As coaching has become more mainstream as a means of developing managers throughout organisations, rather than being the preserve of the aspiring high achievers, so too have many firms begun to deploy internal coaches rather than relying on external providers. Sooner or later, questions begin to emerge about the nature of supervision for these staff coaches.

While the skills of an internal coach are not necessarily that different from those of external ones, the context in which they are operating means that there are many differences between the two. Power dynamics; performance pressures; the consequences of good and poor performance; the scope for boundaries to change; depth of internal knowledge;… these will all be different, and there will be many more subtle complexities that differ.

How does this translate into the work of the coaching supervisor?

In a comprehensive review of the scant literature on the supervision of internal coaches, Wingrove, Lai, Palmer, and Williams (2020), identify a range of benefits that coaching supervision offers the internal coach. While many are consistent with external coaches (a desire to learn new techniques and approaches, and a deepening of reflective practice), there are subtle differences (internal coaches are often concerned to benchmark their performance with others, for example).

Because of the complexity of relationships within the internal system, the supervisor is often imbued with greater power than they might expect in an external context. Trust in them is slower to develop, and their credentials may be relied upon more heavily.

Within an organisation, common pressures mean that coaches appear to be more likely to compromise their supervision if something more urgent arises.

The authors make quite a leap to suggest that this all means that supervisors of internal coaches should emphasise “self-determination theory” (SDT) as the framework for their work with individuals and groups of internal coaches.

SDT is a theory based on empricial work by Deci and Ryan in 1985. You may be more familiar with the popularised version by Dan Pink, “Drive” (2009), in which he describes three consistent strands of human motivation – Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. SDT refers to these as autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Personally, those three are never far from the surface in almost all my supervision efforts, regardless of whether the coach is internal or external, so I agree that it is a useful model to consider.

The authors go on to explore what each of these threads represents in a supervisory context.

Wingrove, A., Lai, Y.-L., Palmer, S., & Williams, S. (2020). Self-determination theory: A theoretical framework for group supervision with internal coaches. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 18(2), 183–196.