Building Collegiality Among Faculty: Iowa State Learns from Successes in COACHE’s Community of Practice

by Jeannie Kim

Teamwork HuddleCOACHE’s community of practice provides an opportunity to hear more about—and learn from—partner institutions’ experiences and successes.

For over 15 years, Iowa State has been a partner of COACHE, listening to the voices of their faculty, and implementing key changes supported by COACHE data and resources. They recently worked with COACHE to tap into its community of practice, with the specific goal of building greater collegiality among faculty. So, how did it happen and what did they learn?

The power of cross-institutional engagement

While Iowa State’s 2021 report results showed evidence of overall positive results for most of their benchmarks, they requested support from the COACHE team when they saw that faculty satisfaction for departmental collegiality had room for improvement.

The COACHE team helped the university connect with peers or other similar institutions in COACHE’s community of practice that had higher averages for departmental collegiality or who had undergone a similar journey of improvement. This gave Iowa State a confidential networking opportunity with Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Florida State University, who each had strong or improved departmental collegiality for specific groups within their faculty or overall.

Learning from best practices

Each partner institution offered insights as well as tools and resources on the question of improving departmental collegiality. While all three institutions who shared their insights agreed that there was variation across departments, and always room for improvement at any institution, a few themes and strategies emerged which had supported positive outcomes among their own faculty.

Strong leadership

It’s likely no surprise that strong leadership was a key factor to high scores in collegiality, but strong leadership from deans took various forms at different institutions. Community of practice members highlighted the positive impact of deans who worked with department chairs to improve processes and practices, using COACHE data to focus their efforts.

Effective strategies included:

  • Building collegiality through collaboration: Tackling other important initiatives together with department chairs, such as building equity, helped to create a sense of collective effort and shared ownership.
  • Focusing on best practices rather than deficiencies: Instead of focusing on what was wrong in particular departments and programs, institutions found success in teasing out what higher performing departments and programs were doing and sharing those practices.
  • Engaging faculty in the process: Fostering conversation and discussion that resulted in more buy-in and empowerment among faculty was highlighted by institutions, as well as creating value-focused tools and documents to help build faculty engagement—rather than punitive ones.
  • Fostering informal opportunities for peer connections and mentoring among department chairs: Creating occasions for department chairs to gather and connect naturally (i.e., brief presentations on certain topics or social events) created more natural opportunities for connection. This approach aimed to address some of the challenges with fostering engagement through formal mentoring.

Fostering transparency, faculty engagement and personal connections

Overall, community of practice members shared that departmental collegiality seemed most tied to transparency, collective ownership, faculty-focused processes, and social events that brought people together with food and drink, but ultimately allowed more personal collegial connections to form. Department chairs were critical to this work.

Best practice approaches included:

  • Increasing social interactions: During the pandemic, opportunities for natural encounters have become more challenging. One of the strategies to coax faculty back onto campus has been to use rewards and celebrations as excuses to gather. By balancing shows of appreciation with being mindful of meeting length and frequency, our partners highlighted the benefits of giving faculty reasons to meet one another.
  • Making annual reviews more faculty focused: At certain institutions, department chairs made changes in annual review conversations, moving them from perfunctory evaluative conversations to dialogues focused on passions, projects, barriers, and how leadership can provide support. This process was originally born from an effort to improve faculty pathways to associate professorship and ended up improving collegiality as well.
  • Discussion and documents to help engage faculty with one another: Through committees elected by the faculty, some institutions created documents focused on collegiality that stated and shared the values of the department. These faculty-created “collegiality documents” helped to create buy-in and fostered empowerment through faculty discussions. Actively engaging faculty in discussions of expectations for student behavior also bled into faculty collegiality.
  • Recognizing the outliers: While partners hoped that using a more faculty-driven model to shape values and expected conduct would create more buy-in, every campus will have some faculty who are especially difficult, and certain individuals will inevitably continue to violate those codes. In these cases, some department chairs or deans use annual reviews to address the behaviors that do not align with values, even suggesting there may be consequences related to promotion.

Training for Deans and Chairs

Providing more training and mentorship for deans and chairs was a strong theme shared by COACHE’s community of practice members. There was a sense that while deans may need more disciplinary training, chairs were more likely to thrive through mentorship. Gathering department chairs and associate deans from smaller colleges a few times a year was also seen to support new chairs and foster connection and collegiality.

Moving forward with strategies to succeed

Following its impactful engagements with others in COACHE’s community of practice, the team from Iowa State is now determining which of the partners’ many success strategies and best practices can be applied effectively and authentically to build collegiality among their faculty further. Other strategies they are considering include having open discussion time in faculty meetings to encourage faculty to raise topics of interest to them and sending performance review letters in advance of the review meetings to promote a more productive, rich discussion between faculty members and department chairs.

And, while Iowa State’s discussions with other COACHE partners focused on areas for improvement, the recognition of challenges is already a sign of progress: faculty have voiced their concerns through the COACHE Job Satisfaction Survey and a conversation has begun—which serves as the first steps toward meaningful change.

Like Iowa State, many institutions have been connected with campuses in their peer set to discuss insights and best practices regarding an issue they were facing. From challenges around work/life balance for faculty to diversity, leadership, or any other topic, if you would like to explore opportunities to tap into COACHE’s community of practice, please reach out to the COACHE team to learn more.

Check out part one of our community of practice blog post series!