Leaders in public higher education face numerous challenges today. Just yesterday the headline in the Pioneer Press announced “MnSCU’s $12.7 million shortfall deeper than expected.” With declines in student enrollment and increases in negotiated compensation for several employee groups, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) leaders commented that colleges and universities will need to bolster their enrollment strategies and they will be looking to trim costs. This is a common scenario for many institutions across the nation.
Other challenges in public higher education today include, but are not limited to: new technologies, changing student and employee demographics, demand for innovation, competition from for-profit institutions. Not surprisingly, each of these challenges are complex and not easily solved. They require the collaboration of faculty, staff, and administrators working together to manage them effectively.
In a major effort dubbed “Charting the Future,” MnSCU has been encouraging increased collaboration in the last few years to ensure that our colleges and universities can deliver on its commitments to grow Minnesota’s economy and open the doors of educational opportunity to all Minnesotans. Teams of people worked together diligently to produce recommendations that could be implemented at the institutional level and system level. And now, many of those recommendations are moving forward. Still, implementing those recommendations will take additional collaboration because most of the solutions are not simple and require creating something that did not exist before or generating ideas for new service delivery or know-how.
Given the need for increased need collaboration in all our workplaces, it begs the question, what can leaders do to promote a culture of collaboration? In an earlier blog, I cited Dan Sanker and his ideas for fostering collaboration. Additionally, in his book, Collaborate: The Art of We, Sanker gives sage advice on how to assemble a collaborative team. He advises looking for people who have the following key traits and characteristics:
- A positive attitude, open-mindedness, curiosity, and enthusiasm
- Good communication skills
- Flexibility and the ability to tolerate ambiguity
- A willingness to take risks
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- The ability to be self reflective
- Good interpersonal skills
- The ability to see the big picture
I recall when I was a graduate student in the 1980s and was hired for my first job in higher education administration. My boss at the time told me that the most important attribute needed for anyone to be successful in higher education was the ability to tolerate ambiguity. I’ve reflected on that conversation many times over the years and have found truth in it. Cultivating my ability to tolerate ambiguity sure has helped me to be a better collaborator.
What traits and characteristics do you look for in people as you assemble collaborative teams?