Supervising team coaches

12 Jun

Coaches’ attitudes towards supervision vary widely, not least in reflection of what they see as the point or purpose of supervision. One position is that supervision is about helping new coaches embed and expand the competences they have learned in their initial training – after which it becomes an optional cost. The opposite position is that supervision is about supporting coaches throughout their careers, as they take on more complex and demanding assignments. It’s not surprising that the most mature, most capable coaches we observe in assessment centres regard coaching as an integral and essential part of their continued development – not a cost, but an opportunity.

The issue of supervising team coaches is now firmly on the agenda of researchers and some of the more forward-thinking professional bodies. Across the world, coaches trained in one-to-one interventions have morphed into team coaches, often with little or no additional or special training for the role. In my workshops and interviews with these coaches, I frequently find that “team coaches”:

  • Do not distinguish between coaching individual members of the same team and coaching the team collectively
  • Have little appreciation of the complexity of team dynamics
  • Often inadvertently create dependency in a way they would not dream of doing in one-to-one situations
  • Confuse sorting out a specific team issue (which may be more aligned to consultancy or facilitation) with enabling the team to develop its capacity to grow (i.e. to self-coach).

The need for specialist team coach supervision is evident. However, there are relatively few coach supervisors, who have the relevant experience and/or qualifications to work in this more complex environment. (I am making the assumption here that a supervisor should by and large have a deep knowledge of the relevant discipline.) So we have a real and present potential that the quality of team coaching may not be sufficient to address the needs of team coaches.

We also don’t have a clear theory or substantial body of knowledge about what good team coach supervision looks like. (Not surprising, really, given that the literature on team coaching itself isn’t very extensive – yet.) A good starting point is therefore to build upon and extend existing approaches within one-to-one supervision.

Peter Hawkins’ seven-eyed model is arguably the best-known model of coaching supervision, at least in Europe and the non-US world. It offers a multi-dimensional view of the coaching assignment and relationships – including the relationship between the coach and the supervisor – that supports both depth and breadth in the supervisory dialogue.

The broad approach can also be used to supervise team coaches. However, because team coaching is significantly more complex and demanding than one-to-one coaching, supervising team coaching involves at least three additional perspectives (or “eyes”). Moreover, each of the original perspectives may have additional facets, which may need to be taken into account.

The table below shows an adaptation of Hawkins’ model, with these three dimensions added (in red), along with some comments on factors that the team coach supervisor may need to take into account.

The “eye” Some team coaching issues
1) The client system Each member of the team may have his or her own agenda, which may or may not be revealed to other members. The team leader, in particular, may be under pressures from above, which they do not want to burden the team with. So there are multiple individual client systems to take into account. Whereas in one to one coaching, the coach can gain insights into the client system by virtue of the intimacy of the conversation and the relationship, it is much more difficult (and time consuming) to do so in a team context.
1a) The team’s internal systems Team performance depends to a significant extent on how the members interact. Communication processes, task processes and relationships all have an impact. Informal systems and processes may be more important than formal.
2) The intervention Within a one-to-one conversation, the potential to notice what is happening with the client is relatively high. In team coaching, an intervention may “land” with some team members and not with others. The coach will focus mainly on the collective dynamics and may only notice individual reactions by their impact on the group, or when a member withdraws from the conversation. Balancing attentiveness to the team and to the individuals within it is therefore a core skill for a team coach.

Contracting – important in all coaching – becomes critical in team coaching, particularly in terms of:

·      establishing expectations (for example, do the team and the leader share the same expectations and hopes for team coaching?)

·      re-contracting – reacting to what is happening in the team to make immediate readjustments to what is happening

·      ensuring that the team retains responsibility for everything (including internal conflict in the moment)

3) The relationship between the team and the coach In one-to-one coaching, clients often place the blame for problems on their boss, or on colleagues. In a team coaching context, process failures (or process successes, where the team is forced to see itself in a way it does not want to confront) often result in the team directing the blame towards the coach. For example, rather than face up to internal conflict, the team may use the coach as a convenient scapegoat. Inexperienced team coaches can feel overwhelmed by this; more experienced ones know how to use this to help the team explore its internal dynamics.
3a) The relationship between individual team members and the coach There are multiple, often contradictory relationships between individual team members and the team coach. Managing issues, such as confidentiality, can be problematic.
3b) The relationship between the leader and the coach Having a special relationship with the team leader can undermine the team coaching process; yet it’s important to have their support.
4) The team coach’s processes In the relatively comfort of a one-to-one conversation, many coaches still have some level of performance anxiety. In the presence of a team, this can be multiplied many times over.

It’s also more difficult for a team coach to reflect during the coaching conversation. In the pauses in one-to-one coaching, the coach has time to consider, with only part of their attention directed to observing the client. In team coaching, the coach has many more people to observe. This is ne of the reasons why team coaching is typically so tiring and why supervision also tends to address issues of personal resilience.

5) The relationship between the supervisor and the team coach In this “eye”, there is little to distinguish between one-to-one and team coaching. The basic functions of normative, formative and restorative seem to be pretty much the same.
6) The supervisor’s processes Supervision involves, at least to some extent, a sense of “being in the room” with the coach as they describe their intervention. In a team coaching context, there is typically so much going on in the session that the coach is recalling, that it can be much harder for the supervisor to sense what is going on. The issue is compounded by the fact that team coaching sessions are typically longer than one-to-one sessions.
7) The wider context In team coaching, the wider context is often wider. Issues of overlapping systems, corporate culture and – especially for senior leadership teams – societal impact may all be present. We are frequently dealing with a level of complexity that the human mind is not equipped to deal with. The supervisor helps the coach help the team to clarify issues at the micro and macro levels, but the systems in between are often too complex and too dynamic to comprehend. Supervision in team coaching is often about assisting the coach in coming to terms with not knowing and not being able to exercise control – as is also, of course, the case for the team, although the members may find this difficult to endorse.

The analysis in this table is a first pass at collating experiences from team coaches and a limited number of team coach supervisors. In creating it, I have become even more conscious of how much more research and analysis is needed. The good news is that the structure of the seven (or ten!) eyes remains relevant and practical.

 

© David Clutterbuck, 2015

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