What the heck does it mean to be a founding dean?

Building a team.

One of things I’ve learned about being a “founding dean” of a new college is that while it is a new and emerging college, there is no shortage of ideas of what it should look like and what it should be doing.  And you know I like that. There are clear expectations, but the fun part is that we, the staff in the College of Continuing Education and Professional Development, are charged with charting the path to meet and exceed those expectations.

The challenge for the founding dean and all of the staff is to take multiple departments who until now were running independently, and to bring them together with a unified brand, common policies and procedures, and a united voice with the internal and external community.

One of the big questions is what do we need to do as a college so that we are unified, common, and united?  While others may approach this challenge differently, I believe one of the first things we need to do is to work as a staff in creating a team. A team isn’t just a group of folks who just happen to be in the same college, using the same logo.  A team must be more than that.

Katzenbach and Smith in the Harvard Business Review (July/August 2005) provide an excellent overview of the ingredients of a real team.  They define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

A team is a group of people with complementary skills. That means that each team member brings their own unique skills to the table and that as a team we honor and utilize those skills.  I love the notion of complementary skills. Let’s face it, each of us has our strengths and weaknesses. As a leader, I believe our responsibilities include first, assisting each team member in reaching their potential and second, assisting the team in understanding how we as a group can best succeed by utilizing each others’ strengths.  Solving significant problems requires a range of skills and perspectives, and my job as a leader is to nurture and celebrate the range of skills we bring to the table in addressing a common problem.  And as leaders, we must work with our team in finding ways to develop the skills needed to meet the team’s performance challenge.

A team is a group of people committed to a common purpose. That common commitment for this college is a commitment to serving those who cannot be served by the campus for whatever reason, providing access to the promise of education, and to help others reach their full potential.  I am very lucky because the individuals in the units that now make up this new college believe in this common commitment and are living it with their programs and those they serve.  One common purpose we will be committed to will be building a unit centered on customer service.  We will strive to develop an organization that creates not just satisfied customers but “raving fans.” More about Raving Fans in future blog posts.

As leaders, we must take this strong commitment and work with the team in developing a set of mutual performance goals for each of the units that are aligned with the overall goals of the college.  In building a new college, we need to ask whether the programs that we’ve traditionally offered continue to support the college’s goals and what new programs should we develop.

Great teams hold themselves accountable.  No group ever becomes a team until it can hold itself accountable as a team. Success becomes measured not by what may happen in your individual unit but by meeting the college’s performance commitment.  Can the college be successful without the success of the individual units? No, but a team makes a commitment to the success of the whole and in so doing “establishes a social contract among members that relates to their purpose and guides and obligates how they must work together.”

Why worry about creating a team that is “committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable?” Because if you fail to create a team, the costs are very high not only in potential lost business, lost customers, and damage to your college’s reputation, but also people begin to resent the imposition and priorities and you risk the development of serious animosities.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, https://shaeffersforays.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/boys-in-the-boat/, about building an effective and efficient rowing team, the key to a great team is trust.  Trust in the team and each team member.  Brown in Boys in the Boat said it eloquently, “Perhaps the seeds of redemption lay not just in perseverance, hard work, and rugged individualism. Perhaps they lay in something more fundamental—the simple notion of everyone pitching in and pulling together.”

To me this is the classic professional continuing education unit: everyone is more than willing to pitch in when we need “all hands on deck,” and it is a team that is pulling together to meet a common goal.

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2 Responses to What the heck does it mean to be a founding dean?

  1. Don Swoboda says:

    You are correct and on track. Always remember, you are the servant to every team member to help them achieve all they can be to be successful. If your team members are successful, then by default you are successful and everybody wins. Go Coach.
    don s

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