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

supervision processes.

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.