Thornton Consulting

Please publish only with the author’s permission.  If you use these materials in other ways in your work, please credit to Christine Thornton @

This is an extract from Group and team Coaching, 2016, published by Routledge and reproduced by permission.

When we are unsure what on earth was going on in our work, or leave a session with a frustration or discomfort we did not have at the start, supervision can help.  Why?  Because we are icebergs. 

iceberg public domain 2 



All people are icebergs: only a small percentage of each of us is visible at any given moment.  In supervision we look at how, through reflection, we bring what was previously ‘below the waterline’ (unconscious) into the light of day.  Understanding how a client’s own complex drivers interact with our own enables us to work with greater freedom, resulting in greater choice of action –  in ourselves first, and then in the client.


Supervision groups offer the practitioner multiple relationships with a wealth of opportunities to undertake this reflection work. While their primary purpose is to help the members with their client work, they can scarcely do this without also contributing to their development as reflective professionals.  Supervision groups can offer coaches and other practitioners an in depth opportunity to reflect on their work with people, whether with individuals and in groups.  They are particularly valuable in supervising group and team coaching, because the group’s dynamics can more fully mirror the dynamics in the work. For maximum effectiveness, a group like this requires a supervisor with training and experience in working with unconscious group dynamics. 


In a supervision group, each member has the experience of being supervised, and of supervising as a member of the group, with the capacity of the supervisor to understand augmented by the capacities of all the members, who participate in both ways. The supervisor also has a triple role, nurturing the individual members, and the group’s capacity to work effectively, while attending to the work presented. The fluidity of role makes supervision groups more effective than individual supervision at developing confidence and independence alongside competence.  On the next page is an example:



Vignette: Reflection process 1


Josh presented a client’s great perplexity about how to proceed. The client is founder CEO of  manufacturing in Asia will reduce profitability steadily over the next five years, and he is faced with a dilemma: move manufacturing to a less expensive environment, which will not ensure growth, and will result in over 1000 redundancies locally, or risk persisting with local production in the hope that further innovation will retain the company’s market-leading position.

Josh explains the contradictions faced by the client, gets confused and contradicts himself, all the while speaking faster and faster. The group feel confused and powerless, and at the same time greatly burdened with a need to help.

The supervisor asks how what is happening here and now in the group relates to what Josh is presenting, which helps the group members express their helplessness and bewilderment. Some discover that their feelings reflect Josh’s feelings of being paralysed by the scale of the decision, and unable to help his client, which in turn reflect the client’s feelings about his responsibilities to his staff.

One member expresses irritation at Josh’s apparent panic. He replies that he felt angry with himself. Another, an entrepreneur with business failures as well as successes in her past, is attuned to the magnitude of the stakes – ‘playing God with people’s lives’. She sees how this had paralysed Josh as it paralysed the client, and in turn paralysed the supervision group. Once the feelings of impotence and the fear of power had been explored, Josh was able to re-establish the reflective relationship with his client.


This is a relatively simple example of how the reflection process – sometimes called parallel process – works in a supervision group. The client’s feelings that paralyse him are communicated unconsciously to the coach, who then communicates them to the group, including the supervisor. Words are only a small part of the communication: tone, pace and gesture communicate the emotional content of the dilemma (see ‘Communication’ in Chapter 3). Different members of the group held different parts of the puzzle, according to their own predilections and experiences.




footer bar