Author: Wayne Campagna, Consulting Executive, Higher Education SME
The changes being made by many colleges and universities are becoming less self-contained and are having broader and deeper impact across entire institutions or systems. Coupled with traditional consensus decision-making and the decentralized nature of many higher education organizational structures, transformation is a bumpy and treacherous road.
I often hear breaking down silos as a solution to facilitating transformation, but I don’t think that is the only approach. Due to the unique culture and history in higher education, a “harmonizing” of functions might be a better alternative.
How “Harmonizing” Functions Within a Higher Ed Institution Improves Transformation Efforts
Here is what I mean by suggesting colleges and universities should try to “harmonize” the different teams and departments within the organization structure during a change initiative.
When an orchestra performs, instrument groups are separate. However, each group understands its role and part needed to produce a cohesive result. The brass section does not have to be tightly integrated with the woodwind section to produce a beautiful, harmonic performance, but each of those two sections must understand enough about each other and the overall song to make the performance complete.
The same can be said for any institution of higher education. Every department should understand how they fit into the goals of the university and the overall transformation in addition to how they influence or impact other departments from a macro perspective.
For example, each different school may have its own IT (Information Technology) department. Optimally, the university would have consistent policies and procedures – the musical score – for data management, IT support and all other functions. Similarly, while the Alumni Relations office is responsible for managing relationships with these important groups, it should seek to stay in tune with student recruiting efforts, so messages are consistent.
Data Transformation Can Reinforce Collaboration and Understanding
Harmonization across the institution can be short lived. Once the initiative or project is done, it is easy to revert to old habits of a narrow perspective. The importance of data in today’s new landscape has created an environment which can reinforce and solidify the cross-department collaboration required to meet the myriad of challenges in Higher Education today and in the future.
For instance, by focusing on student success and the data that is critical to making decisions and driving improvements you can create the muscle memory for leaders to realize they all have parts of the information key to helping students meeting their goals. Momentum can be generated as functions realize that data from other departments coupled with their data can create even more valuable insights.
Lastly, success will only be achievable when all the departments are taking direction from a single conductor. Everyone plays the same sheet of music. That is why leadership from the top – the “conducting” of this orchestra must be done by university presidents, provosts, and deans – Perhaps getting to this point is technically breaking down silos, but there is a more positive tune we can sing.