Sunday, December 2, 2012

Breakin' Down Silos: A Communications/Admissions Success Story

At both conferences I attended this year (#SUNYCUAD and #heweb12), a common discussion was about the silos that exist on college campuses that keep departments from coming together for the greater good and to accomplish common goals. This past week, I witnessed the wonderfulness that can come from breaking down those silos - but even better, I saw what happens when every person in the room is allowed to be an expert at their craft.

A couple of months ago, my colleague had the idea to host a workshop with our office (communications) and the admissions office. In the last two years, the two offices had undergone significant changes in personnel, strategy and goals. While our vice presidents meet regularly and some of us meet with each other for different projects, we had not all gotten together in one room before. 

This wasn’t just going to be an hour gathering, either - she ambitiously scheduled a four-hour block of time and the vice presidents of both departments fully backed her. Admissions would bring a contingent of about 14 people, including each counselor, director, VP and a few others heavily involved in their work. Communications would bring our VP, both creative services personnel, our editor and me - the writer and social media person. In all, nearly 20 people were in the room - that’s 20 employees each giving up four hours of time, something we’re so short of this time of year anyways. It was a huge commitment by everyone.

We knew it could go one of three ways - success, getting through, and barely making it through. A success would be conversations, sharing ideas, constructive criticism and having a better understanding of each other’s roles. Anything less would be people watching the clock and waiting for the moment we would all be dismissed. 

I think heading in to the workshop, everyone had some reservations about what to expect. But four hours later, I was flat out giddy. I could have sat there for hours listening to my admissions colleagues talk to us about their road experiences, jotting down ideas for our next projects. There were a few key elements that led to “all the awesome things:”
  1. Communicate the workshop’s importance. Having worked in admissions for a short time in my career, I have always felt a communications office and admissions office should work very closely and almost seamlessly together. As a content creator, I knew going in that this workshop was going to really help me shape how I write content for an audience our admissions staff knows so well. But you know what showed me how important this workshop was? Both vice presidents 1) endorsed it; 2) attended for the full four hours; 3) had their entire staffs attend; and 4) took part in every aspect of the workshop. This was critical to each department’s belief in its potential success.
  2. Plan. We were lucky because my colleague has taught classes and workshops before and was comfortable leading this session. In the weeks leading up to the event, we spent a few hours developing activities that everyone in the room would find purposeful, applicable and useful. We made sure there wasn’t a way to not participate. She also arranged for cookies. (Yum.)
  3. Empower. We’ve all been in meetings where someone in there is the self-appointed “most important person in the room.” While it’s important to have leaders in these types of gatherings, what was most important was that it didn’t take long for everyone to realize their opinion mattered and that everyone else was really listening to what they had to say. It only took a few minutes for people to become fully engaged in the first activity and that energy never left the room. In fact, I’d argue we all took the energy from the session and brought it to work with us the very next day.
Even five days later, I’m completely inspired and excited from our conversations. Our offices are across campus from one another but somehow after that workshop, they feel a lot closer. The next time we plan one of these (and people are already requesting for it!) it’ll be even better, which is hard to believe. We’ve each gained a greater understanding of what our colleagues across campus are doing and what we can each do to support them. The two-way street just got a whole lot wider. There are less speed bumps and speed zones. The sky ahead is bright. 

What does your office (or you) do to gain a better understanding of what your colleagues across campus are doing and what you can do to support them, and what you can do for them?

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