The landscape of higher education is shifting rapidly. The COVID19 pandemic accelerated an already shifting milieu. As colleges and universities seek to dynamically respond to a changing context, there is one approach I believe is essential for colleges to develop the resiliency and innovation to thrive moving forward: collaboration.
The amount that we can accomplish is multiplied through working together. From Lewis and Clark to Orville and Wilbur Wright to Rodgers and Hammerstein, great things have been achieved when two skillful individuals join forces.
From the first field trip we take in elementary school, we are introduced to the buddy system and its virtues, but we are quick to forget this fundamental lesson in adulthood and our professional lives. We buy into the fallacy of self-sufficiency.
On an individual and organizational level, our outcomes are enhanced when we work together.
We know there are countless benefits to collaboration, but three rise to the top for anyone considering a strategic partnership.
We each bring our own unique vantage point to the work we do. When you work with others, you move from tunnel vision to a panoramic view. Partners help you see your blind spots. This prevents critical errors and shortens the iteration time for improvement of processes. A well-suited collaborator will keep you grounded as you evaluate and execute your mission.
Awareness is particularly key in higher education, where all-too-often the rationale given for a decision is “we’ve always done it this way.” Collaborators can bring a healthy shake up to the status quo.
You are in a position of leadership in higher education because you are good at what you do. You have united skill with experience to shape successful outcomes. Because of that, you understand that to be truly proficient at something takes a significant investment of time.
A collaboration allows you to pool proficiency. When you work with proven partners, whether on an individual or organizational level, you augment your expertise and open up mutually beneficial opportunities. High-quality leaders and institutions are secure enough in their identity to learn from others.
Finally, partnerships are worth doing simply for the fun of it. If your work has become routine, partnerships can breathe fresh life into your endeavors. Don’t underestimate the power of chemistry. Collaboration brings creativity and enjoyment to the work that we do. When I say that partnership is the key to growth, I don’t mean only expansion of programming, but also personal growth. Working alongside another individual or group makes projects more kinetic and engaging.
Partnerships are a pivotal tool for growth, but they are not automatically successful. There are hallmarks of a prosperous strategic partnership:
One obvious way to identify winning collaborators is to recognize where there is already overlap in objectives. For example, a college of nursing and a local medical center both already have a vested interest in equipping medical professionals and strengthening healthcare in the region. With a unified aim, you can combine your efforts in a more robust campaign. It also eliminates potential redundancy and frees up resources for additional ventures.
The foundation of a productive strategic partnership is complementary values. You must be attuned to your personal brand or organizational culture to identify collaborators who share your priorities. When your ethos and objectives are in-line, there’s no end to what you can accomplish. You don’t need to have an identical approach, just harmonious principles. A mismatch in values can seem tone-deaf to constituents and backfire.
Once you’ve entered a strategic partnership, it’s imperative that you define your expectations for yourself and one another. What are your desired outcomes? What roles will each of you fulfill? How will you adapt when needed? Everyone brings assumptions to a collaboration. The trick is recognizing them before they clash and cause mayhem. Approached with a positive tone, this intentionality communicates respect to those you are working with.
Partnerships can take many forms.
Colleges and community-development organizations can invest in the people and infrastructure of a city. Employees within an institution can share insights from different departments to yield more integrated functionality. Colleagues at different universities can facilitate dialogue within a discipline that can drive innovation. Colleges can join forces with companies to operate internship and job-placement programs.
As partnerships take shape, they can reinvigorate missions and expand opportunities. And that is exactly what higher education needs right now.
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