Strategic Supervision: A Brief Guide for Managing Social Service Organizations


Peter J. Pecora, David Cherin, Emily Bruce & Trinidad de Jesus Arguello

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    Many supervision books offer general constructs that are important for conceptualizing supervision but do not include the more practical strategies and tools necessary for day-to-day supervision practice. This handbook is designed to help close those gaps by giving supervisors critical concepts, strategies, and tools that can be readily applied to providing leadership and supervision to work teams of staff members in social service agencies.

    In Chapter 1 we outline the primary factors associated with organizational excellence. This outline provides a foundation on which to discuss the aspects and roles of supervision, as well as how quality supervision is essential for organizational effectiveness. It is also important for supervisors to understand that in social services, they function within larger organization and community environments. These organizational cultures shape both supervisory functioning and the structure of organizational components. Supervisors need to know how to use their knowledge of culture to both mediate between the organizational culture and the workgroup, and they need to know how to facilitate the culture of the workgroup to enable it to sustain effectiveness. Thus, Chapter 2 focuses on aspects of organizational culture and structure.

    In Chapter 3, we examine value-based principles and specific laws guiding personnel management such as Affirmative Action (AA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These laws provide a foundation for the current implementation of many policies and procedures in social services organizations. In Chapter 4, we outline core supervisory competencies and task-based job descriptions required for employee recruitment; and in Chapter 5, we focus on strategies for staff selection.

    We present an overview of the processes involved in managing project teams and other types of workgroups in Chapter 6. Integrated in these models of supervision is a focus on tasks, processes, and relationships, which are used to frame supervisory functions and roles. Together with group types, skills, and the knowledge necessary to understand and facilitate these groups, supervisors are armed with critical tools and strategies to function effectively in a team learning environment. Closely related but rarely taught are strategies for leading effective staff meetings. This material is presented in Appendix E.

    In Chapter 7, we focus on designing and conducting performance appraisals, outlining methods for effective feedback, and responding to employee behavior. The final chapter moves from the discussion of providing effective feedback to addressing the concern about the behaviors of employees that detract from the goals of the organization, specifically identifying practical strategies for handling employee performance problems.

    Taken comprehensively, this handbook will provide the new supervisor in a social services organization with a primer regarding the types of knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for effective supervisory practice. For those who have been supervising for some time, this book offers a concise compendium of checklists and tools that can be used selectively, as needed.


    This book was inspired by the students we have been fortunate to work with over the past years. Their questions inspired us to respond with practical content for them and the many social services staff members who are promoted to a supervisory position without much specialized training. We would like to thank the following reviewers: Geoffrey G. Yager, University of Cincinnati; Gary L. Shaffer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Patrick O. Chambers, Western Washington University; G. H. Grandbois, Creighton University; Candyce S. Russell, Kansas State University; D. Maria Elena Puig, Colorado State University; and Armand Lauffer, University of Michigan (Emeritus). The comments made by these expert reviewers helped shape and improve the book in significant ways. We also thank Delia Armendariz, Lisa Richesson, and Sarah Montgomery for contributing key editorial reviews and other administrative support. Finally, we thank our families for their support of our efforts in terms of the many nights and weekends that were required to complete this handbook.

  • Appendix A: Brief History of Social Work Supervision Concepts

    As the 21st century has begun, the efforts to understand the role of those who provide supervision of staff in social services organizations continue to evolve. Historically, social work supervision has drawn on the practice traditions that emerged from the beginning of the social work profession. And although the current concepts regarding supervision rest on a foundation that was established in the early 20th century (Richmond, 1917; Robinson, 1936), new understanding about supervision shapes new considerations in the social work supervisory role. However, knowing how supervision has developed over time can provide us with perspective as the role changes and grows.

    In Social Diagnosis, Mary Richmond (1917) offered specific direction regarding providing social services as well as specific direction regarding training and monitoring of staff. In addition to Richmond's foundational work, one of the first periodic and systematic reviews of social work practice issues was the annual social work yearbook. The 1929 annual, the first yearbook produced, was published in 1930. This charter yearbook was the first edition of what was to become the Encyclopedia of Social Work (National Association of Social Workers, 1965). Interestingly enough, in this initial edition, although there was mention of the supervisory function in the management of public welfare agencies, there was no other discussion of first-line supervision. The issues of supervision came into and out of sharp focus beginning with Social Diagnosis and culminating in 1965, when supervision, as an area of practice, is first mentioned in the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work. In addition to Social Diagnosis and the Annual Social Work Yearbook, Supervision in Social Casework: A Problem in Professional Education (Robinson, 1936) was one of the first textbooks specifically about social work supervision.

    The following themes regarding social work supervision are threaded through editions of the Encyclopedia of Social Work after 1965: (a) administrative control (Burns, 1965; Miller, 1971); (b) training and education (Burns, 1965; Miller, 1971); (c) therapeutic support (Miller, 1971); (d) professional independence (Burns, 1965; Miller, 1971; Tsui, 1997a); and (5) accountability for limited resources (Miller, 1987; Tsui, 1997a). Although several noted authors elaborated on these themes over time, the following is summary of the initial summaries found in the Encyclopedia of Social Work.

    The first historical theme of administrative control can be viewed from three different perspectives: (a) monitoring worker behavior related to assessing client needs and coordinating services; (b) protecting clients as a responsibility of both the worker and the supervisor; and (c) tutoring the novice worker and student (Miller, 1971, 1977, 1987).

    The second historical theme of training and education emerged somewhat in tandem with the administrative aspects of supervision (Burns, 1965; Miller, 1971; Tsui, 1997b). Educational supervision gained considerable attention in the late 1920s and early 1930s as theory and skills training became increasingly colocated in both agency and university education programs (Burns, 1965). For example, the following educational concepts began to appear in social work supervision in the 1960s: (a) staff learn in different ways; (b) new information should be shared in relationship to the learner's readiness; (c) new information should build on the understanding of previously shared material; (d) logical thinking is essential for effective practice; (e) a learner's positive identification with the material being shared is an effective factor in facilitating learning; and (f) fostering self-awareness is essential (Burns, 1965). University-based education helped to legitimize the educational function of supervision.

    The third historical theme in social work supervision involved the provision of therapeutic support to workers (Miller, 1971). Influenced in the 1920s and 1930s by Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the concepts of therapeutic support evolved into the notions of “parallel process” whereby a worker's ability to understand and support the client is similar to the supervisor's ability to understand and support the worker. Other themes related to therapeutic support included the confidentiality in the supervisory session (Tsui, 1997b) and promoting the development of self-awareness in the supervisory session (Miller, 1997). Specifically, the notion was developed that supervision of social work practice should mirror the requirements in practice of maintaining confidentiality as exhibited in therapeutic counseling sessions. Self-awareness and self-understanding were perceived as important as preconditions for understanding and helping others, particularly in relation to supervisor–worker and worker–client conflicts (Miller, 1977). In addition, the supervisor's role in facilitating a worker's ability to handle stressful work situations was introduced by reducing barriers to achieving goals, poor work conditions, incompatible demands, and ambiguous expectations caused, in part, by a lack of effective work habits (Munson, 1993).

    The fourth historical theme in social work supervision emerged in the 1950s as a reaction, in part, to the psychoanalytic aspects of supervision, which could violate the individual rights of supervisees (Tsui, 1997b). There was a new call for professional independence in response to the perceived increase in worker dependency and the inappropriate “caseworking of the caseworker” by the supervisor (Tsui, 1997b). Experienced practitioners began to question the need for ongoing supervision that seemed to restrict their professional independence and inhibit their professional growth, development, or creativity (Burns, 1965; Miller, 1971, 1977, 1987). Autonomous practice was perceived as the hallmark of professional practice after a specified number of years under supervision (Tsui, 1997b).

    The fifth theme emerged in the period of 1970 to 1990 in the form of increased demand for accountability for limited financial resources (Miller, 1987; Tsui, 1997b). This requirement has led to increased monitoring of staff using quantitative measures of service delivery in both public and in private social services agencies. It is in this era of accountability (1970s–1990s) that many textbooks regarding supervision in social and human services agencies began to be published. Currently, the expectations regarding accountability have not changed, but the expectations have continued to evolve so that supervisors currently are expected to manage administrative and clinical productivity using computerized information systems.

    Current themes in social work supervision, however, place expectations on supervisors to create environments that are centered on knowledge exchanges, continuous quality improvement, and continuous staff refinement of skills as more evidence-based intervention methods are developed. The working environments of today involve the exchange of information within and between workgroups, and in learning action environments. These processes have to be understood and guided by supervisors. Recent supervisorial material represented in Austin and Hopkins (2004) discussed the supervisor's theoretical role as conduit and facilitator for learning processes. Where information and knowledge are perceived as work products and the sharing of information is perceived as a vital method to deliver services for consumers.

    As a way of laying a broad conceptual foundation for understanding social work supervision, Tsui (2005) believes this aspect of management has a critical set of components:

    • Philosophy and Principles
      • Interpersonal transactions
      • Use of authority, exchange of information, and expression of feelings
      • A reflection of personal and professional values
      • Administrative functions such as monitoring job performance; educational functions such as imparting knowledge and skills, providing emotional support, and dealing with power issues
      • Helping the organization achieve long-term and short-term objectives
    • Supervisor Relationships, Which Means Involvement of Four Parties:
      • Agency, supervisor, staff, and the client in a certain context
    • Supervisory Process, Which Involves the Interactions Among All the Parties Listed Above and Dyads of Subsets of Each of Them
    • Culture as a Context for Supervision

    Tsui builds on some of the authors cited earlier, who in large handbooks have explored these supervisory functions and specific specialty topics. Such topics have included designing and sustaining organizational teams, effective group decision making, and employee dismissal procedures (Edwards & Yankey, 2006; Edwards, Yankey, & Altpeter, 1998). In addition, critical emerging issues include managing for service outcomes, motivating work performance, assessing social psychological perspectives regarding workforce diversity and supervision, and training for staff and volunteers (Patti, 2008).

    Burns, N.E. (1965). Supervision in social work (pp. 785–791). In H. L.Lurie (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social work (
    15th ed.
    ). New York: National Association of Social Workers.
    Edwards, R. L., & Yankey, J. A. (Eds.). (2006). Effectively managing nonprofit organizations. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.
    Edwards, R. L., Yankey, J. A., & Altpeter, M. A. (Eds.). (1998). Skills for effective management of nonprofit organizations. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.
    Miller, I. (1971). Supervision in social work. In Encyclopedia of social work (Vol. 2,
    16th ed.
    , pp. 1544–1551). New York: National Association of Social Workers.
    Miller, I. (1977). Supervision in social work. In Encyclopedia of social work (Vol. 2,
    17th ed.
    , pp. 1494–1501). Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.
    Miller, I. (1987). Supervision in social work. In Encyclopedia of social work (Vol. 2,
    18th ed.
    , pp. 748–756). Silver Springs, MD: National Association of Social Workers.
    Munson, C.E. (1993). Clinical social work supervision (
    2nd ed.
    ) New York: Haworth Press.
    National Association of Social Workers. (1965). Encyclopedia of social work. Washington, DC: Author.
    Patti, R.J. (2008). Handbook of human services management (
    2nd ed.
    ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Richmond, M. (1917). Social diagnosis. New York: Sage.
    Robinson, V.P. (1936). Supervision in social case work, a problem in professional education. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
    Tsui, M.S. (1997a). Empirical research on social work supervision: The state of the art, 1970–1995. Journal of Social Services Research, 23(2), 39–51.
    Tsui, M.S. (1997b). The roots of social work supervision: An historical review. Clinical Supervisor, 15, 191–198.
    Tsui, M.S. (2005). Social work supervision: Contexts and concepts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Appendix B: Answers to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Exercise (for Chapter 3)

    Note: These answers must be viewed with some caution as Equal Employment Opportunity regulations are periodically revised and local court cases may have implications for employment practices in your agency.

    1.TOn application forms, this information is separated before the application is screened.
    2.TYes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may broaden its investigation.
    3.FThe person has to be convicted and the crime has to be job related.
    4.FThis is generally a decision between a woman and her medical doctor except if the woman is ignoring her doctor's orders. In corrections and other fields, if there is a possibility of physical assault, then the employer can require a leave of absence.
    5.FEmployer could reinstate her in a comparable job.
    6.TBut the employer is required to make a good faith effort to adjust the employee's schedule before refusing to hire or terminating.
    7.TProvided that the employment test is objective, valid, and job related.
    8.FAge discrimination is illegal.
    9.TThe issue is conviction—not merely arrest. And it depends on the job—if the conviction is not job related or if you hired other convicted persons, you may be violating Equal Employment Opportunity policy.
    10.FGenerally hair length is not enforceable. But it depends on the job because a hair net may be required, especially in restaurants and institutional food service. In addition, a police department was upheld in a recent Supreme Court case for mandating short hairstyles because of special circumstances such as a safety factor.
    11.TBut it applies only in certain cases because it has to be job related (e.g., to work at certain bank jobs, you have to be bonded with the bonding company, which is contingent upon a good credit rating).
    12.FNot owning a car does not mean without transportation—except it may be required possibly in areas without mass transportation where the job requires a personal mode of transportation.
    13.FBecause an educational degree is not necessary for the job.
    14.TPossibly, but only if to work in a liquor store or some other position where the age requirement is clearly related.
    15.TBut this policy is controversial and varies according to the way it is asked. Use questions such as the following: Are you a citizen (yes or no)? If not, do you have a visa? Do you have a green card? This is a difficult situation as sometimes the personnel department performs a visa/green card check prior to the interview process, but the interviewer does not have this information.
    16.TBut how the question is asked is important. One appropriate method: Do you have a physical disability or mental or physical condition that would prevent you from performing this job?
    17.FThis is an illegal type of personal question.

    Appendix C: Position Description for a Mental Health Specialist II: Adult Outpatient Services

    Definition of Position

    Under the agency's policies and professional requirements, this outpatient therapist position provides direct management of assigned clients, is responsible for facilitating teamwork for adult outpatient services, engages in consulting and informational activities for the community and other professional disciplines, participates in program evaluation procedures and professional record keeping, makes referrals to other local and state facilities, coordinates mental health services with other community and state resources, engages in supervision of graduate student interns, and works under the direct supervision of the coordinator of adult outpatient services.

    Major Responsibilities and Related Tasks
    • Direct Clinical Services (40%)
      • Establishes initial date of a potential client's presenting problems, mental status, treatment history, and medical problems.
      • Provides a diagnostic to determine treatment modalities, assign priorities, provide information, and make appropriate referrals to other treatment resources in the community.
      • Implements crisis or pre-crisis intervention procedures with potentially suicidal, homicidal, or gravely disabled clients in order to prevent destabilization, enhance adaptive functioning, and move clients toward an appropriate treatment program.
      • Gathers treatment-related information with respect to client's presenting problems, mental status, as well as relevant psychiatric, medical, and developmental history, in order to make decisions regarding diagnosis, treatment objectives, and ongoing treatment plans (intake).
      • Evaluates and assesses clients with the SCL 90 and other measures, based on state and DSM III categorizations, in order to provide professional treatment planning, consultation, or referral assistance.
      • Shares information on the mental health center's philosophy, procedures, policies, and treatment modalities in order to help prospective clients, interested citizens, or ongoing clients make treatment decisions, set appropriate goals, or better understand the functions of the mental health center.
      • Interviews collateral contracts, previous and current treatment professionals, and significant others, in order to establish a data base for assessment, treatment, planning, or treatment involvement.
      • Develops therapeutic relationships with ongoing clients (involving hope, trust, empathy, compassion, congruence, teamwork, and so on) to provide an environment whereby clients can make appropriate changes.
      • Constructs a conceptual scheme of the development of client's presenting problems, maintenance of presenting problems, and consequences of presenting problems to strategize for possible therapeutic interventions.
      • Clarifies priority problems, goals for change, and session limits according to agency policy to assist clients in developing appropriate expectations for treatment in relationship to the agency.
      • Uses broad-based insight and cognitive behavioral treatment approaches and interventions in order to change targeted behaviors and stabilize adaptive behaviors with individuals, couples, and families.
      • Manages the termination process and discharge planning to enhance client's ability to retain treatment changes, use community social supports, meet with treatment professionals, and/or continue work on therapeutic change.
    • Client Information System (30%)
      • Establishes appropriate professional files (including initial brief screening assessments, intake evaluations, progress records, treatment objectives and plans, previous treatment records, client's consents for current treatment, confidentiality, release of previous records, exchange of information with other agencies, and health care providers) in order to document work efforts for the agency and state of Washington.
      • Provides necessary client information to other agencies or health care providers (psychiatrists, mental health professionals, mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, and so on), in order to coordinate services to identified clients.
      • Gathers information as available from all potential client information resources to maintain a current and comprehensive fund of client information for treatment purposes.
    • Administrative Activities (20%)
      • Participates in required staff meetings and in-service meetings to keep abreast of agency policy and administrative procedures, meet requirements for continuing education, upgrade professional knowledge, improve adult outpatient teamwork and service coordination, engage in mutual consultation, and share professional support.
      • Uses weekly direct services supervision under the direction of the coordinator of adult outpatient services in order to facilitate professional accountability in the agency.
      • Supervises graduate student interns on a weekly basis to facilitate student development of professional expertise in client relations, therapeutic interventions, teamwork (interfacing with other professionals), constructive participation in agency functions, and client information management.
      • Monitors psychotherapy literature to be abreast of helpful information for delivery of mental health services.
    • Enhance Adult Outpatient Team Functioning (10%)
      • Provides information to prospective clients or interested citizens in order to promote the program of the agency, increase community interest in mental health, refer client to other appropriate community resources, provide treatment linkages, assess mental health concerns and desires, and facilitate development of appropriate health care planning or connections with appropriate treatment resources.
      • Monitors the adult outpatient waiting list for the satellite office in order to provide for an orderly and fair client intake process in conjunction with the other satellite office.
      • Engages in appropriate teamwork functions (such as mutual support, clarification of office responsibilities and procedures, and mutual assistance) in order to provide a professional working environment and effective service delivery.
      • Develops cooperative relationships with families, physicians, public officials, and all interested agencies or individuals to interpret the mental health center services and provide for the development of mental health services in the community.
    • All Other Responsibilities as Directed by Supervisor or Executive Director

    Knowledge and Skills

    Activities are governed by a professional code of ethics and rules of confidentiality; thorough knowledge of the techniques and principles of psychological, behavioral, and social disorders; skill in dealing with the public in advocating for mentally and emotionally disturbed, developmental disabled, and drug-dependent persons; ability to develop cooperative relationships with families, physicians, agency personnel and executives, and public officials; ability to interpret mental health services; ability to prepare precise, complete records and to maintain updated client records; ability to participate in social and community planning and to carry out recommendations and directions.

    Training and Experience

    Must have at least a Master's degree in a mental health-related discipline from an accredited college or university and at least 2 years appropriate experience in the direct treatment of mentally ill clients under the supervision of a mental health professional. The appropriate mental health experience could be acquired in any of a variety of settings, for example, alcohol, drug, mental retardation, physical rehabilitation, and so forth. As such, these requirements meet the state definition of mental health professional, and this staff member can provide clinical supervision to the other staff members.

    Appendix D: Sample of Core Competencies for Working in a Human Services Agency

    • Organization and priority setting. Prioritizes, organizes, and monitors work to ensure that goals, objectives, and commitments are met.
    • Flexibility. Adapts well to changes in direction, priorities, schedule, and responsibilities.
    • Two-way communication. Clearly expresses (orally and in writing) thoughts, feelings, concepts, and directions; listens effectively to understand communications from others.
    • Teamwork. Works collaboratively and cooperatively in groups for the purpose of achieving shared objectives, consistent with the organization's mission and strategy and individual work goals.
    • Relationship building. Builds and maintains productive associations with others who share a mutual interest in and commitment to achieving Casey's strategic objectives.
    • Valuing diversity. In the course of accomplishing the job requirements and strategic objectives of the organization, is sensitive to and competent in working with people who are different from one's self.
    • Developing self and others. Recognizes and acts on the need for life-long learning and takes personal responsibility for building professional and organizational capability in self and others, which is consistent with the needs of the organization.
    • Critical thinking and Judgment. Gathers, organizes, interprets, and processes information for the purpose of making informed decisions in the course of accomplishing work objectives.
    • Technical expertise. Demonstrates both technical and organization-specific knowledge required to be proficient in one's profession or job classification (Bristow, 1999).
    Bristow, N. (1999). Using your HR systems to build organization success. Orem, UT: Targeted Learning. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from

    Appendix E: Planning, Leading, and Coaching Professional Meetings


    Many social services agencies strive to improve their program effectiveness by increasing leadership capacity. Supervisors are challenged by the need to teach and coach more workers and to collaborate with more community groups with the same or fewer amounts of resources. A fundamental supervisory skill that is often not addressed relates to where agency staff members and supervisors spend substantial amounts of time—in meetings.

    Effective organizational leadership requires paying attention to and effective management of relationships, results, and processes (Interaction Associates, 2003, 2005a). In this appendix, we address all three areas of focus within the context of professional meetings, including staff meetings, task group meetings, and problem-solving/crisis management meetings.

    Planning and leading meetings effectively takes effort—especially for those supervisors and workgroup leaders who spend the extra time necessary to plan and provide follow-up to further the work of a team or committee. This appendix is directed at those leaders who are supervising a group of staff members, running task-oriented workgroups, leading ongoing committees, or organizing special one-time events where planning and execution of the meeting effectively is important to the outcomes of the organization.

    Clarifying the Purpose of the Staff Meeting

    Many people approach staff meetings with a sense of dread or boredom. The meetings may be long, boring, tedious, intimidating, conflict-filled, ambiguous, or lack follow-up on the part of a staff member or supervisor. But these dynamics can be avoided with proper planning and execution. First, note that staff meetings have several purposes, including doing the following:

    • Establish a workgroup or organizational identity and cohesion, including confirming statuses by clarifying organizational roles of staff members
    • Distribute and coordinate work, as well as monitor work progress involved in implementing something
    • Provide information and facilitate learning
    • Study a problem
    • Make decisions (or in some cases confirm or ratify decisions that were made previously)
    • Provide a forum for promoting and managing staff change (Interaction Associates, 2005b; Prosen, 2006; Resnick, 1982)

    In addition, it may be helpful to approach staff meetings with the following principles in mind: First, an egalitarian and participatory management style is generally most effective. Second, good leaders recognize the needs of staff for autonomy, involvement, and influence. Third, the staff meeting is at the intersection of three organizational systems:

    • The agency social system interpersonal and friendship dynamics play important roles.
    • The agency service system, the set of programs services and their staff.
    • Agency administrative system, people in authority and their roles and functions (Resnick, 1982).
    Managing the Pre-Meeting Process
    Leading Meetings

    One approach to preparing for effective meetings uses a three-phase system developed by Resnick (1982). The phases are as follows: a preparatory phase, a during-meeting phase, and a post-meeting phase. Within each of these phases, some important processes are taking place. Some of these processes include problem solving, norm setting, role clarifying, message sending and receiving, as well as decision making. This model is built on the assumption that each phase of the staff meeting process is as important as any other, and that the success of one phase is linked to the effectiveness of others.


    The first question to address is strategic: “Why is this meeting necessary?” Are these issues so sensitive or confidential that they would be best handled in a small group or individually? Is there sufficient information to address the topic adequately? Are there important decisions that need to be made by convening this group of people? What outcome will be achieved by raising it before the team? Who is most crucial to involve to accomplish the work without making the meeting size too large (Brody, 1993; Prosen, 2006). Too often meetings are focused on presentations instead of on obtaining a workgroup endorsement to proceed or gain approval for an expenditure of resources. So, would a paper memo, e-mail, or one-on-one supervisory conference be a more effective and efficient way to address a need or issue?

    Supervisors may forget that meeting preparation is critical to meeting effectiveness. Proactive planning is essential, such as scheduling the meeting when it is most needed during the work cycle and choosing a time of day that is best for brainstorming or other work that needs to be done. Contentious topics might be handled at a time when staff may be more energized and able to engage in proactive discussion. Supervisors generally avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons for meetings because staff are either just becoming engaged again or are in the process of becoming disengaged from the work unit.

    Agenda Planning

    Leaders often fail to create conditions for the staff to prepare themselves. This leads to the perception that supervisors own the meeting, rather than the perception that staff and supervisors jointly own and run the staff meetings. Jointly creating the meeting agenda with staff is an important function. Some practice principles for agenda setting are as follows:

    • Solicit items from all levels of the agency so the agenda is a participatory effort.
    • Prioritize the agenda items so that sufficient time can be allotted to important items. Answering the who, what, when, why, where, and how questions may be helpful (Brody, 1993).
    • Place the more important items in the middle of the meeting, rather than toward the end. This is especially important if some people tend to come late and you want to maximize discussion of those items.

    The agenda should be viewed as tentative, with agenda items added to or modified during the first 5–10 minutes of the meeting to enhance staff feelings of ownership and to address key issues that have developed or were not thought of when the agenda was first formulated. Sometimes, agenda items can be “clustered” to improve flow and to be more efficient:

    • Informational items
    • Discussion items
    • Brainstorming ideas or options
    • Decision-making items
    • Future business and agenda-setting items

    A tentative agenda should be distributed to staff 2 to 3 days ahead of the meeting. It is also important to anticipate staff reactions to the agenda items so that the facilitator can guide the discussion accordingly. Anticipate criticisms and be ready to listen carefully with an open mind. Note that this is a crucial opportunity to hear a perspective that might not yet have been considered and, if addressed, would strengthen the recommended approach.

    Prepare the rationale for an intended direction, although some say the best meeting chair is the person who says the least. A good meeting facilitator also anticipates questions and actions that maybe taken so the appropriate resource persons are invited well in advance of the meeting and are present, and the most helpful resource materials are brought to the meeting. Furthermore, most written materials should be prepared and distributed in advance and not handed out at the meeting.

    Finally, during the pre-meeting phase, select the room and consider various seating arrangements, food, and resource materials may be needed. In addition, anticipate how staff can be brought to life in the meeting. If there are notes to be kept, a flip chart is often helpful. Consider who might engage in these and other tasks. Notify these people ahead of time that they are needed to facilitate the meeting with you. Cast a wide net of engagement; this makes for less boredom and greater meeting success.

    Managing the Meeting Phase
    Launching the Meeting

    The major activities of this phase are as follows: finalizing the agenda in the first few minutes of the meeting, approving the minutes from the last meeting, designating who will take the minutes for today, reviewing the meeting action steps from the last meeting, conducting the meeting, reviewing the meeting action steps, and assigning tasks. Well-organized meetings that begin and end on time are respectful of meeting participants and their workloads.

    One of the key aspects of the meeting is to establish some ground rules. Although new ground rules do not need to be established each time there is a meeting, develop a few basic ground rules that can be used to guide meetings. These ground rules cultivate the basic ingredients needed for a successful meeting such as how to make changes to the agenda, decision-making approaches, how new items are introduced, and how to maintain focus as the group moves from agenda item to item (McNamara, 2006).

    Note that some organizations require the use of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (Robert, 2000). There are a range of tactics to use to be effective in these more unusual situations. One strategy suggested by Sylvester (2006) included using formal motions to advance the work, employing tactics for stopping meeting bullies, and identifying ways to debate more effectively. For example, know when to use a motion to cut off debate that has gone on too long, or call for a “minority report” when the group is having difficulty coming to a reasonable agreement on a committee report. Votes by a small minority of the group can be the key to blocking someone from office, extending the time of the meeting past the scheduled adjournment, and elimination of an agenda item before it is even reached on the agenda (Sylvester, 2006, p. 40).

    Purposefully pay attention to relationships among team members, as well as be clear about the results that are necessary to be achieved, and the process that is used to accomplish those results. Prosen (2006) underscores the value of this approach:

    For meetings to be truly effective the focus must be on results rather than people. It's fine to be hard on performance—you should be when results, commitments, and objectives are at risk or go unmet. But, you don't want to be hard on people. Watch your language. Don't make it personal. Instead, focus on removing roadblocks that stand in the way of accomplishing the goal, as opposed to the individual's inability to achieve that goal. (p. 29)

    Understanding and Coping with Group Dynamics

    To lead meetings effectively, aspects of group process or dynamics must be taken into account, along with the results that need to be achieved (Resnick, 1982; Schuman, 2005). Useful practice principles for the facilitator or chairperson of the meeting are phrased as questions below:

    • Are the group's or agency's strategic objectives understood by all staff?
    • Is an atmosphere of mutual trust being encouraged? What is the degree of mutual support? Is it every person for him- or herself, or genuine concern for each other?
    • Are the abilities, knowledge, and experience of all staff members as a group being used in the meeting? Workers have different skills that often go unrecognized and unused.
    • Is communication guarded and cautious or open and authentic? Is the organizational environment one where there is pressure toward conformity, rather than being supportive and respectful of individual differences and initiative? Is the facilitator denying, suppressing, or avoiding staff conflict, or gently confronting differences to work them through?
    • Are the acceptable styles of decision making clear so that issues can be purposively moved from a brainstorming or discussion phase to a decision-making phase?
    • Is attention being paid to nonverbal cues, are debriefings held with staff members to gauge their reactions, and does the setting provide a supportive tone for the meeting (Burlson, 1990; Doyle & Strauss, 1982; Speer & Zippay, 2005)?

    The discussion of each agenda item should be handled separately and should be opened, channeled, and closed. Opening involves defining each issue to be discussed and the goals of the discussion (e.g., to provide information, collect information for future decisions, or to make a decision). Make clear requests, offers, and promises to staff (see Healthcare Executive, 2006):

    Good meetings are composed mainly of constructive dialogue—where participants say what is on their mind; address and resolve conflicts; and make tough decisions that result in many requests, offers and promises for action. (p. 60)

    Channeling involves making sure everyone talks who has important information to give with rules of discussion flexibly enforced. Minimize extraneous ramblings. Meeting facilitators can often become stuck and need to be able to help the group identify alternative options, establish or re-establish ground rules, remind staff there are multiple paths to achieving something, encourage others to play a “devils advocate” so that alternative ideas are raised and considered, encourage consultation from people outside of the group, think through different scenarios about how others would approach the issue, and finally encourage people to express important worries or reservations about an issue rather than engage in “hallway conversations” (Brody, 1982; Gouran & Hirokawa, 2005; Lencioni, 2005; Wilkinson, 2005).

    Closing involves making sure the discussion does not go over the time that the group has allotted. It is often helpful to summarize the conclusions reached or not reached. Clarify what is going to happen next and who will take responsibility for working on the issue or implementing a decision (e.g., John and Mary will follow up on developing a job description for a night crisis worker staff position). Lastly, it is important to evaluate how well the meeting achieved its purpose—either formally through a quick “plus-minus” discussion with the staff at the end of the meeting or more privately through one-on-one supervisor–worker reviews of the meeting process and results. Did the meeting answer staff questions? Did it define or clarify problems efficiently and thoroughly? Did it enable the group to make necessary decisions in a timely way?

    Managing Conflicts in Meetings

    Occasionally two or more individuals in a meeting will disagree and clash, resulting in a conflict that may escalate into nonproductive verbal exchanges. But some conflicts should not be avoided (Deutsch, 2003). Conflict that is handled constructively can strengthen the relations among team members and improve productivity. Duncan (1996) developed an overview of the various categories in which conflicts emerge. These categories are depicted in Figure E.1. This diagram shows the sources of conflict, their types, and how they relate to physical/psychological needs and values of employees. A source of conflict could be, for example, a bad relationship between some of the meeting participants. This conflict is psychological and subjective. An example of a subjective and principle-based conflict is when someone's values or beliefs clash with other participants’ values or beliefs (Rienks, Nijholt, & Barthelmess, 2006).

    Figure E.1 Sources of conflict
    Rules Help

    Boundary rules define who is and who is not in the group and can detail the permeability of the group (i.e., whether members can easily enter or exit). These rules determine the extent to which norms developed within the group can be maintained and shared, and the extent to which groups can impose sanctions. More specifically, aggregation rules define how a group reaches a collective decision. Decisions can be by majority, unanimity, or “anyone” rule. The unanimity rule is dangerous because if one person objects it can take a lot of time before an acceptable choice is negotiated. The “anyone” rule means any actor can impose a group choice.

    Furthermore, “position rules” define who can act at any point, and thus, they define the authority of the group to a great extent. Some positions have a higher authority than other (lower) positions. In contrast, “information rules” describe how information is shared and what each actor can know, for instance, whether a member can know what other members have done or what they are planning to do (Rienks et al., 2006).

    Tips for Dealing with Hostile Questions

    Supervisors or others leading meetings can be surprised and then react negatively by pointed or “hostile” questions. A few strategies can help:

    • Paraphrase the question. Sometimes just using active listening skills defuses the hostility. It also gives the facilitator time to compose a response.
    • Remain calm. Provide answers in a calm, professional manner.
    • Be brief. Hostile questions often come with a great deal of detail, background information, and emotion. Whether or not that is the case, the response should be brief, pointed, and cool; the contrast will help if the question was overheated, and an overheated response to a cool question will damage individual authority.
    • Offer to meet privately. After offering one or at most two responses to the question, suggest a meeting with the person at the end of the meeting or at a later time (Parker & Hoffman, 2006, p. 99). Additional strategies for more general kinds of conflict are listed in Figure E.2.
    Figure E.2 Tips for meeting facilitators for handling conflict
    Post-Meeting Phase

    Some activities of this phase will take place the day of the meeting; others may occur later:

    • Handling short post-meeting meetings of subcommittees to carry out tasks
    • Clarification or discussion with certain staff to describe what really happened at the meeting
    • Contacting staff members who missed the meeting
    • Preparing minutes
    • Beginning the agenda for the next meeting

    Some additional principles that may be useful to consider are listed in Figure E.3. Force field analysis is an important analytical tool for group planning in which the factors that are pushing or supporting an issue in one direction are compared with factors that may be counteracting that issue or tendency. “Blocks” in terms of policies or resource restrictions that are less changeable are also identified so that realistic planning can take place (Swinton, 2007). Flow charts are also useful, as well as charts that outline a timeline of what tasks must be done by when and in what order.

    Figure E.3 Additional staff meeting principles suggested by supervision workshop participants
    Agenda Design
    Agenda Design Variations

    The next set of figures (Figures E.4E.6) present different variations of a hypothetical meeting agenda and a recommended structure for committee minutes. Meeting minutes generally result in better follow-through on the part of committee members. Several publications are listed at the end of this appendix that describe the principles for effectively designing and leading meetings. This example begins by reviewing a typical agenda for a meeting (see Figure E.4). Note how the agenda detail may change in relation to the amount of work, the complexity of the work, and the political dimensions that may need to be addressed.

    Figure E.4 Typical agenda format used by many leaders
    Figure E.5 Meeting for the planning committee

    Figure E.6 Meeting of the planning committee

    Two other agenda versions that may be more effective are presented in Figures E.5 and E.6 with some concepts from Interaction Associates.


    Managing staff meetings requires specialized skills that are often not addressed in most educational degree or training programs. And yet team meetings offer a powerful and timely venue for addressing staff needs and issues related to the effective leadership of the core concepts that have been emphasized throughout this entire book: relationships, results, and processes. Supervisors have the greatest success when purposefully paying attention to relationships among their team members, as well as being clear about the results that are necessary to achieve and the processes that are used to accomplish those results (Interaction Associates, 2005a).

    Brody, R. (1982). Problem solving. New York: Human Services Press.
    Brody, R. (1993). Effectively managing human service organizations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
    Burlson, C. W. (1990). Effective meetings: The complete guide. New York: Wiley.
    Deutsch, M. (2003). International handbook of organizational teamwork and cooperative working (pp. 9–44). New York: Wiley.
    Doyle, M., & Strauss, D. (1982). How to make meetings work. New York: Jove.
    Duncan, M. (1996). Effective meeting facilitation: Sample forms, tools, and checklists. Retrieved May 21, 2008, from
    Gouran, D. S., & Hirokawa, R. (2005). Facilitating communication in group decisionmaking discussions (pp. 351–360). In S.Schuman (Ed.), The IAF handbook of group facilitation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Healthcare Executive. (2006, Sept/Oct). Meeting management: Leading independently. Healthcare Executive, p. 60.
    Interaction Associates. (2003). Facilitative leadership. San Francisco: Author. (See
    Interaction Associates. (2005a). Chartering a team using five key attributes. Retrieved June 16, 2005, from
    Interaction Associates. (2005b). Meeting material resources. Retrieved June 16, 2005, from
    Lencioni, P. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers and facilitators. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    McNamara, C. (2006). Basic guide to conducting effective meetings. EMA Learning. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from the Free Management Library at
    Parker, G., & Hoffman, R. (2006). Meeting excellence: 33 tools to lead meetings that get results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Prosen, B. (2006). How to cure meeting mania. Municipal World, December 29–30. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from
    Resnick, H. (1982). Facilitating productive staff meetings (pp. 183–199). In M. J.Austin, & W. E.Hershey (Eds.), Handbook on mental health administration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Rienks, R. J., Nijholt, A., & Barthelmess, P. (2006). Pro-active meeting assistants: Attention please! (pp. 213–227). Proceedings of the fifth workshop on Social Intelligence Design, Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka, Japan.
    Robert I, H. M., Robert, S. C., Robert III, H. M., Evans, W. J., Honemann, D. H., & Balch, T. J. (2000). Robert's rules of order newly revised (
    10th ed.
    ). Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
    Schuman, S. (Ed.). (2005). The IAF handbook of group facilitation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Speer, P. W., & Zippay, A. (2005). Participatory decision-making among community coalitions: An analysis of task group meetings. Administration in Social Work, 29(3), 61–78.
    Swinton, L. (2007). Kurt Lewin's Force Field Analysis: Decision making made easy. Retrieved June 3, 2007, from http://www.mftrou.com
    Sylvester, N. (2006). The guerrilla guide to Robert's Rules. New York: Penguin Books.
    Wilkinson, M. (2005). Consensus-building: Strategies for resolving disagreement (pp. 361–380). In S.Schuman (Ed.), The IAF handbook of group facilitation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Web-Based Resources
    Designing and facilitating meeting resources. Retrieved December 21, 2008, from
    Force field analysis summary and diagrams; see Management for the Rest of Us. Retrieved January 4, 2009, from
    Suggested Readings
    Kaner, S., Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, C., & Berger, D. (1996). Facilitator's guide to participatory decision-making. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.
    Lencioni, P. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers and facilitators. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Parker, G., & Hoffman, R. (2006). Meeting excellence: 33 tools to lead meetings that get results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Schuman, S. (Ed.). (2005). The IAF handbook of group facilitation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Timm, P.R. (1997). How to hold successful meetings: 30 action tips for managing effective meetings (30-minute solutions series). Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press.
    Tropman, J.E. (1996). Effective meetings—Improving group decision-making (
    2nd ed.
    ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    About the Authors

    Emily J. Bruce, PhD, LCSW, began her career in social work by receiving a BS in applied behavioral science from the University of California (UC)–Davis in 1981 and then receiving an MSW from the University of Washington in 1983. After working for 10 years in public child welfare, first as a child welfare social worker and then as a child welfare supervisor, she began a PhD program at UC–Berkeley. She completed her PhD in social welfare in 2002.

    Professor Bruce began at teaching at San José State University (SJSU), School of Social Work, as a part-time lecturer in 1998, and she became a full-time member of the faculty in 2002. Currently, Professor Bruce is an associate professor at the SJSU. She teaches social welfare policy, child welfare policy, and research. In addition, Professor Bruce continues to design and implement research in the area of child welfare services and child welfare administration.

    Finally, she is one of the co-founders of the Connect, Motivate, and Educate (CME) Society, a program at SJSU that functions to provide support for former foster youth enrolled at SJSU. In academic year 2008/2009, Professor Bruce will be working to help implement a research institute at SJSU: The Research Institute for Foster Youth Initiatives (RIFYI). Professor Bruce is married and lives in Stockton, California.

    David A. Cherin, PhD, is a professor, department chair, and social work program director at California State University–Fullerton. Prior to returning to work on his MSW and PhD, Professor Cherin was an administrator and corporate vice president for over two decades with a large, multinational health care management company. In this arena, he was a vice president with responsibilities in acute hospital operations as well as mergers and acquisitions. Since entering the field of social work, Professor Cherin has held faculty positions at California State University–Long Beach, California State University–Bakersfield, the University of Southern California (USC), and the University of Washington's School of Social Work. He was the administrator of the Hamovitch Research Center at USC as well as director and chair of the Social Work Program at California State University–Bakersfield. He currently holds the position of the founding director of the social work program at California State University–Fullerton. He has performed extensive research, evaluation work, and publishing in the areas of health care service delivery, organizations, evaluation, and child welfare. His work in health services focuses on service delivery systems in end-of-life care. He has received the Soros Project Death in America's Social Work Leadership Award for his work on end-of-life issues with AIDS patients.

    Peter J. Pecora, MSW, PhD, has a joint appointment as the managing director of research services for Casey Family Programs and as a professor in the School of Social Work, University of Washington, Seattle. Casey Family Programs is the largest operating foundation in the United States dedicated to improving the lives of children in foster care. Professor Pecora was a line worker and later a program coordinator in several child welfare service agencies. He has worked to implement intensive home-based services, child welfare training, and risk assessment systems for child protective services. He also has served as an expert witness for the states of Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Washington, and Wisconsin. His co-authored books and articles focus on child welfare program design, administration, and research, including:

    • The legacy of family foster care: How are alumni faring as adults? New York: Oxford University Press (2010).
    • The child welfare challenge. New Jersey: Transaction de Gruyter, 1992, 2000, 2009.
    • Enhancing the well being of children and families through effective interventions—UK and USA evidence for practice. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2006.
    • Quality improvement and program evaluation in child welfare agencies: Managing into the next century. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America, 1996.

    Currently, Professor Pecora is co-leading a project with the REACH Institute to improve youth access to evidence-based mental health services. He also coordinates a data workgroup as part of a national effort to reduce racial disproportionality in the child welfare system.

    Trinidad de Jesus Arguello, RN, LISW, MSW, PhD, born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, has a 32-year history working in mental health. Her professional experience has included work both as a psychiatric nurse and as a psychiatric social worker. She has been able to integrate her direct practice experience with management of clinical teams and supervision of master-level students in social work. Her management work has involved development and directorship of a home health program; supervisor for a mental health team providing services to the mentally challenged; supervisor of a batterer's domestic violence program; children and family program coordinator for Hispanics at Centro de Bienestar, San Jose, California; and director of Children and Family Out-Patient Services in Taos, New Mexico. Professor Arguello has developed a batterer intervention program and provided direct services for Hispanic men in Taos, New Mexico.

    Furthermore, Professor Arguello has held adjunct faculty positions in various colleges and universities. She has also presented her work regarding cultural issues related to Hispanic families as well as her work on mental health and domestic violence at many conferences and workshops across the United States. She also serves on the New Mexico Mental Health/Behavioral Health Planning Council. Finally, Professor Arguello has served as the Taos County Coordinator for the American Red Cross (ARC) as well as first disaster responder for the ARC nationwide. Currently, she was funded a grant by the New Mexico Behavioral Health Service Department to implement an Assertive Community Treatment Program for the severe and persistently mentally ill population in her community.

    About the Contributors

    David Chenot, PhD, MDiv, LCSW, is an assistant professor in the MSW program at California State University–Fullerton. Previously, he developed the Title IV-E program and offered instruction in the MSW program at California State University–Bakersfield. Professor Chenot earned his PhD at Case Western Reserve University. Prior to entering academia, he was a social worker for many years in public child welfare services and, subsequently, a supervisor in a county public mental health agency. Professor Chenot's research interests include the retention of social workers in public child welfare services, resilience among vulnerable children and families, and spirituality in social work practice.

    Jean Kruzich, PhD, is an associate professor and co-chair of the administration concentration at the University of Washington School of Social Work. She teaches courses on leadership, program management, organizational assessment and change practice, and collaborative community-based program evaluation. Professor Kruzich's research has focused on the influence of organizational and community environments on marginalized populations, including elderly and youth with mental health challenges. She received her PhD from the University of Washington and her MSW and MPA from the University of Minnesota.

    Nancy Timms, MA, MSW, LMHC, has been a social work supervisor for child welfare services in rural Washington State since 1997. She serves frequently as an instructor at the Children's Administration Social Worker Academy and, in 2000, received the Governor's Recognition for Innovative Practice Award. Prior to her child welfare professional practice, Ms. Timms worked for 15 years in community mental health as a crisis/solution-focused brief modality therapist.

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