It's been talked about a lot, lately. Largely because it's a core attribute of the Millennial generation. With their ability to access almost anything from anywhere at the drop of a hat, how decisions are made is changing.
Collaboration is no longer a nicety, it's a necessity.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I believe the concept was invented yesterday, and the many generations prior to Millennials never worked in groups to solve problems. But...the fact is that the needle towards how much emphasis is placed on collaboration is moving, and moving fast.
When you can get information from anywhere, it's expected that any voice that wants to be part of the conversation can be. And we no longer live in a world where that is up for debate. Ask just about any organization, and they will tell you (if they know what they are doing) they no longer "control" the conversation about who they are.
The same is true in higher education.
And that's not bad news.
It should be seen as an amazing opportunity.
To connect. To engage. To empower.
What's the alternative?
The exhaustion found in isolation.
Administrators having closed door meetings, deciding on the entire direction their institution will take. Faculty believing their only role is to teach, and retreating to their office with a closed door when they are done. Students understanding that thumbs on keyboards, and earbuds in ears aren't valuing the relationships next to them. All of it creating more isolation, when what we need is healthy conversation. Across all groups of people, and beyond just the walls of the institution.
I'm not over-generalizing, and saying this is the case everywhere, for every University. But I'd be willing to bet that there are pockets of this on most campuses. And therein lies the amazing opportunity. Again...trading isolation for conversation.
No University is an island. And it's time to look deeper into why the recruitment, enrollment, and retention challenges are here, and what can be done about them.
There are 3 things that the exhaustion from isolation
will do to any team. And more good news...it's avoidable.
1. Desperation: Some institutions of higher learning fall into this trap. It's trying every idea that comes across the table to be "relevant". Most of the ideas tried end up being ones other Universities have tried, and have been remotely successful with in the past. The problem? Notice I said "the past". There is no forward thinking leadership in desperation. It's hang on and survive, not step out and thrive. But, Brett..."new" might not work. You're right. If it does? You just traded in desperation for innovation. That's a solid upgrade.
2. Frustration: When enrollment and retention begin to decrease, frustration increases. Trying to solve the problem only through internal channels may seem like the natural play here. I'd suggest this is the time to look externally as well. A "both-and" approach. Taking the best of who you are and connecting it with the very connected world "outside the University walls". Fighting off frustration comes when leadership is committed to doing something very different. Daring to question the status quo.
3. Unmet Expectation: Unfortunately, this is the "blame game" portion of the program. It's when the numbers don't look good, so the institution looks for the person they need to pin it on. I would suggest it's less of a person problem at this point, and simply a vision problem. What do I mean by that? It could be one of a few things. The University may not have a vision that is clear and concise (not a wordy paragraph where every other word is five syllables, just to sound good). If you can't articulate it, how can anyone be expected to follow it? If the University does have this in place, it's possible that hiring faculty and staff is done more as a "fill the position" mode, than to "support the vision". Bringing in people who aren't sold out to who you are and why you exist is a recipe for unmet expectations, because the measure of success looks different to everyone. And lastly...the recruitment never stands a chance, because it's being done by best of intentions, rather than intentionally. The "fill the funnel" method...aka, just get them here, and get a deposit. It just doesn't work that way anymore. Sometimes you have to grow differently. Addition, by subtraction...so that you can multiply. Cut out what doesn't cling to your vision (prune), so that who you are can grow back even stronger over time.
I realize it can be hard to have these conversations, and I applaud all of the Universities that are currently taking the time to do so. It's time we look at collaboration as a gift. The alternative? Continuing to work in isolation...facing the unwanted acts of desperation, feelings of frustration, and the reality of unmet expectations.
I have a friend, who is a professor, that made a comment recently about what needs to happen in higher education. Short, sweet and to the point.
"Deconstruct to reconstruct".
The only way it will work is through true collaboration.
Administration, faculty, staff, students...
AND those outside the 4 walls of the institution.
In the same room.
Make the decision to be intentional about building these relationships,
so that you create teams of influence.
That's how you...
Change a campus.
Change a life.
Change the world.
One collaboration at a time.