3 proven ways to improve higher-ed collaboration

Working across higher-ed departments is not easy but it can strengthen the institution’s ability to get things done. Here's how

2. Align incentives to drive outcomes

For many, collaboration doesn’t come naturally. It’s no different in higher education.
What is different is that cross-functional teams in corporations generally have incentives aligned to drive the top and bottom lines. In higher education, the rewards are real, if subtle.

  • Monetary incentives can be useful, but recognition tends to be more effective and builds culture.
  • One-on-ones between mid-level managers and C-Suite can incentivize both groups.
  • Helping foster the creation of something positive and seeing it bear fruit can be incredibly satisfying.
  • Seeing a difficult situation improved can provide strong motivation.
  • Winning respect through a particularly thoughtful or creative approach to problem-solving.
  • Incentives to finishing projects on time and receiving high adoption rates.

3. Share institutional knowledge for better decision making

Leaders across all parts of the university must be knowledgeable about each other’s responsibilities to advance the strategic direction of their institution while lowering operational costs. Administrators can share institutional knowledge in many ways—through regular inter-departmental and “engagement” meetings, setting up collaborative SMART goals, reading publications outside of your expertise, and attending education consortiums, seminars, and conferences.

Ithaca College is a perfect example of how sharing institutional knowledge can result in better decision making. At the college, a close CIO-CBO collaboration facilitated work within different reporting structures with sometimes differing goals. This ensured transparency and fostered trust among stakeholders. For the broader institution’s goals, they instituted monthly “Dollars and $ense” meetings, during which staff from any department can participate to better understand the financial and operational facets of the college.

Such sharing drives accountability and improves institutional habits, creating awareness across the organization. It is ultimately the mechanism that strengthens the institution’s ability to make better decisions and get things done.

Clear and shared responsibility—top down and bottom up—is important on the strategic initiatives undertaken by any university. Without this feeling of shared responsibility, all too often the best laid strategic plans lose steam after year two or three.

Collaboration among different functional units provides a huge opportunity to align the whole organization to the core mission of the university, mitigating the “us versus them” mentality. With technology driving much of the university experience today, communication and collaboration between the CIO and IT staff and other business leaders is critical. As officers of your institutions, what is your role in creating this collaboration across departments?

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