Coaching: How to make supervision work for your organisation

First published on in Dec 2017.

Coaching can add tremendous value to employees’ learning and performance. Being in charge of coaching in your organisation is a rewarding but challenging role. Getting it right depends on ensuring that your coaches have the support that they need to add that value. It also provides a way to facilitate alignment to organisational objectives and to gain and maintain momentum in the coaching and its impact.

Jo Searle is a Coach Supervisor based in Johannesburg. “Supervision is a reflective practice for coaches so that they can be the best coach for the benefit of their clients.” she explains. “It also provides a learning space for coaches.”

Jo runs supervision groups for coaches, as well as supervision training, and she has seen how coaches sometimes can “get stuck” with clients and the organisation. “When you’re doing business coaching, the danger of getting caught in the system is huge – even more so when you’re an internal coach.” She explains that it is difficult to see the culture of an organisation if you’re part of it, and that makes it tricky to question limiting assumptions. “Coaches are sometimes tempted to side with the client against the system, and that makes them less effective,” she says. “Supervision allows for the coaches to identify their blind spots and discuss these in a safe environment so that they can serve their clients better. Often they also have limited to access to the kind of good contextual information about the strategic objectives of the organisation that is essential to good service delivery. Supervision can also enhance this access to the organisational system.”

Good supervision covers three areas: Support for the coach as a person, supporting their learning and supporting them as a professional. This model, initially developed by Alfred Kadushin, has its beginnings in a social work context, and the application is equally valuable for organisational development. “During supervision, the coach gets the opportunity to question their own assumptions and beliefs like needing to “fix” problems, or getting emotionally stuck with a client. Coaching is a learning space for our clients, and as coaches, we also commit to life-long learning. The nature of the job exposes coaches to ethical dilemmas, which can be difficult to work through. For internal coaches this can put them in a conflicting situation – supervision provides a safe space for discussing these issues.”

Jo believes that most coaching training does not cater for adequate understanding of supervision. “Teaching coaches to coach in isolation – that is, not taking the system into account – is a recipe for disaster. If coaches don’t recognise the impact of the business culture, it is easy to get caught up in it without recognising it. A systemic focus is necessary for coaching to be effective in organisations. Supervision is well positioned to help coaches identify these.” The training that Jo attended in the UK made supervision part and parcel of coaching practice. In fact, she had to attend supervision for 6 months before starting to work with clients. That provided her with invaluable learning about how the coaching relationship works and prepared her for the sometimes lonely world of coaching.

Jo advises the following criteria to ensure that supervision adds value to your organisation:

Source external supervision for internal coaches: internal supervision is by definition “part of the system”, which does not create a safe space for coaches to be vulnerable about what they struggle with. It is also less effective because of the inherent difficulties of questioning the culture and the unwritten rules of the organisation. At the same time, internal knowledge of how supervision can be best used is valuable as part of the strategic application of coaching to meet organisational goals.

If you use external coaches, ensure that they have a supervision relationship. In this way they can add the most value to you, their client. Also try and develop opportunities for supervisors, who are working in your organisational system, to have access to information and experiences of how your organisation works.

Jo Searle is a registered Psychotherapist (UK), a Master Practitioner with COMENSA and a Master Coach with the Institute of Management Consultants and Master Coaches (IMCSA). She has more than 20 years’ experience in coaching.