Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

Fostering Shared Goals and Common Understanding

December 30, 1899


​The forces in an institution that separate units and departments are more powerful than those that unite them. Higher education institutions are often referred to as loosely coupled organizations; that is, the connections between and among the units are slight. Specialization and institutional size compound the problem, and the sense of shared institutional purpose can be weak.

A common agenda tends to lessen conflict. However, if people do not own an agenda, they will find ways to avoid implementing it. Activities such as workshops, retreats, and seminars can engage people in building or supporting a communal agenda. For example, if enhancing participation by students of color is an important institutional objective, faculty and staff must understand the issue and feel an obligation to contribute to the success of all students. Thus, a workshop on intercultural communication might teach some specific information skills and at the same time promote personal involvement in changing institutional and individual behaviors.

Building teams

Institutional management is highly dependent on team efforts. Some teams are permanent entities, such as the cabinet or the president's or provost's staff. Other teams are formed to complete a particular task, such as the steering committee for an institutional self-study. All participants benefit from opportunities to concentrate on their purpose and develop personal ties. Workshops, retreats, or short off-campus sessions that focus on the particular task or issue at hand are helpful. If individuals are to function as an ongoing team, they will benefit from explicitly defining how the team functions and the roles and contributions of each member.

Developing linkages across the institution

Institutional units may have remarkably little contact with one another. For example, the physicists may have closer working relationships with their counterparts at other institutions, or in other countries, than with the faculty of the English department at their own institution. Academic, student affairs, business, and administrative departments also tend to operate independently of one another. Professional development activities break down these barriers by helping reinforce a common purpose and provide a common language. For example, a time-management program for faculty and administrators from all units can have the felicitous side effect of introducing people from various parts of the institution to each other and of easing their future interactions. Such linkages are most often a by-product of activities with other central purposes. For example, including individuals from various areas of the institution on a search committee provides them with exposure to the position and functional area at hand, to the workings of that unit, and to their colleagues from other areas of campus.

Improving communication

People will always grumble about the quality and quantity of communication within an institution. Improving communication requires multiple and sustained efforts. The informal atmosphere of retreats and workshops eases communication and creates personal bonds that last long after the event. The process of defining a shared agenda or a plan to implement it often creates a common vocabulary, a lingo that becomes a recognized shorthand, or jokes that become part of the group's shared history.


Back to: What's in it for Us? Benefits to the Institution

Other ACE News

  • November 25, 2015

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    In today’s headlines, Inside Higher Ed examines how colleges and universities use discount rates as part of their recruitment strategies, with nearly 10 percent of colleges offering discount rates of 60 percent or more. In other news, the Pittsburgh...

  • Leading Internationalization

    November 23, 2015

    Map of South America

    Register Now for the 2016 Internationalization Collaborative

    ​ACE's Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement will host the 2016 Internationalization Collaborative, “Foundations for Global Learning: Internationalization in the General Education Curriculum,” Feb. 20 in Montreal.

  • Financial Aid

    November 23, 2015

    Students at graduation ceremony

    Perkins Loan Supporters Push for Reinstatement of the Program

    ​ACE, 53 higher education organizations and 535 colleges and universities are requesting a one-year extension of the Perkins Loan Program, which expired on Oct. 1.

  • ACE2016 - The ACE Annual Meeting

    November 18, 2015

    ACE2016 Logo

    Register Now for ACE2016

    Register by Dec. 1 to take advantage of the early bird registration discount for ACE2016, ACE’s 98th Annual Meeting, scheduled for March 12-15 in San Francisco.

  • Budget and Appropriations

    November 18, 2015

    Capitol steps

    Associations Ask Congress to Prioritize Higher Education in FY 2016 Labor-HHS Spending Bill

    ACE and a group of 21 higher education associations ask for higher education be made a priority as appropriations committees move forward on the remaining spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year.


 Preparing Leaders for the Future Toolkit