By Eve Turner and Peter Hawkins
Coaching supervision is a relatively new phenomenon, arriving later than supervision in many of the other people professions and even new in relation to the short history of coaching itself. However, the past nine years have seen an exponential growth in the field.
This growth includes: the number and percentage of coaches regularly having supervision; the development of supervision training in many parts of the world, most prominently in the UK, but also in Sweden, France, Singapore, Australia and North America; and numerous books and articles (eg, Hawkins and Smith, 2006, 2013; Hawkins, 2006; Hay, 2007; Hawkins, 2010; Bachkirova et al, 2011; de Haan, 2012; Murdoch & Arnold, 2013, Moral and Lamy, 2015). More recently, several international coaching bodies have developed accreditations for coach supervisors (APECS, AC, EMCC), and the EMCC has also developed an accreditation for coach supervision training programmes.
Research on coaching supervision has been slower to develop, with just a small number of local and limited studies. The first research was in 2006, when Peter Hawkins and Gil Schwenk of Bath Consultancy Group, were commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) to research the current state of coaching supervision (Hawkins and Schwenk, 2006). So eight years on, in 2014, we thought it was time to update the 2006 research and see what had changed.
We used the opportunity afforded by a major research project to study “multi-stakeholder contracting in coaching” that we were undertaking, supported by the large coaching professional organisations.
The research was carried out in 2014 and data collection involved coaches, clients and organisations that employ coaches answering questions on an internet-based questionnaire designed specifically for this purpose. Invitations to take part and links were sent out through the AC, EMCC and ICF, as well as a number of key companies employing coaches, Coaching at Work magazine and personal contacts.
In 2006, the findings from the CIPD research, involving 528 responses from coaches and coach supervisors, and 125 responses from organisations employing coaches either externally or internally, was that coaching supervision was just beginning and was widely advocated, BUT poorly or rarely carried out:
- 88 per cent of organisers of coaching and 86 per cent of coaches believed that coaches should have regular ongoing supervision of their coaching
- Only 44 per cent of coaches were receiving regular ongoing supervision and only 23 per cent of organisations provide regular ongoing coaching supervision
- 58 per cent of the coaches who were receiving supervision had started within the previous two years.
From the data gathered, Hawkins and Schwenk produced a working definition of coach supervision:
“A structured formal process for coaches, with the help of a coaching supervisor, to attend to improving the quality of their coaching, grow their coaching capacity and support themselves and their practice. Supervision should also be a source of organisational learning.”
The research also involved four focus groups in various parts of the UK and six best practice case studies on organisations that were embracing supervision as part of their coaching provision. From this work Hawkins and Schwenk developed a Wheel of Best Practice. They discovered that no organisations were currently carrying out all segments of the wheel, but every segment could be found in one or more of the organisations.
The 2014 findings
The research section on supervision in the 2014 research by Eve Turner and Peter Hawkins demonstrated that much had moved on since 2006, and produced significant findings in a number of key areas.
- A very large increase in the percentage of coaches who receive supervision, but with significant geographical differences
There is a considerable increase in the number of respondents saying that they receive supervision compared to the 2006 percentages. Given that the majority of respondents in 2006 were UK-based, we can see a massive increase in the UK from 44 per cent to 92 per cent in the number of UK coaches having supervision.
We can also note that supervision has spread widely across different regions of the world, and although North America has the lowest number of coaches reporting having supervision, it is still slightly ahead of where the UK was in 2006.
- The reasons coaches value supervision
Where coaches did have supervision the top two reasons given came from a positive intrinsic motivation. However, there were some differences in these responses across varying geographical areas.
- The reasons why a minority of coaches do not have supervision
The minority of coaches who said they did not receive supervision had contrasting reasons to the 2006 findings, where a number of coaches (17 per cent) cited lack of coach supervisors as a major reason, while nearly 42 per cent did not have supervision because it was not a requirement.
Although only a small minority were not receiving supervision, their reasons suggest that a significant number of coaches think they can get adequate support from peers and their own reflective practice.
- Frequency of coaching supervision
There is a wide spread in the frequency coaches say they have supervision, ranging from at least once a month to twice a year, the most common answers being every other month (24 per cent), or every three months (27 per cent). This suggests a lesser frequency of supervision than was recommended as best practice by Hawkins and Schwenk (2006) of one hour to every 35 hours of coaching.
- How much people pay for coaching supervision
When it came to paying for supervision, the largest group (one third of respondents) used a peer arrangement so there was no cost; the second largest group were those who paid between £100 and £199 per one-hour session (€120-240 or US$165-328 based on the stated exchange rate for January 2014).
If we compare this to the research on how much executive and business coaches charge their clients (Sherpa Coaching’s annual survey), it seems most coaches pay less for their supervision than they charge their own clients.
This is a challenge going forward. If the price were in line with coaching fees, fewer coaches might avail themselves of it, but if it stays well beneath coaching fees, many senior coaches may be put off allocating time to providing supervision rather than focusing solely on coaching provision.
- The expectation of organisations that employ coaches, concerning supervision
Since 2006, there has been a significant increase in the number of organisations that employ external coaches expecting them to have supervision. Two-thirds of the organisations that responded expected coaches they hired to have supervision and most of those asked prospective coaches about their supervision.
However, far fewer said they would only use coaches who had supervision and fewer still said they asked prospective coaches about a time when they had taken an issue to supervision and how that had transformed what they subsequently did in their coaching. This was a recommendation in the 2006 report.
- Clients’ awareness of supervision
Although the response from coaching clients was disappointingly low, significantly, nearly half of the coaching clients responding (48.28 per cent), did not know whether their coaches had supervision (14 out of 29); the remainder knowing their coaches did. Further research could clarify whether clients did not know because coaches aren’t mentioning their supervision or because they weren’t having it.
- Exploration of multi-stakeholder contracting in supervision
The main survey was focused on multi-stakeholder contracting. The vast majority of coaches (87.8 per cent; 454) who took part in the survey had experience of contracting in coaching involving a third party beyond the coach and client. The overall result is similar in organisations where, again, the majority (81.3 per cent; 26) of those responding said that a line manager, HR, L&D or a coaching manager had been involved in such meetings.
We therefore asked respondents whether or not they had taken issues to supervision concerning multi-stakeholder contracting. The majority of those answering had addressed such issues in their supervision. The numbers are significant enough to suggest that multi-stakeholder contracting is something that should be addressed in the training of coach supervisors as well as coaches.
In both examining the data that emerged from this survey and in presenting it at the Fifth International Conference of Coaching Supervision at Oxford Brookes University, July 2015, we explored which suggestions were triggered by the research for both coaches and supervisors and trialled these with the 32 experienced supervisors who attended.
Suggestions that emerged were:
- Start each supervision relationship by asking: “Who is our supervision in service of?” This question helps bring the many stakeholders that need to be attended to into the contract and into the supervision focus.
- Ask your supervisees how they inform their clients about their supervision, particularly in relation to confidentiality. It ensures this important boundary is attended to.
- When a coach brings a client issue into supervision, the supervisor should ask which stakeholders have a stake in the coaching. This simple question raises the awareness of both supervisor and supervisee to the wider systems.
- Have methods for addressing stakeholder perspectives, eg, picture sculpts, physical sculpts (in groups or with objects), inviting the coach to occupy multiple chairs representing different stakeholders or constellations.
Fully exploring multi-stakeholder practice involves stepping into the shoes of different stakeholders and seeing presenting issues from multiple perspectives. Systemic constellations and Psychodrama approaches can help explore the systemic dynamics between stakeholders (Hawkins and Presswell 2014).
This research has shown that in the last eight to nine years there has been a significant growth in coaching supervision. This pattern varies geographically, being strongest in the UK, followed by Europe and Australasia, and weakest in North America.
Those who go to supervision seem to value it most for how it supports their practice and their continuing personal and professional development. There is a great variety in supervision arrangements, supervision frequency and the amount individuals pay for their supervision.
Clearly, coaching supervision is growing in its significance as part of the coaching profession, but there is still a long way to go to in clarifying and establishing best practice, developing coach supervision training and researching this important practice.
- The authors received no funding nor payment for their research, but gratefully acknowledge the support of the AC, EMCC and the ICF in supporting the research, both by giving it their endorsements and encouraging their members to complete the questionnaire.They also acknowledge the support of Coaching at Work magazine and organisations in the private and public sectors, researcher and analyst Dr Daria Tkacz, and Dr Dawn Lyon who gave feedback.
- Eve Turner is an accredited master executive coach and coach supervisor. She won the prestigious 2015 EMCC Coach of the Year Award, and is current co-winner of the Best Research article for ‘Chain Reaction’ in the 2015 Coaching at Work Awards.
- Peter Hawkins is professor of leadership at Henley Business School, joint founder and emeritus chair of Bath Consultancy Group and a leading consultant, coach, writer and researcher in leadership, culture change, executive coaching and coaching supervision, team and board development.