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Teams and Taskforces

Meetings are the administrative equivalent of grading. Meetings can fill an administrator’s calendar in much the same way that grading fills a faculty member’s inbox. Both are tedious. Both are mission critical. Grading individual work remains one of the best ways to assess students’ work, provide feedback, and encourage improvement – it is at the heart of learning. Meetings can be an efficient way to bring together the “right” people, brainstorm ideas, and solve problems – they are at the heart of governing.

Not all meetings are created equal. Meetings that are routine, lack a clear purpose, and focus on one-way communication are not an ideal use of time. But at TorchStar, we have seen two specific types of meetings improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of institutions of higher education: cross-functional teams and short-term taskforces.

Cross-functional teams can bring the “right” people together to address strategic priorities. For example, many strategic plans identify undergraduate student recruitment, retention, persistence, and graduation as a key priority. It may be tempting to place responsibility for undergraduate students in a broad functional area (e.g., the Provost) or a specific office (e.g., Student Success). But we have seen that cross-functional teams can help organizations produce significant results quickly. Such teams will probably include representatives from academic affairs, enrollment management, student success, advising, and student life. But they can be further enhanced by including representatives from finance and administration, communication, institutional research, information technology, the faculty, and student voices are also important. Team members should be in a decision-making role within their functional area. And ideally, the team should have no more than 10-12 members.

Short-term taskforces can address tangible problems. They should have a specific charge and timeline and should be thanked profusely when their work is done. One example we saw work well was a taskforce charged with evaluating summer offerings and preparing a plan for making better use of the institution’s resources over the summer. The taskforce was chaired by one of the academic deans and included members from multiple academic and administrative areas including the teaching and learning center, non-credit courses and conferences, and the library. The taskforce recommended specific actions including a revised instructional funding model, enhanced student support services during the summer, development of a summer “math camp,” and identification of additional non-credit opportunities for summer use of campus resources. After the taskforce was complete, the chancellor treated all members to dinner and assured them that their report would be a living document overseen by a dedicated staff member.

If you are interested in learning how to make your teams and taskforces more efficient and effective, contact TorchStar. We’d love to brainstorm with you about how you can bring together the right people to address your intuition’s challenges.

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