Effective supervision in a variety of settings
The context for effective supervision: Culture
Organisational culture is widely written about in business theory and refers to the behaviours and values that exist in an organisation. In any group of people, these will be defined largely by how the organisation is led. The aspiration of most organisations will be to be the best they can be for most of the time. The culture of an organisation is critical in setting the tone, values and behaviours that are expected.
A culture of good supervision will have a positive impact on an organisation’s performance, supporting staff to practise well and encouraging them to be the best they can. It provides an information conduit (an audit trail) about things that are going well and things that might need attention. Most importantly, it creates a link between the strategic management of an organisation and the people using the services being offered – the success of which provides a key measure of service quality.
Supervision is acknowledged to be beneficial not only for the manager offering supervision and the worker receiving it but for the organisation in which they both work. The culture of an organisation will have a major influence on the performance and quality of supervision, yet too often there may be little attention paid to the way in which organisational culture promotes or hinders the delivery of supervision. Linking the delivery of effective supervision to the culture of the organisation establishes clearly that good supervision practice is not only the responsibility of front-line managers but needs to be modelled at all levels across the organisation. All managers at every level need to be held to account for the quality of the supervision they deliver and supervisees at all levels should expect to be asked about their experience of supervision.
Part of the process of developing a culture and climate will relate to the practical support given to the supervision process. For example, it is important to ensure that supervision is not hurried or the environment disruptive. Planning and preparation will also contribute to effective supervision. Cultures which are most likely to be effective in supporting good supervision practice are therefore those which give clear messages about the priority that should be given to the process, give time for preparation and do not tolerate unnecessary interruptions or frequent cancellations. Most social care and social work environments are busy. While the supervision process cannot be separate from that busy-ness, in order to support best practice it needs to avoid feeding into reactive practice and instead provide a reflective space where decisions can be properly thought through. The reality is that there will be circumstances in social work and social care where urgent interruptions are unavoidable, but they should not become the norm as this will undermine the whole supervisory process.
Supervision is part of the work process and is therefore not static for the participants or the organisation. For example, at an individual level there will be a feedback loop between supervision and appraisal systems, with information from supervision feeding into performance development plans, as well as these plans influencing the ongoing focus of supervision. At an organisational level, supervision discussions can provide vital feedback for the organisation about workload pressures, practice developments, training needs and the general health of the system. An organisational culture which values this dynamic interplay and supervision as a rich source of information will be one which understands the need to sustain a culture which prepares people to receive and gain the best from supervision. Positive organisation cultures will ensure that anyone required to offer supervision to others is trained for the task and that everyone in the organisation is supervised by a named person. Additional professional or clinical supervision may be needed where supervisors are not from the same profession as their supervisees, but this does not detract from the fact that a positive supervisory relationship linked to the core functions and accountabilities of the organisation is a significant aspect of supervision within social care environments.
Organisations give an important message about the importance of supervision when people joining an organisation are introduced to the supervision system as part of their induction. Professional workers will have experienced supervision as part of their training, but social care workers may join the service from a completely different work environment. They should see it from then on as part of their responsibility to seek out and make an active contribution to their supervision and not be put off or deflected by other work pressures.
When thinking about these issues you may wish to consider the following:
- Do you have adequate private and confidential space where supervision can take place?
- Is the environment conducive to good work in terms of size, furnishings, temperature and light?
- What is your work culture in respect of permission to interrupt private conversations or meetings?
- Do senior managers model good supervision practice in their supervision of supervisors?
- Is there a clear supervision policy?
- Are there clear expectations regarding the standard of supervision and is the quality of supervision something that is regularly monitored?
- Is the interface clear between your supervision policy and other relevant polices such as performance appraisal?
- Is there a feedback loop into the organisation for any significant issues that arise from the supervision process?