What Does Baseball Have to Do with COACHE Surveys? Rethinking Your COACHE Teams by Engaging Pinch Hitters

By Todd Benson

baseball bat and gloveOne of the first action items for partners who are undertaking surveys with the Collaborate on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) is to form a COACHE team. Administering any campus-wide, data intensive project necessitates a diversity of skills, talents, and access that no single person at an institution can embody. Despite some people’s desires that the contrary is true, it’s just not realistic to expect a single person to manage a project of this scale.

Which brings me to the idea of a pinch hitter.

For the non-baseball initiated amongst us, a pinch hitter is a person who is sent into bat in place of another — often to support a player who is a less effective hitter.

In the context of COACHE surveys, I use the term pinch hitters to describe individuals who contribute to the work of the team but are not expected to serve as full team members, and who bring very specific skills to the table.

Why you may need a pinch hitter

Whether your institution calls them COACHE teams, task forces, committees or working groups, forming a team can create its own challenges. Do your teammates have the requisite skills to manage the core work? Are there additional talents that would enhance your work with COACHE and improve outcomes?

There are a few things you can rely on:

  • No team is built perfectly. There will be gaps in some of the skills required to implement COACHE surveys and the work that follows.
  • Even if you have the perfect team, your team members will have limitations in their capacity to contribute to the work. It is an extremely rare occasion that someone is hired to work on COACHE surveys full time.
  • Typically COACHE teams are not part of a university’s formal committee structure, so there may be limits to the rewards and recognition received by your team members, despite the inherent value of the work itself.

In short, whether it’s about time, resources, or skills, it is reasonable to assume that there are limits to what you can ask of your team. As I thought about many of our partners who are currently building out their COACHE survey teams, it was that realization that challenged me to extend my thinking about team structures to include pinch hitters.

How you can get the most value from a pinch hitter

I think this approach has merits because it affords teams greater flexibility and it reduces the number of skills that the team has to learn on the job. Importantly, it also offers more faculty the ability to work on COACHE related projects without a broad indistinct set of timelines and deliverables, and in doing so engages a greater pool of faculty in the value of the work.

For example, a campus’s COACHE team might consider bringing in a pinch hitter to assist with custom question design or to provide qualitative analysis of some open text responses. The pinch hitter would

only come into play when the work is clearly defined, requires specialized skills, and has a definitive deliverable and/or timeframe.

The trick to utilizing pinch hitters is in the ask. When you invite a pinch hitter to work on your team, keep the following in mind:

· Be specific about what skills or experience you hope they will bring to the table: When you ask someone to serve as a pinch hitter, tell them why you chose them specifically. Often, committee assignments are based on a wide host of factors, some of which are unrelated to the talents of the individual.

When you recruit a pinch hitter, there is a reason; sharing that reason is more likely to generate enthusiasm about the work. e.g. “I’ve been following your work on mentoring of faculty of color and I also know you are an incredibly talented focus group moderator. Would you be interested in helping design some focus groups?” Also, you are recognizing a colleague for his or her excellence in a field study. Even if the pinch hitter can’t contribute to the work, he or she will remember how you asked.

· Be clear on the timeline and scale of support you are seeking: Make sure the project is narrowly tailored, has a clear timeline and specific end product. Faculty may not be willing to sit on a committee for a year, but they may be open to a project that will last a few weeks. (e.g. “We would like to run three focus groups in October. We’d be looking to provide the team with your notes by the end of November.”). Having clear expectations makes the opportunity feel manageable. When people see the details of a project they may be more open to jumping on board.

· Hear (or try to preempt) what other support will be needed for them to succeed: Remember that talent is only one part of the ask. Resources matter too. Ask your prospective pinch hitters what supports they would need to run a project well. Better yet, if you know what the pinch hitter needs, have it lined up in advance (e.g. “The Provost’s Executive Assistant is happy to reserve the rooms for your meetings and we have some funds to pay for food at the focus groups.”).

Finally, as you think about pinch hitters who could support your work, it’s worth noting that COACHE surveys provide an excellent opportunity to engage with graduate students. Graduate students, particularly those who plan to pursue faculty careers, may find the work on COACHE surveys enlightening. However, graduate students cannot pay the rent with enlightenment. If you plan to include graduate students as pinch hitters — or as full members of the team — do all you can to ensure that they are compensated equitably.