Collaborating in a Decentralized Postsecondary Institution: Three Insights from the Organizational Learning Team

Denise Bentumkate bowersrsz_alexandra_rodney

By Denise Bentum, Kate Bowers and Alexandra Rodney

As mentioned in our last post, the Innovation Hub’s Organizational Learning team has been interviewing faculty and Student Life staff at the University of Toronto to learn about their experiences working with students and with each other. We have been exploring the topics of collaboration and student support, in line with a design-thinking approach, by trying to understand these things from the perspective of staff and faculty. Our goal has been to elicit stories of successful and challenging experiences supporting students and collaborating across the university’s many divisions and departments. We have analysed these stories in order to understand how to meet the needs of both students and frontline workers at the university, and to learn about what they value during intra-institutional collaborations and interactions.

In our analysis of the 16 interviews we did with faculty and Student Life staff at UofT, we identified many similar themes that occurred across conversations. Here are three key insights from those conversations. Perhaps these will resonate with you if your work involves collaborating across groups or providing services to students within a large, decentralized institution.

  1. In regards to collaborating across divisions or departments, interviewees expressed a need for clarity in regards to expectations, goals, definitions of success, reporting structures and accountability. Without these, it can be difficult to measure success, understand who is responsible for keeping the (collaborative) team on task and determine who is ultimately responsible for leading a project to completion.
  2. Student Life staff identified students as their first priority, but faculty face pressure to make research their first priority. Faculty have time constraints but also feel a need to have more tools with which they can support students.  
  3. Staff expressed a need for help navigating the myriad programs, services and departments available on campus. The multitude of services and departments can leave staff feeling uncertain about the most appropriate referral or connection to make for students.

We think of these insights as opportunities to develop ideas that target the unmet needs of staff and students at UofT. A number of questions logically flow from these insights. For example, how might we meet the needs of staff collaborating across departments/divisions for expectation-setting and accountability? How might we provide faculty with tools to support students that do not require substantial time commitments? How might we help staff navigate the services at UofT most effectively so that they are able to support and direct students efficiently and confidently?

We are hopeful that the insights we gleaned about the organizational culture at UofT will provide guidance for how to best implement the solutions developed by the domain teams at the Innovation Hub!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*