

For example, what if you know and have a positive connection with a colleague who has apparently been bullying the client of a coach, who has come to you for guidance on how best to respond? What if you are supervising a coach whose behaviour has become the subject of a complaint from another coach? What if your knowledge of the organisation means you are aware that the narrative a coach is bringing is not accurate, although the coach believes differently for apparently good reason?

Situations similar to these were among those shared with us, along with some questions: ‘How do I unknow things? How do I put my prejudices aside and find the balance between what I know and what I share?’

In trying to maintain a distance and independence from the subject, an internal supervisor might say, ‘I don’t need to be part of their story.’ By the same token, the supervisor has responsibilities to the profession (what is the ‘right’ thing to do to support the coach?), and to the organisation (what is the ’correct’ thing to do to support the system?). Not surprisingly, such dilemmas then form part of the supervisor’s own supervision.

Illuminating organisational themes

A second overarching theme is the valuable role of supervision of internal coaches in illuminating wider organisational themes.

Coaching has a lot to offer organisations, and internal coaching in particular, not just in the value it provides to the coachees, but the insights coaches can bring to the organisation itself.  Harvesting that can be a valuable aspect of the internal supervision process, whether for the wider learning or in identifying key themes for the ongoing CPD of the coaches themselves.

One of our podcast guests, Darren Whysall, was particularly animated about it: ‘If you want an organisation of diversity, of inclusion and of equity, listen to the coaches. What have they got to say? They’re working with people on the front line, on the second line... the themes they identify can be fed into the organisation without breaking confidentiality. They can help shape the organisational culture.

Darren’s coaching team were encouraged to pass on such themes to appropriate stakeholders, though he recognised that with better process this could be made even more valuable for the organisation. One of our guests said that to get the message across of themes picked up in supervision ‘you have to be a broken record’, whereas another had a governance process which harnessed and took action on such feedback. There are lessons to be learned here about how best to be the voice of the coachees.

Improving diversity and inclusion

A third theme concerns how we need to continue to improve diversity and inclusion in our profession.  One of our podcast guests noted that there was too little diversity among coaches or coachees in organisations she was familiar with. She had experienced being the only person of colour at a coaching conference, and reckoned that coaching in organisations had traditionally focused on senior executives, among whom diversity was scarce. She also recognised that, perhaps partly because of this, there was sometimes suspicion about coaching by people from under-represented groups.

This raises some important questions as much for the profession as a whole as for her and other organisations. What is it about us as coaches or coaching that some people find off-putting or difficult to engage with? Where are these systemic barriers and how do we address them?

Recording a podcast series was a great learning opportunity for me. I confess I am not the most tech savvy, so listening to digital coaching pioneer Sam Isaacson was as enlightening as it was scary. Sam encouraged us as supervisors to keep up to date with technology that impacted coaching, so that we could keep pace with the coaches who were making good use of it, or who might need support to use it better in their practice.

It reminded me how little I know about the digital options available, and how they can help me in my role as a supervisor. I rashly challenged myself to try to keep up with the younger generation of coaches – I wonder how I’ll get on. I hope you will tune into series two when it appears early next year – and I’ll let you know.

Listen to the series epsiodes

You can find all six episodes in series one of Jeremy and Katharine’s internal coaching supervision podcast here:

Image by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash