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Silos to Synergy: How Cross-Departmental Collaboration Shapes Institutions for the Better

Collaboration across an institution has tremendous benefits for students and the broader university or college. Fostering interaction and communication can lead to a better understanding of student needs, shared resources, revenue growth, cohesive educational pathways and more.

The traditional ways of doing things won’t cut it anymore to respond to new learner demographics’ various needs. Collaboration is slowly but surely emerging in strategy, and it’s important for leaders to get onboard. In this interview, Michael Kurilla discusses the need to de-silo departments, the strengths CE can bring to the broader institution and how to embrace cross-departmental collaboration.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it important for departments to break out of their silos and focus on more cross-departmental collaboration?

Michael Kurilla (MK): Collaboration comes down to improving efficiency and effectiveness to help streamline processes and avoid duplication. Optimizing your resource allocations by leveraging faculty and staff strengths is a part of that. You’ll have cost savings and increased productivity that will lead to improved outcomes.

Innovation also stems from collaboration. You can collaborate on program designs and ideas that meet student needs more effectively. You can have cohesive pathways and seamless transitions to create a more personalized learning experience. Overall, the result is institutional cohesion. So often you see the silo effect across the institution, and that leads to misaligned goals. By sharing a vision and aligning efforts, you can reach those goals and improve your institutional experience.

Evo: How can other departments leverage their CE division specifically to help drive that institutional revenue growth?

MK: This can be seen on both a micro and macro level. I personally work with departments on a micro level—departments within a school, for example. For me, working with the marketing department can bring in different audiences and, in turn, revenue growth but on a smaller scale. But without that centralized collaboration, doing it on a small scale, you won’t reach as many people as you’d like.

A marketing department can also highlight CE programming differently and leverage data to target the right audiences. Alumni relations can also work with CE to bring those students back. Keeping a relationship with them as working professionals is important to retain them as lifelong learners. That collaboration will contribute to revenue.

Evo: What are some challenges that come with cross-departmental collaboration?

MK: One of the challenges is limited resources both from a financial and human aspect. There are communication barriers that come with being siloed that must be opened. People are so used to being in silos that they don’t know how to proactively talk to other departments.

There’s a resistance to change in the traditional higher education setting. New programs require change, and that might put faculty off. There’s a fear that CE will take away from degrees, which is unfounded. It’s two different markets and groups of people. These programs enhance one another; they’re not competing. And all of that comes down to the culture in a hierarchical structure. You need that collaboration and openness to new things.

Evo: What are some low-hanging fruit higher ed leaders can reach for to overcome some of those obstacles and get the ball rolling on collaboration?

MK: Having open communication channels, on a micro or macro level, is important. Digital collaboration tools like Slack can open up communication across departments and get them talking. In one of my previous positions, there was a group of CE departments across the university that met on a regular basis to discuss the work we are doing, if there were projects we could collaborate on and to simply see how everyone was doing.

Cross-departmental committees are also a great idea. We have one for microcredentials that allows us to communicate and bounce ideas off one another. You have to get people together to start discussing ideas, providing resources and lending a hand where needed. It’s critical to have the right sources and support in place for departments to achieve that larger revenue goal leadership is looking for, but it starts with having the right support in place.

Evo: What impact does cross-collaboration have on the learner experience and the institution as a whole?

MK: Cross-collaboration results in enhanced learning opportunities, through which you can create interdisciplinary programs between departments and schools. Learners can benefit from a broader range of perspectives from faculty creating these programs. It’ll also improve student support. A centralized CE unit gives you core data, student services, academic advising, professional development and more. Everything is readily available.

Collaboration also creates reputation and success. For example, universities like Arizona State, Carnegie Mellon and MIT have reputations for innovation and doing things differently. So, when you take chances, you can end up doing things better. You’ll become a leading innovator in the higher ed space.

Evo: Is there anything else you’d like to add about cross-departmental collaboration?

MK: University-level Continuing Education requires a centralized department, office or school. With this, they can lead initiatives and bring people together to collaborate.

A centralized unit or office can break down those silos. People must be proactive and talk to those who understand the student needs and how to meet them. With the knowledge and expertise of the CE side, we can open up avenues to get the collaboration a university needs.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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