From our research amongst a group of qualified coaches we arrived at two questions:
- How can we continue our mission to form and transform both coaches and their and our organizational and individual clients?
- What might fit-for-purpose supervision look like now?
PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE DEVELOPMENT
The overwhelming sense that we got from the conversations we had is that we need to connect supervision to the transformational purpose and nature of coaching and mentoring, and to reframe it more holistically as Professional Practice Development. As an organization, TheOCM is well used to developing candidates on our courses to coach and mentor others, and to providing the mix of normative, formative and restorative support that they need. We are excited about the modular approach we offer to developing coach-mentors already, enabling them to transition from one level of accredited course to the next. We consistently emphasise the development and success of whole organisations in our approach to coaching and to training coaches. We are also committed to and experienced in working flexibly and creatively to develop supervision capacity within organisations so that we can ‘do ourselves out of a job’. And individually we take our own supervision seriously as coaches and mentors. How do we provide an appropriate level of support and challenge to coaches, mentors and others as they develop, across their very different contexts?
As we worked on this, the image that came to mind was that of a tenement building with a number of floors which might represent the different levels, types, contexts or amounts of coaching. And on the outside, linking these floors, we visualized a staircase – much like the iconic fire escape stairs in parts of New York. Coaches live in different ‘rooms’ of coaching within the building – perhaps a room of occasional internal coaching, or a room of independent practice, or a room of heading up a pool of internal coaches. All these and many other different rooms are held in the building. These rooms are closer to one another than they are to the outside world – coaches and mentors naturally rub shoulders with one another, and gain a degree of support from one another.
The supervision and development offering is represented by the external staircase. First, supervision is always positioned deliberately ‘outside’ the context to some extent, so that the supervisor or supervision group can reflect with a degree of distance on the coaching issue or need being discussed. Second, the view from each ‘floor’ is different, and we recognize that coaches and mentors need a different balance of CPD, support, challenge, organisational and systemic thinking and so on at different stages of their development and in their varying contexts. Third, the staircase links the floors: it’s one part of the supervisor’s role to enable the coach-mentor to move between those different levels, and to connect the different rooms together, to stretch and challenge coaches to, as it were, fill more of the building as they develop. Fourth: the staircase provides safety – a way out in the unlikely event that the building catches fire, a space to address a crisis. Fifth: being outside, the staircase is positioned so that the supervisor can interact with the wider world, and bring new ideas and fresh thinking to the developing coach.
At TheOCM, then, we see supervision as a connector, and the supervisor – whether working in a one-to-one relationship or as the facilitator of a supervision group – as one who essentially ‘lives’ on the staircase, closely connected to the coaching building but breathing in the air and the new ideas of the outside world, preserving and embodying that sense of distance and analysis, comfortable working in a variety of ways to meet the needs of the ‘resident coaches’, able to connect them to one another more creatively and to take them to different floors on the building as needed; and providing a safe space for reflection and an ’emergency exit’ to cope with crises.
What might this mean, in practice, for what we offer as an organization, and the supervision skills we aim to develop in the supervisors we have the privilege of training?
First, and most importantly, it leads us to reject the concept of one-size-fits–all ‘pure’ supervision. This may sound controversial, but the most fundamental question that coaches need to be asking themselves may not be ‘am I in supervision?’ but ‘am I growing intentionally (including ethically) as a coach?’ We would expect that in almost all cases this will mean that the coach or mentor is receiving some sort of supervision as traditionally understood; but it shifts the balance from ticking a box to committing to development, growth, good practice and better results for their coachees.
Second, and as a result, we see TheOCM’s supervision offering to coaches and organisations as essentially delivering continued formation and transformation. Supervision is not best viewed as a ‘thing in itself’ but a key element in coaches and mentors taking seriously their professional and ethical commitment to development and the highest possible quality delivery. If the coach’s key question is ‘am I growing as a coach?’, our key question as an organisation should be ‘are we effectively enabling and supporting the growth of coaches?’
Third, alongside the development of the individual coach-mentor, we see a crucial need to focus on organizational learning – for the formation and transformation of the organisations which employ external coaches as well as for those who are developing their internal coaching capacity and culture. Stepping out of the building onto the connective staircase can provide a sense of perspective from which to ask questions about the way a whole organisation is learning and developing. This might enable organisations to address issues such as the development (or stalling) of a coaching initiative, the return from its investment in coaching, the performance quality of coaches and mentors and their own engagement with (or disconnection from) the organisation.
Coaches and mentors and those who work with them as ‘supervisors’ are uniquely positioned to identify these patterns and shifts in culture and learning, and the supervision offering always inherently has the potential to enable reflection and change in this area as it invites coaches and mentors to step out of the building as well, and to identify patterns of behaviour and culture which may need addressing if the organisation is to thrive. There can be powerful learning for the leaders of an organisation here not only about the unacknowledged or unaddressed norms and culture within the organisation, but the impact and effect on a range of external stakeholders in the organisation, from shareholders to customers or suppliers.
This leads us to developing a suite of ‘professional practice development’ packages for individuals and organisations, rather than a ‘supervision offering’. Supervision in its traditional one-to-one or group forms will often, perhaps almost always, be part of this in some form, but we recognize that the balance may be different for different coaches in different rooms of the building we imagined earlier. Some will require more CPD events, day courses, conferences, and chances to mix with the other coaches in the building; some will require a balance which is perhaps more akin to the ‘traditional’ model of supervision. The flexibility and responsiveness built into TheOCM’s DNA will enable us to work out and co-design the best solution with our clients, whether they are individuals or organisations.
In developing these packages, we have been concerned to balance the time and cost factors which can inhibit coaches and mentors from committing to supervision, with the huge added value of supervision. We are committed to the view that reflection and development should be an essential part of coach-mentoring practice as a matter of integrity (how can we really expect the people we work with to reflect if we are not doing so ourselves?), and we are seeking to ensure that no-one has any real excuse not to access this in some way, and to draw all independent and organisational coaches and mentors into a pattern of practice which prioritises their development and growth, and gives scope for their development to shift and change as their practice does.
This approach may also lead us to think differently about some of the emphases in the ways we train supervisors: a training that may position supervisors more firmly on that external staircase, connecting to the outside world rather than living within the coach building as a kind of ‘super-coach’; able to adopt different approaches and solutions as coaches and organizational leaders bring their questions, issues, demands, vulnerabilities and successes into the light of day. It may also enable us to think in new ways about what a ‘good supervisor’ actually looks like, and to find new ways to make supervision itself subject to the implicit and explicit ‘quality control’ that already characterizes coach assessment.
It will also enable more creative thinking about how not only coaches but formally trained mentors (and perhaps others working more broadly in people development) might continue to develop and to harvest organizational learning. As an organization, TheOCM offers a mix of opportunities which can be accessed by a developing and changing community from within the ‘coaching house’.
So wherever you ‘live’ in the coaching house, we want to help you continue to develop from input, reflection, learning and, where appropriate, formal supervision – coaches learning from and with mentors, training and development providers, organizational development consultants, and qualified supervisors to serve their coachees and mentees, their organisations and the world.