The states of supervision describe the development and quality of working relationships between the supervisor and the supervisee.
People in working relationships pass through four states in this order: structure, cooperation, fellowship and partnership. They cannot decide arbitrarily to start out in the second, third, or fourth state. They must begin in the first state. A person cannot set dates to be at certain states, but can recognize a move from one state into another. The states are not absolute but are mixed so that after leaving state one, a person may revert to it (consciously or unconsciously) from time to time. People who are conscious of the states can move through them more quickly than they might do otherwise.
The states are bound by task/personhood. For example, in state three, the fellowship state, supervision focuses on personhood. In this state, personhood, not tasks, is the primary concern.
Many supervisory relationships stop prematurely in one of the first three states. People may find a particular state productive and refuse to change patterns, or they may find one especially comfortable. Each state matches the experience, history or natural inclination of the supervisor. It may take diligence for the supervisor and supervisee to move through the states appropriately. A problem may develop when people have an idealized concept of states. They may see supervision as what they experienced in their families or in an earlier vocation. They may idealize the supervisory relationship as being non egalitarian or autocratic. The supervisory relationship is never egalitarian, because the supervisor is always held accountable for the supervisee and must, in turn, hold the person accountable. However, since there are various levels of non egalitarianism, it does not have to result in an autocratic style.
The Structure State:
This is a task/task state, which has high structure. It is characterized by the supervisor outlining responsibilities, resources, and methods for doing the work. It is a “tell” state in which the supervisor tells the person about the tasks. Getting locked into this state is tempting when it is productive. However, if the person is to mature in the work and demonstrate initiative, supervision must move out of the structure state. This state is good for a beginning, or short term (a week or so), responsibility or for a person who is not ready to function independently. If the person is capable of growth and responsibility and the task is ongoing, the work relationship should grow beyond the structure state.
The Cooperation State:
This is a task/personhood state, where the supervisor moves from telling in the structure state to asking in the cooperation state. It is a “sell” state where the supervisor must determine if the supervisee is buying into the system and if he/she understands his/her role. In this state, the supervisor begins to take the personhood of the supervisee into consideration. By this time, the person has learned about the structure and the responsibilities and has demonstrated commitment to the work. The cooperation state allows him/her to take more direct responsibility.
The Fellowship State:
This state is bound by personhood/personhood. Leaving the cooperation state for the fellowship state may be difficult because the fellowship state is very person oriented with a tendency toward intimacy, and intimacy may be especially difficult when it is part of supervisory relationships. This is the “jell” state where the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee really starts to come together. The fellowship state may be the idealized state that many ministers envision about any relationship. The fellowship state is a productive time of planning and evaluating tasks. Only when the choice has to be made between person and task will there be an impediment to the task.
The Partnership State:
The partnership state goes back to personhood/tasks. This is not regression, nor is it the same as the previous task/personhood state. Because the person has been highlighted in the fellowship state, there is increased respect for and trust of the person when entering the partnership state. This is the “swell” state where this trust translates into increased responsibility for the supervisee. The partnership state is not the cooperation state revisited. In the partnership state, the supervisor makes the person a partner in the project, not simply someone who cooperates. The new partnership state makes the person a partner who has a voice in decisions and has greater ownership of plans and actions. Sometimes supervisors in the fellowship state fear moving into the partnership state because they must give away some control.
Using the States to Supervise:
When a new person arrives, begin the structure state with the highest structure you will ever need. This is an opportunity to help the person define roles and responsibilities. It is unrealistic to expect the person to begin in any other state. When a friend becomes your assigned supervisee, you can still have a close personal relationship, but you should define your supervisory relationship carefully. A problem develops with the states of supervision when the supervisor has several supervisees. Because of different levels of maturity, training and previous relationships, they may move through the states at varying paces. New supervisees will take more time to move than supervisees with tenure.
A person in an early state of supervision who does not understand the dynamics of the states may think the supervisor is playing favorites or may feel inadequate. When supervisees interact with each other, they can take into account the states of supervision and help new people move through the states. A situation or a crisis may necessitate moving back into an earlier state, even to the structure state. When the crisis is over the supervisory relationship can return to its previous state.