Supervisory Developmental Assignments

Work Assignment Practices

Federal Employee's Career Development Center

The following activities are available for developing your supervisory knowledge, skills, and abilities at little or no cost to the agency. This list is not all-inclusive and should, at a minimum, stimulate other ideas for developmental assignments.

Supervisory Development Assignments Menu

Work Assignment Practices

The employee’s supervisor:

  1. Identifies and assigns specific work projects which relate to IDP development objectives and activities;
  2. Discusses with the employee how the project’s content or process ties in with the IDP;
  3. Communicates any specific standards or expectations for project results and developmental aspects;
  4. Solicits the employee’s self-assessment at completion of the project; and
  5. Provides feedback.

This process requires creativity and an eye for opportunity on the part of the supervisor, who must be able to identify a stretch activity with good probability for successful accomplishment. In many cases, development objectives may represent skill areas where employees need more than one activity to practice, achieve, and reinforce the desired ability. For example, the ability to negotiate and persuade others to accept a given course of action may be practiced with increasingly complex issues or with clients or peer groups who are progressively more difficult to convince.

The supervisor needs to be alert to developmental opportunities which may not be obvious to the employee. For example, a routine coordination project complicated by unusual pressures, difficult personalities, limited resources, or which is under another supervisor’s jurisdiction, offers numerous opportunities to apply persuasive skills.

Shadowing Assignments

A shadow assignment involves a temporary assignment to a supervisor or manager to learn through observation how to more successfully accomplish tasks and/or projects. It also provides an opportunity to observe different supervisory styles and to observe the scope and nature of target positions.

Assignments can be as short or as long as necessary to acquire the needed learning. They can range from a few hours to observe methods or processes, to several weeks in order to become familiar with functional and interpersonal relationships or to observe the effective management of programs and human resources. Employees particularly benefit from assignments timed to coincide with key staff meetings, labor-management consultations, strategizing on budget and staffing, etc.

It is sometimes helpful to prepare the employee for the assignment through background reading or orientations covering key projects or problems that will be encountered. This will help the employee concentrate on current interactions and decisions during the assignment, rather than on past history. Assignments are enhanced when the supervisors/managers being shadowed candidly discuss the rationale of their decisions and actions, answer probing questions from the employee, comment on alternatives, and share what they have learned from past decisions which had unsuccessful results. As the employee progresses from observation to a greater degree of give and take, there is a better opportunity to increase knowledge and to double-check assumptions.

Professional Reading

The employee plans and carries out a systematic program of reading periodicals and books. The employee is encouraged to seek out specific opportunities in the work place to apply the theories studied, and to discuss these potential applications with his/her supervisor. This discussion should benefit both the employee and the supervisor and increase the likelihood that the theories studied will be appropriately examined and applied in light of operational realities.

Job Rotation

Job rotation involves interchanging (reassigning) employees from one job to another for developmental purposes. Assignments may be short or long-termed actions involving moves between positions of a different nature. Examples of these moves include between line and staff positions and headquarters and field positions. Job rotation differs from details in that assignments, while they are understood to be impermanent, are nevertheless indefinite. Employees must therefore meet qualifications requirements for the positions to which reassigned. Job rotation affords many advantages to both the employee and the agency:

  •  Provides well-rounded training and a variety of experiences for the employee. It familiarizes the employee with many facets of agency operations and prepares the employee to make more knowledgeable decisions.
  • Streamlines the work unit through periodic introduction of new viewpoints by eliminating unnecessary practices or operations which may have been carried over for a period of years.
  • Stimulates development of the employee through the element of competition.

Developmental Staff Meetings

The supervisor uses recurring staff meetings as vehicles for developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of employees; i.e., leadership, group processing, problem resolution, coordination, conflict resolution, decision making, oral communications, briefing and presentation skills, listening and questioning techniques, constructive but critical review and feedback, time management, and meeting management.

Techniques which may be used include (1) rotating assignments for preparation and conduct of the meeting among employees; (2) having the rotating leaders review meeting objectives and identify effective procedures for achieving the stated objective (such as group interaction); and (3) using peer feedback to assess whether or not the objectives were met and to what extent. Topics can range from routine status reviews to projection of new programs or specific problem resolutions (for example, a discussion on ways to improve in-house communications).

This activity is easily integrated into daily work as an alternative to the more common staff meeting led by the supervisor. It increases participation and involvement by employees and gives the supervisor an additional opportunity to observe the relative strengths and weaknesses of his/her employees. Other in-house supervisors can serve as resources in identifying useful techniques in problem identification and resolution, and employees can volunteer for meetings which match IDP objectives.

The relatively small and familiar staff can serve as a supportive group, and the “good stress” of friendly competition can lead employees to higher performance levels and accomplishments. An additional benefit of developmental staff meetings is that they enhance team building since employees have the opportunity to learn more about the expertise of their peers and are exposed to the value of cooperation within the work unit.

Participation In Professional Organizations

The employee is encouraged to identify those development needs which might be enhanced by participating in the activities of a professional organization. These organizations afford an opportunity for the exchange of practical information with colleagues in and outside the government. Interaction with others sharing occupational and/or avocation interests can contribute to state-of-the-art knowledge and professional growth. Participation must extend beyond merely reading the organization’s journals and must provide experience which enhances interpersonal and supervisory skills.

Volunteer Work

The employee is encouraged to identify those development needs which could be enhanced through volunteer functions with organizations or employee participation groups. Volunteer organizations or groups pose a special challenge to the employee. The employee must influence the behavior of others that are not under his control. The employee benefits from active involvement in the management and operation of the group. Participation must include more than attending meetings and/or paying dues. Prior to becoming a manager, I volunteered to manage my son’s little league team and spent two years on the board as Vice President.


Networking is maintaining channels of communication among and between specific groups or individuals. As a developmental device, the purpose is to en-courage the employee to initiate personal contacts and maintain open channels of communication throughout the organization, as well as with other groups from which the employee can also benefit. As an example, within the Supervisory IDP pool, participants could network among themselves. The result is often an improved individual awareness of the work organization’s dynamics and an avenue for obtaining needed information from other related organizations.

Several different strategies can be used to facilitate network building, including participation in professional organizations, committees, and volunteer groups. Network building is especially useful for employees who have few contacts outside their own part of the organization.

Network building takes time and may not show an immediate, obvious payoff. However, there is substantial long-term potential for improved communications and cooperation within the agency, as well as for better-informed employees.

Next Step: Complete Your IDP