Supervision as coach pair

Two coaches working together with a client team need also to be a team. Indeed, they need to role model good teaming behaviour. It’s now increasingly common for pairs of team coaches to seek supervision together, especially if they have not coached as a pair before.

The range of issues they bring to supervision is wide and includes:

  • Contracting issues: Who “owns” the client? Who takes the lead and when?
  • Differences in approach and method: For example, one coach may be a fan of MBTI, while the other is deeply sceptical. (If they both have views, it can be easier to achieve a compromise. However, when one is unfamiliar with diagnostic or approach, they may defer to the other. Only when they realise what is involved and have tangible concerns, does significant friction occur.)
  • Default modes. Under stress, what are their respective comfort zones?
  • Often unconsciously, the coaches start to act out the dysfunctional dynamics of the team.
  • One of the most common issues is that one coach believes they are carrying an unfair proportion of all the background work outside of the coaching sessions.

Pairs supervision requires at least as much preparation and reflection as individual or group supervision – and arguably, a lot more. First, each coach should review the recent team coaching experiences individually. Key questions here include:

  • What do I think I/we did well and less well?
  • Where do I feel lost, confused or anxious about the client?
  • Where do I feel lost, confused or anxious about the relationship with my co-coach?
  • What learning on my part would be helpful for me? For our team coach pair? For the client(s)?
  • What am I curious about?

Next, the two team coaches share their reflections and agree the priority items to explore with the supervisor. Disagreement about the priorities is itself and issue that can usefully be delved into! It can be helpful to establish the routine of focusing on one issue relating to the client system and one relating to coaches’ system. Of course, there is often overlap between these, but that may only become clear in the process of supervision.

Useful questions to consider in preparing for pairs supervision include:

  • What are the systems in play here and how aware of them are the team and its leader?
  • What learning needs to happen in the client team, in the client system and in our team of two?
  • Where is our collective capability as team coaches being stretched?
  • What authentic conversations are we finding it difficult to have between ourselves?

In the context of the last question above, the role of a supervisor does not include “marriage guidance counsellor”, nor mediator – any more than the team coach might play those roles with a client team. It’s about helping the coaches achieve greater clarity about the multiple systems, so that they can make better decisions – which might include moving on to a different pairing.

The three components of supervision are formative, normative and restorative. Looking at each in turn:

  • Formative. The team coach typically needs a vastly larger toolkit and knowledge base than a coach working with individuals. No matter how extensive their experience, he or she is in a personal evolution of ever-expanding awareness of systems. Supervision provides an opportunity to solidify experiential learning, recognise new patterns and plan future development, both as individual coaches and as a team coach pair.
  • Normative. The ethics of coaching individuals has only in recent years been the subject of extensive exploration. Team coaching ethics are much further behind. Supervisors provide a practical source of ethical guidance. However, this poses an ethical dilemma in itself, in that very few supervisors yet have appropriate qualifications in team dynamic and organisational systems. So, a team coach pair going together to a supervisor, who does not have this expertise, may be colluding with potentially unethical supervision practice!
  • Restorative. Team coaching is cognitively challenging. Coach pairs have a responsibility not only for their own well-being, but that of their colleague. “How do we better look after each other?” is a common topic for supervision.

The bottom line? Supervision as a coach pair requires a lot more thought and preparation, but can deliver deeper learning and improvement in coaching practice than either individual or group supervision. It’s not necessarily an alternative to either of these – it may best be considered as an extra layer of personal growth as a coach.

© David Clutterbuck 2023




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