Scaffolding or Crutches – What does support really mean

management support

In recent management workshops we have been asking this question; “How do you support the individuals in your team?”

  • I have an “open door policy”
  • My staff know they can elevate difficult or conflict laden issues to me
  • I sign off on any training /professional development staff put in for
  • When personal situations require it, I assist individuals to help them get the job done
  • I accommodate personal needs through adjusting work hours and other work conditions
  • I demonstrate care by doing the nice little things like provide morning teas & birthday cards
  • I provide positive feedback and recognition for work well done and constructive feedback when it is required

This is a list of the most common responses. True, it is support, but is this high or low value support? Are you really just providing a crutch each time staff members stumble? Can you provide a much stronger support framework, the scaffolding that will enable staff to climb to the top, whatever that is for each individual?

High value support in the workplace means supporting individuals to enable them achieve their own full potential and at the same time, directing this effort to achieve the business unit and organisational goals. The standard responses indicate most managers are propping up their team members. Are you actually then accepting mediocrity in your business unit when you could and should be achieving so much more? Are you letting your highest potential staff down, by not setting high expectations of the whole team?

The type of support we should be focussing on is known as Coach Management. There are four principles of Coach Management to master:

  • Provide direction
  • Improve performance
  • Empower individuals
  • Remove obstacles

Provide direction

As business unit managers we are the conduit between the organisation and our team. We need to ensure that we communicate organisational goals and strategic initiatives down the line, so that our staff are able to see the function of their business unit in the context of the bigger picture. We also need to promote our business unit and team back up into the broader organisation.

We can do this through communicating achievements, good news stories and our future plans. Done well, this upwards communication makes us more influential, which can be useful in opening doors for our team members – a very high level of support indeed.

Providing direction is also about developing a strong mutual understanding of team and individual work goals so it is a good idea to take regular time out to develop these goals collaboratively.

Improve performance

Quality support includes constant work on improving staff performance. Encourage self-review and reflection and hold focussed conversations around work goals. Give positive and constructive feedback effectively and frequently. Develop and implement learning plans that address performance gaps or future skills needs thereby directing learning activities to organisational needs. Employee performance will most certainly improve by employing these simple tactics.

Empower individuals

Supporting staff is all about empowering them. This sometimes requires us to firstly overcome our own insecurities about our own role and in setting challenging work goals for others. We need to develop the ability to effectively delegate projects and tasks. Couple effective goal setting and delegation with the appropriate learning activities and you will build individual confidence and self-esteem that leads to high performing teams.

Further support high potential employees by looking for opportunities beyond your own business unit. Help open doors and, when the time is right, be prepared to let them go. You’ll reap rewards in the future by becoming a manager with influence and a business unit of preference for other staff.

Remove obstacles

The first three Coach Management principles provide individuals with support to overcome the personal obstacles they may have to achievement. Additionally there are often organisational hurdles that managers will need to address to realise peoples’ full potential. Inefficient workplace systems, poor structures or barriers that arise out of the cultural and political landscape may all need to be tackled.

Managers need to be able to influence up and out in order to affect this type of change. This may require us to undertake some personal development ourselves to become more effective outside our team. Certainly we will be seeking the exact same type of Coach Management support from our managers so that we can feel confident in taking on any systemic change project.

To build the highest performing team possible your team need you to provide scaffolding not crutches. Your highest potential employees will expect it. Include the commonly described support as it does have a place, but don’t be fooled into thinking that makes you a supportive manager. Implement the four principles of Coach Management to give you, your team and your business unit the ultimate lift to the top.


A ‘Coaching Skills for Managers’ workshop  is being run on 13 May in Sydney and is designed for Team Leaders, Co-ordinators, Supervisors and Managers in the Disability Sector.  For course outline and booking link please click here.

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