Working horizontally in a vertical culture

Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration (jacket) Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration:
A guide for campus leaders
Adrianna L. Kezar & Jaime Lester
Published by Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint. 2009.

If you are interested in improving student learning and engagement on your campus, then you have probably deduced that collaboration is, at least to some degree, the key to success. It inspires innovation, leads to better service, motivates staff, and can even decrease costs. So if collaboration is such a compelling solution to our woes, why, then, is it so difficult to achieve? Adrianna Kezar and Jaime Lester provide some of the answers by studying, in great depth, the organizational culture of institutions that demonstrate a high level of collaboration.

Unlike other sectors, including the corporate world, that have adapted to the collaboration imperative, higher education is uniquely defined by its “siloed, bureaucratic, and hierarchical” organizational structure. Reward structures for faculty recognize individual accomplishments almost exclusively; autonomy is cherished; the culture values specialists and professionals rather than generalists. Working against these long-held traditions, trends and values is not easy but Kezar and Lester provide a very practical guide to establishing a culture of collaboration on campus.

The book is aimed at leaders – and most of the strategies outlined would require the leadership of someone of significant formal authority within the institution. Collaborative campuses have formalized social networks, they capitalize on committee work, open up meetings, build in reward structures and have designed physical spaces to facilitate interaction. But there’s lots of advice in here for informal leaders as well – ways for change agents to promote the collaboration agenda even when it appears to be unsupported at the very top.

Herein lies the paradox. Collaboration is the antithesis of top-down, command and control organizational structure. And yet without the support of the top of the hierarchy, efforts to collaborate are often frustrating and futile. For those of you who have been working diligently and thoughtfully toward a new way of doing things, you will find validation in this book. Here’s an idea: maybe use it as a thank you gift when an influential administrator speaks at your next event?

– Deanne Fisher

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