I recently delivered a talk at an advancement conference on the topic of identifying and communicating a school’s unique qualities and mission. During the presentation, an issue emerged that sits at the forefront of the minds of many of the professionals who were in attendance.

I spoke of the need for advancement personnel (development, admissions, recruitment / retention, communications, marketing, etc.) to connect deeply and continually with the academic leadership. Too often, the two offices operate as independent silos, with each group focused almost exclusively on their respective domains without much awareness or interest in what is occurring across the hallway or elsewhere on campus.

Part of this dynamic may come from each group’s familiarity and comfort level. Academic leaders are usually promoted from the classroom. They excel as instructors and instructional leaders and prefer to talk about pedagogy, to engage with teachers and students, and to deal with the kinds of tasks that are typically associated with school function (scheduling, supervision, curriculum, etc.).  Advancement personnel may not have any background as educational professionals; a sizable number of participants at my talk came to their current schools from the for-profit world and held degrees that were not education specific.

As a former principal, I can also speak to the fact that many school leaders do not feel all that comfortable, or at least not all that motivated, to address advancement related tasks and support their colleagues on the other side of the educational aisle. They see their jobs as “principal teachers” (the title that spawned the term “principal”) and view the business side of institutional functions as a necessary evil to ensure that the school can open its doors and fill its classrooms. This mindset can serve to erect formidable barriers between their advancement peers and themselves.

Moreover, this “silo mentality” does not only exist within schools. Henley Business School Professor Peter Hawkins recently delivered an online seminar to executive coaches on this topic. He spoke about how the days of the heroic CEO – the individual who single-handedly saves a corporation from falling over the fiscal cliff and restores it to past glory – are over. The team, he said, is the king of the 21st century workplace. The silo mentality is an issue because so many companies do not promote genuine teamwork, particularly across departments.

Today’s challenges, said Hawkins, stem from the rapid rate of workplace change, as well as what he called the “Unholy Trinity”: increased demands, increased expectations, and decreased resources. There is pressure to do more, at higher quality, and at a lower cost. To combat these challenges, Hawkins suggests that there needs to be lots of learning and deep connections, a continued flow of thoughts and ideas throughout organizations that bring people together to grapple with issues, identify solutions, and build trust and efficacy.

I believe that Hawkins’ suggestions can work well in the school and non-profit organizational environment too. Change is a huge challenge for leaders today, and it can be managed most effectively when people, ideas and talents are brought together to understand how best to cope with it.

Leaders of departmental “silos” need to come together regularly to clarify their underlying mission, goals, and objectives, and share information about their experiences, observations, successes, and setbacks. This communication will help both sides in their work and promote consistent, complementary messaging that is crucial to recruit, retain, and satisfy constituents.
Photo Credit: Jo Jakeman



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