Editorial Pick 2015: What does collaboration really look like?

By Meris Stansbury, Managing Editor, @eSN_Meris
December 18th, 2015

Campus leaders discuss why collaboration is a necessity, as well as best practices for action.

collaboration-higher-education[Editor’s Note: Our editorial picks include stories the editors believe either highlighted an important issue in 2015 and/or signaled the beginning of an escalating trend or issue for 2016.]

Recently, the term “collaboration” has become higher education’s latest buzzword, with multiple conference speakers touting its importance, as well as everyone from CIOs to professors exclaiming that collaboration is imperative for supporting, and growing the capabilities of, today’s innovative institutions.

But collaboration is much more than the initial “warm glow” feeling of partnership, says Richard Ray, provost and professor of Kinesiology, Hope College. Meaningful collaboration is about outlining specific group roles, letting go of preconceived notions, specifying measurable deliverables, making personal investments into these collaborative projects and implementations, and much more.

In this thought-leadership piece, leaders from diverse departments and institutions discuss what collaboration really means, the potential benefits of successful collaborations, and how to get started at your department or institution.

[Listed in alphabetical order by last name]

David_Hinson200IT tools can help

By David J. Hinson, Yeshivah of Flatbush

Of the myriad challenges faced in running an efficient technology services organization, few are more challenging that keeping everyone engaged and connected to what’s happening across the entire enterprise, and being able to effectively cover the entirety of the spectrum of customer service response levels (emergencies, on-demand service, equipment drop-off, ticketing systems, etc.).

At the Yeshivah of Flatbush, we use several collaboration tools to help us manage our real-time communications. Between our campuses, our IT staff is often out-of-reach of a cell signal and rarely in their offices, though they’re usually within range of a solid WiFi signal. Texting is also often more miss than hit.

In this environment, the tool that we rely upon most, for our daily group collaboration and messaging needs, is Slack. Our uses for Slack are twofold: First, we use Slack’s feature of channels to communicate where group members are working, and what they are working on, at any given time of day (our #zoho channel); announcing when we arrive or leave a work site (our #whereami channel); or simply sending out a call for lunch partners (our #lunch channel). Second, we use Slack to augment our online help desk ticketing system to rally additional help or expertise to a person or location. As Slack has highly customizable alerts, available on our iOS and Android mobile devices, it allows us to know in real time something of interest that is happening on our channels, or when someone needs to reach us immediately.

Most organizations have a blind spot in their service coverage: knowing where their people assets are at any given time, and being responsive to all of their constituencies in real time.

Slack helps us to fulfill both of these needs, without disrupting our normal work flow.

David J. Hinson is the director of IT at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, in Brooklyn, NY. He is also a former CIO of a small liberal arts college, a seasoned mobile applications developer, and a popular podcaster.

head_shot_salwa200Establish specific, measurable deliverables

By Salwa Ismail, Georgetown University

As institutions of higher education balance and manage the rising complexities of the dynamic environment that they operate within, collaboration among the different units on campus becomes imperative. However, the strategies for collaboration are still nascent and under development. It becomes essential that the different units with asymmetrical reporting structures and different unit-based goals collaborate efficiently and effectively while balancing the restraints that the different units have based on their organizational structures.

Some of the strategies for successful collaboration and effective partnerships emanate from clear communication. It’s always best to ensure that the final goals and outcomes of the collaborative partnership are defined before the initiation of the collaboration. Once the final outcomes have been agreed upon, it is extremely beneficial to keep channels of communication open between the different team members involved in the partnership to ensure clear, professional, and respectful exchange of information between them.

Periodic check-ins between the different parties involved should be built into the partnership expectations, along with an upward reporting structure to ensure that the collaboration’s deliverables are on task, and are still compliant with the overarching goals. What also helps is to have the team members who are involved in the collaboration be clear on their roles and responsibilities towards the partnership deliverables. Having the team members on the same page helps ensure that conflicts are minimized (if any arise) and also helps ensure efficiency and output of deliverables within the expected timeline.

As partnerships evolve—and include not just intra-campus units, but units from other universities and the outside community—establishing specific, measurable deliverables, along with the functional requirements needed to produce these deliverables, can ensure that the projects and partnerships do not stagnate or create any misunderstandings.

Collaborations between different units can leverage the best resources and expertise to deliver successful results for the institution. And following some of these tips for cooperative partnerships—many from my own personal experiences—can help the institution increase administrative efficiencies and programmatic impact through these combined services and resources.

Salwa Ismail heads the Library Information Technology Department at Georgetown University Libraries.

(Next page: Personal investments; strategy and sacrifice)

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