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Term Paper:

Implementing a Working Alliance

Diamond MacDonald

ID# 2960624

Athabasca University

Instructor: Maureen McCallum

Date: March 31, 2011

Course: PSYC 405

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The following essay outlines a plan for implementing a working alliance

between the supervisor and the Child and Youth Workers in a group home

environment. There is one primary supervisor, and six full-time Child and

Youth Workers employed in the home. All of the employees are female;

some have commitments and responsibilities such as husbands and children.

The supervisor is present in the home for 40 hours per week and can use her

discretion about when her presence is needed. The Child and Youth Workers

are present in the home 24 hours a day on a rotating shift basis. There is a

minimum requirement of 2 staff during waking hours, and one overnight.

The whole team is not usually present in the home at once; the majority of

communication happens through notes. The supervisor is new to the group

home and would like to initiate an effective working alliance with the current

Child and Youth Workers. The group home houses 7 children and youth with

varying degrees of behavior issues and developmental delays. It is located

in an urban environment just south of Ottawa, Ontario. It is a high stress

environment with unforeseen circumstances and aggressive client behavior

on a daily basis.

Game Plan

The supervisor is anticipating that a working alliance will increase the

effectiveness of the interpersonal interactions between her and her

employees. She is hopeful that through collaboration on the nature of

desired goals, the method of achieving those goals, and through the creation
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of an emotional bond, she will be better able to engage in meaningful and

goal directed work. The supervisor intends to focus on the intricacies of

developing a relationship with each staff member individually, and as a

cohesive group. She is aware of some of the difficulties the staff members

face such as a stressful work environment, minimal contact with each other

and the absence of a 24 hour onsite supervisor and hopes to minimize these

through the creation of a working alliance. She is aware that bonds among

individuals will differ in kind; knowing that one type is not necessarily

stronger than another (Thurston, 2003). In order to foster a working alliance

she will be using general relationship skills such as: assessing readiness,

determining and providing motivation to engage, goal setting, building and

negotiating trust, connectedness, personal growth, and non-verbal

communication skills; as well as Hiebert’s (1997) taxonomy of generic skills.

Hiebert’s (1997) taxonomy contains four general categories of skills: skills for

enhancing meaningfulness, skills for engaging people, skills for clarifying and

providing feedback, and skills for attending. The goals for the working

alliance will be decided upon with the staff members. The general goals the

supervisor would like to achieve are developing a firm foundation over time,

being available to her staff, as well as creating an atmosphere of sharing,

caring, acceptance, empathy, and respect.

Through the use of Hiebert’s (1997) skills for enhancing

meaningfulness as well as other general relationship skills, the supervisor

will first assess each staff member’s readiness to enter into a working
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alliance. The supervisor will use Hiebert’s (1997) skills for enhancing

meaningfulness, specifically, the skills of reviewing, summarizing, and

information giving. Examples of general tactics the supervisor will use are:

gradually offering information about her, making conversation about

mundane topics such as the weather before asking the workers more

personal questions, and showing interest in the workers to see if they

volunteer further information. Assessing readiness will help the supervisor

tailor the pacing to each individual, and build a relationship with a less

intrusive and gentler tone (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). Building a working alliance

with a staff member takes time. The supervisor will learn to be comfortable

using a gradual approach which takes place within the worker’s comfort

zone. With appropriate pacing, staff members will have the opportunity to

form a working alliance with the supervisor in a manner that makes

everyone feel comfortable. It is possible that each staff member’s

personality and level of readiness will demand a different approach and type

of working alliance. The supervisor will use different pacing, various tactics,

and her own strengths in order to bring about a function of fit with each

worker (Gelso & Carter, 1994).

Once readiness has been assessed, the supervisor must find or create

motivation for the staff member to engage in the working alliance. Staff

members must become engaged with their supervisor in order to develop

positive sentiments about her resulting in an increased likelihood of positive

reactions towards her (Owen, Rhodes, Stanley & Markman, 2011). Life
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circumstances can create barriers that may affect engagement in a working

alliance. Higher order needs according to Maslow’s hierarchy take

precedence over engagement in a working alliance (Benson & Dundis, 2003).

A staff member who is otherwise pre-occupied with finding a place to live or

having enough money to support her children may have more difficulty

engaging in a working alliance than someone who is concerned with lower

order self-actualization needs. Engagement in a working alliance is also

related to its perceived utility (Hatcher & Barends, 1996). The more useful

the alliance is considered, the more likely the staff member is to engage.

The purposefulness of a relationship can be conveyed through dealing with

real life issues (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). The supervisor should assist with basic

needs in the initial stages of the working alliance both within and outside of

the working environment. The supervisor can get information about what is

relevant to the worker by listening to workers stories, concerns, and

engaging with them in a mutual way. She can set aside time, or work within

spontaneous moments. Sharing similar lifestyles and echoing the concerns

of the worker will make it easier for them to enter into a working alliance

with the supervisor (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). Motivation can also be affected by

the perceived length of the potential working alliance. Staff members will be

more concerned about engaging and liking each other and their supervisor

based on the perceived length of the relationship (Rector, Zuroff & Segal,

1999). If they are going to be in a working relationship for a longer period of

time there is increased motivation to put forth increased effort. Through

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creating a purposeful relationship, assisting with basic needs, and gathering

information about what is relevant to the staff member the supervisor will be

able to find or create motivation for the staff member to engage in the

working alliance.

Goal setting will be used to establish a reliable and meaningful

connection between the worker and the supervisor. Skills included in

Hiebert’s (1997) skill taxonomy such as: over-viewing, reviewing,

summarizing, transitions, and information giving will assist the supervisor

and employee in setting relevant and meaningful goals. The supervisor

should use over-viewing, reviewing, and summarizing in order to suggest her

goals for the teams working alliance at a team meeting. She will then ask for

feedback, team input, thoughts and goals for a working alliance. Goals

should be based on the team’s ideas, perceived weaknesses, wants, or

needs. Generally individuals have ideas about potential goals that have

been developed previously or in passing. The foundation of the working

alliance and of a sound relationship incorporates choice in goal setting as an

essential ingredient (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). With an emphasis on choice,

empowerment, and power sharing, both the supervisor and the Child and

Youth Worker will develop feelings of mastery and control (Kirsh & Tate,

2006). Power sharing is a catalyst to participation and progress (Kirsh &

Tate, 2006). It enables the supervisor to avoid paternalism and adopt a co-

learner role. Goals should be tailored so the staff member experiences

success, while still providing an appropriate degree of challenge to foster a

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sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Low expectations can be seen by

the staff member as an insufficient belief in their skills and as a barrier to

development. Movement towards the goal will depend on the staff

member’s sense of their own difficulties, relevance, and desire to change

(Gelso & Carter, 1994). In order to achieve the goal, a problem solving

approach using an educated review of options and consequences and

solution focused thinking should be used. This will enable the supervisor and

staff member to explore the options, and the consequences of those options.

This method also promotes breaking large tasks into chunks, in order to

analyze and understand the components of the whole. The supervisor is

then better able to help staff members walk through or role-play how they

might deal with a situation. Setting goals, if done appropriately can facilitate

the development of motivation, empowerment, client centeredness, and

collaboration. Goal setting can help the supervisor and employee in defining

their respective roles in the relationship. It can also help the supervisor to

adjust support, and structure the working alliance effectively (Kirsh & Tate,


At this stage in the working alliance the supervisor will devote time to

building and negotiating trust. Some degree of trust has already been

established at this stage. The supervisor should continue to build upon the

foundation created to date through the use of Hiebert’s (1997) skills for

engaging people, and other relationship skills. Hiebert’s (1997) skills for

engaging people are skills such as questioning, probing, prompting, and

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demonstrating. The supervisor should use these skills in day to day

conversation with her staff members. She should ensure she is matching the

skill used to the desired response. Supervisors can further develop trust

through other relationship skills such as: establishing regular contact, getting

to know staff, showing acceptance, caring, sharing, and using active

listening. The supervisor should establish regular contact with her staff

through the use of weekly team meetings, one on one conferencing, being

accessible in the moment, and encouraging staff to talk to her, no matter

what the issue. She may also wish to emphasize that she may look busy but

will always have time for them. The supervisor should try to do as much

office work as possible at the group home. She should also make an effort to

do floor shifts whenever possible so she is visible to staff and clients, and has

a solid grasp of the inner workings of the house. Regular contact with staff

will enable her to know them well. Knowing someone well entails knowing

that person in the context of their world (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). Everyone

comes from differing backgrounds which influences how they perceive and

react to situations. By getting to know someone in the context of their world

the supervisor can better relate to that person, and understand their

rationale for acting in a certain manner. Understanding staff member’s

circumstances and perspectives also enables the supervisor to anticipate

their needs and avert potential crises.

The combination of sharing, acceptance, and caring provides a

protective environment where the staff member’s sense of self and trust is
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strengthened (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). These three aspects help to form a

genuine relationship. The supervisor should show acceptance through

respect for individual differences and a non-judgmental attitude. A genuine

interest, curiosity about the Child and Youth Worker and sincere interactions

can also help to show acceptance. Caring should be demonstrated through

concern for all staff members well being and empathetic encouragement of

perspectives and ideas (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). Showing staff members that

she wants to optimize individual opportunities and potential can also

demonstrate an air of caring. The supervisor should engage in reciprocity,

sharing elements of her life with staff members when appropriate. According

to research, supervisors were seen as “real” people if they shared aspects of

their lives, including their sense of humor (Kirsh & Tate, 2006).

Listening should be performed in addition to sharing, and at a higher

frequency. Active listening is an important part of developing trust; it makes

the speaker feel appreciated, respected, and interesting. Active listening

enables the staff member to know the supervisor is paying attention to what

they are attempting to communicate. It prevents misunderstandings and

promotes learning. A useful acronym for non-verbal listening skills is SOLER

(Hiebert, 1997). It stands for: Sit squarely, Open your arms, Lean forward,

Eye contact, and Relax (Hiebert, 1997). The supervisor should demonstrate

attentiveness by sitting squarely to face the client in a confident posture.

She should avoid slouching and closed body language like crossed legs or

folded arms. The arms should remain open at the sides of the body in a
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comfortable position. Whenever possible the supervisor should lean slightly

forward to demonstrate she is interested in what is being conveyed. Eye

contact is also important. While attending to the speaker it is imperative

that the supervisor moderate her eye contact. This ensures the speaker is

comfortable and doesn’t feel as though they are being stared at. The

supervisor should attempt to relax so she projects this state of mind to the

staff member. This will in turn help the staff member relax. A trustful state

of mind is linked to the capacity to see an individual as a good object, and

can influence an effective working alliance (Kirsh & Tate, 2006). If used

correctly, the skills of questioning, probing, prompting, demonstrating,

establishing regular contact, getting to know staff, showing acceptance,

caring, sharing, and active listening can induce a trustful state.

Connectedness is another important relationship factor that should be

addressed at this stage in developing a working alliance. Personality factors

including individual characteristics and goodness of fit can influence a

supervisor’s readiness to like and care for her staff. The supervisor should

find positive attributes she values in each of her staff members. In order to

achieve a greater degree of connectedness the supervisor should

incorporate all learning styles into the management of her team, she should

show interpersonal warmth, convey a sense of confidence, and be genuine in

her interactions with them. Connectedness can be influenced by personal

preferences for working and thinking styles. Different individuals work,

learn, and understand information better when the information is presented

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in their preferred style (Riding & Rayner, 1998). Incorporating a mix of

visual, kinesthetic, and auditory interaction in the management of individuals

can help achieve a greater degree of connectedness. A supervisor’s ability

to show her staff interpersonal warmth by showing interest in them can help

foster connectedness. A good way to show warmth and interest is by

interacting with staff before and after work, and by inviting responses from

them during work (Owen, Rhodes, Stanley & Markman, 2011). Creating

opportunities to spend time with staff outside of work allows for team

building, fun, and enjoyment all of which bring individuals closer together.

This gives both the supervisor and other staff members the opportunity to

recognize each other’s personal needs, desires, dreams, and hopes for the

future. Connecting in this manner eliminates the need to formulate one’s

own impressions of individuals using intuition and trial and error. Instead,

everyone can develop realistic perceptions of each other and see each other

in an accurate way (Gelso & Carter, 1994).

The supervisor should convey a sense of confidence in the staff she

works with. The supervisor’s sense of confidence affects the staff member’s

confidence in their own abilities, and their belief about how their supervisor

views them (Owen, Rhodes, Stanley & Markman, 2011). Staff members

value their supervisor’s belief, optimism, and encouragement. It is important

for the supervisor to capitalize on each individual’s strengths, and to

recognize some may be better suited to certain roles or tasks. By

emphasizing strengths, staff members can break free from dependency on

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their supervisor and instead foster healthy connectedness. Genuineness is

the willingness and ability to be sincere in a relationship. The supervisor

should show genuineness to all staff members by being authentic, open, and

honest to herself and her staff (Thurston, 2003). She should reveal herself,

her personal world, family life, past troubles, and happy moments when

appropriate, while participating alongside her staff members in tasks. She

should make an effort to ask purposeful questions, and discuss common

interests in an open and honest manner. Creating connectedness among

individuals is a difficult thing to achieve. It necessitates effort and a strong

commitment from the supervisor. The skills of incorporating all learning

styles, showing interpersonal warmth, conveying a sense of confidence, and

being genuine become a way of establishing connectedness with staff


Staff members are constantly changing and needing to be challenged.

The supervisor should promote personal growth, and attend to the state of

previously developed goals. Hiebert’s (1997) skills for clarifying and

providing feedback such as: reflecting, descriptive praise, and corrective

feedback can help staff members to move forward and grow as individuals.

The supervisor can use reflecting, praise and feedback as tools to manage

negative emotions constructively and foster positive communication. She

can also use these same tools to empathize, validate, and encourage worker

perspectives. Reflecting can be used by the supervisor as a tool to help staff

members gain greater insight, self awareness, and self confidence (Hiebert,
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1997). Occasionally it helps individuals to hear what they have just said,

with additional insights from their supervisor. The supervisor can also use

these skills to clarify the degree of honesty the worker is using to report their

behavior, and the location of the source of their problem. If the source of the

problem is perceived to be external to the worker, this can impede personal

growth and development (Gelso & Carter, 1994). Descriptive praise in the

form of specific encouragement, reassurance, and demonstrated awareness

from supervisors can help staff members keep a forward focus.

Encouragement and reassurance is correlated to successful alliance

development (Svensson & Hansson as cited in Kirsh & Tate, 2006).

Feedback can be used to encourage the worker to seek help or go about a

process differently in order to avoid negative consequences. The supervisor

can promote personal growth through the use of reflecting, descriptive

praise, and corrective feedback.

Hiebert’s (1997) skills for attending, maintaining a key supervisor, and

choosing an ideal environment can help minimize incongruent non-verbal

communication. All interactions including questioning, reflecting, and giving

feedback can backfire if non-verbal aspects of communication are not

congruent with what is being said (Bordin, 1979). Skills for attending include

paraphrasing and non-verbal skills such as SOLER (Hiebert, 1997). These

skills have been mentioned already and should be used throughout the

development of a working alliance. When the supervisor is interacting with

her staff she should make a point to use active listening, and SOLER
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(Hiebert, 1997). The supervisor should ensure that the staff members know

she is the key person responsible for their supervision and should ensure

they go to her with their questions, comments, and concerns. Having a key

person enables the staff to seek help directly, avoid getting lost in the

shuffle, and seek help from someone with knowledge about previous issues.

Having a key supervisor is an ingredient for a solid relationship. The

supervisor should be present, accessible, in regular contact and available to

her staff members whenever possible. Her presence should be predictable,

and consistent. She should encourage her staff members to talk with her

and seek her assistance when needed. This presence is meaningful to the

staff and enables them to feel at ease, safe, and comfortable. The location

of interaction should also be considered. The supervisor can use their

environment as a tool to maximize the quality of communication. An ideal

environment should be quiet, private, and comfortable. This type of

environment allows both the supervisor and the staff member to give each

other their undivided attention, and maximize their attending skills. Main

elements of a successful working alliance are difficult to describe because

the emotional aspects and non-verbal behavior that run through the

relationship are hard to communicate in words. Hiebert’s (1997) skills for

attending, maintaining a key supervisor, and choosing an ideal environment

can help ensure the accuracy of non-verbal communication.

The theoretical orientation of the supervisor is less important than the

strength of her relationship skills (Bordin, 1979). The supervisor should

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strive to include the relationship skills of assessing readiness, determining

and providing motivation to engage, goal setting, building and negotiating

trust, connectedness, personal growth, and non-verbal communication skills.

She should do this through the use of Hiebert’s (1997) skill taxonomy, and

other tactics mentioned. The skills for developing a working alliance were

mentioned in a particular order. However, it should be noted that all skills

are interconnected and cannot exist in isolation.

Evaluation Plan

The success of the working alliance plan will be measured through staff

ratings and feelings, supervisor ratings and feelings, client ratings and

feelings, verbal check-ins, a comparison of sickness and absences to

previous data, and the progress of goals. This will be done through both

formative and summative evaluations. Research has shown that staff ratings

of successful working alliances are generally a better predictor of outcomes

than supervisor ratings (Horvath & Bedi as cited in Owen, Rhodes, Stanley &

Markman, 2011). Staff will be encouraged to formulate a subjective

evaluation based on what they see, hear, and feel about the working alliance

between themselves and their supervisor, themselves and their team, as

well as their supervisor and their team. The supervisor and clients will also

complete a similar evaluation. The capacity to create a working alliance with

one individual is linked to a capacity to develop attachments to other people

(Horvath & Bedi as cited in Owen, Rhodes, Stanley & Markman, 2011).

Establishing a working alliance between supervisor and staff is generalizible

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to other situations. It is possible the clients will see a difference in the

alliances the Child and Youth Workers are forming with them. Areas of

interest will consist of how staff members interact with each other, their

awareness of other’s beliefs and interests, how they express their needs,

how those needs are met, how differences are respected and managed, if

problems are solved as they arise, how much individuals feel they work at

maintaining the relationship, self-respect and self-esteem measures, the

recognition that there will be ups and downs, and other measures. Verbal

check-ins will be conducted about how individuals are working together,

differences in the working environment and how the clients are being

affected, how individuals are talking to each other, and what the atmosphere

is like. A successful end requires attention to the means; regular verbal

check-ins enables ongoing assessment of new needs. A comparison of past

and present rates of sickness and absence will be conducted. It is likely that

if the working environment has improved, fewer individuals will feel ill and

stressed resulting in the need to take a day off. The progress of individual

and team goals will be monitored. If an effective working alliance has been

instituted it may be possible to see measurable gains in the rate, type, and

difficulty of goals achieved over a period of time. It will also be possible to

see if individuals feel accountable and responsible for working on what they

have committed to. Progress benchmarks will be indicated by the realization

of desired staff outcomes in each section. For example, progress of personal

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growth will be indicated through a gain in staff insight, self awareness, and

self confidence.

If formative evaluations including staff and supervisor feelings, and

verbal check-ins indicate that staff morale is low, that individual needs are

not being met, or that problems are not being managed adequately it would

indicate a need to modify or re-formulate the original plan. Plan B for the

supervisor would entail reviewing the areas of weakness indicated by the

formative evaluations and incorporating more support, communication, and

training around those areas. If adequate improvements had still not been

made in an acceptable period of time, outside resources would be sought to

help with the situation.

Maintenance Plan

With the success of the working alliance plan, the maintenance plan

would include sustained effort and execution of the tools indicated in each

section of the plan, ongoing assessment, planning, execution, and evaluation

of new and existing needs, and opportunities for new learning and increased

challenge. If the original plan was successful, it would be prudent to

continue with the tools and strategies used. Ongoing assessment, planning,

execution, and evaluation would be conducted on a regular basis to ensure

that existing and new needs were being adequately met. With an ever-

changing work setting, employees, and clients, it is necessary to be

proactive in the identification of potential problems, and novel situations

(Billings & Buckner, 1997). Situations for new learning and experiences
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breed motivation and interest. It is essential for the supervisor to be vigilant

about adjusting goals, and providing situations for staff members to be

challenged. It may be possible to add challenge and interest by formulating

individual goals in addition to team goals.

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