Creating the Container for Reflective Practice in Virtual Small Group Coaching Supervision
Downing, K. (n.d.). Creating the Container for Reflective Practice in Virtual Small Group Supervision.
I am a coaching supervisor based in North America. My primary practice is supervising virtual small
groups of executive coaches. Coaching supervision is a developing practice; there is little research in
the field of individual coach supervision, and almost none in the context of small group supervision.
My overall purposes were to influence the adoption of coaching supervision within North American,
where supervision is only beginning to be utilized; to make contributions to the practice of small
group coaching supervision by elucidating what actually happened in the groups; and to contribute
to addressing the gap in research-based literature. Over the 18 months of research with the North
American based supervision groups, the aims of this project were addressed through two inquiries:
What are the qualities and conditions that create enough safety in the supervision relationships
within a group to enable self-disclosure, reflection and learning? How are these qualities and
conditions designed and brought forth?
This thesis opens the doors and windows to the virtual rooms in which small supervision groups
convened, adding to the collective knowledge about the artful craft and challenges of supervising;
the development of the supervisory relationships; the groups’ processes and learning over a year;
and the complexities that were present in virtual small group work. Five supervision groups,
consisting of 21 coaches and 4 supervisors, participated over 18 months. I was the practitionerresearcher
and supervisor for two groups, and for the first time in coaching supervision research1, a
full year of recordings of the actual supervision sessions were collected as field texts. The study was
further enriched by the collection of the coaches’ monthly journal entries and three action learning
meetings that addressed the overall process of the supervision engagement and three groups,
supervised by colleagues, which participated in monthly journaling and focus groups about their
The research makes two contributions to the knowledge of practice. The first is the effectiveness of
virtual small group supervision—when a supervisor and coaches come together virtually in a small
group, they learn and develop in their own unique ways, personally and professionally, through
integration of inquiry, reflection and action. The second is a number of practitioner accounts which
enables practitioners to contrast and compare with how they engage in their work. These stories are
instrumental in inviting coaches with little or no supervision experience to consider how they might
utilize supervision in small groups to deepen their reflective practices. This is the invitation to North
American coaches. More experienced practitioners are able to engage in multi-dimensional
conversations to explore and enrich the practice of small group supervision.
The contributions to theory are to the understanding of the dimensions of the supervisory relationship
within the small group context, as the primacy of the supervisory relationships in the group setting
were identified. The supervisory relationships included the individual relationships among the group
members and the supervisor: the supervisor with each individual coach, the supervisor with the group
as a whole, and the coaches with each other. This research contributes to the knowledge of the
qualities required for the creation and stewardship of a safe and trusted container with a small group
engaged in reflective practice. Key findings include the articulation of the process for the supervision
engagement, a model of the elements the supervisor is holding, a model of reflective practice and
learning opportunities, and a model of the overall supervision session.
1 I have been unable to locate any coaching supervision research that utilized the recordings of the actual
supervision sessions over an extended time period.