Investigation Report Open, Adaptive and Collaborative Organisational Culture

Overlapping blocks in different shades of green.

This blog post is part of a series exploring the factors within four key themes that contribute to university readiness for engagement, as identified by the Engagement Readiness Investigation Report. Also in the series, you will hear about the importance of the ecosystem approach to engagement, research and educational pedagogy and key resources that make HEIs ready to engage. This article focusses on the factors related to the theme of an ‘Open, Adaptive and Collaborative Organisational Culture’.

Organisational culture shapes all traits of organisations, including soft (beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, customs, etc.) and hard factors (structure, policies, rules, the provision of staff, training, technology, and other resources, etc.). In order to transition to an organisational environment that is ready to engage with external partners, it is necessary for HEIs to have a well-developed collaborative culture which includes institutional willingness for change, openness, flexibility and trust.

The key agents in fostering this collaborative organisational culture are top-level HEI management and leadership. The culture that they create flows through each level of the university and sets the tone for all that follows, including communication networks, financial resources, hiring practices and operational support. Leadership support for engagement might come in the form of a strong future focus, high levels of trust, support for risk-taking and experimentation, as well as resources, incentives and strategies that assist with engagement.


Strategic Orientation Towards Engagement & Meaningful Social Impact

If HEIs want to foster a culture of cooperation and collaboration for successful engagement, then they must also have a ‘’vision’’ and ‘’mission’’ that values engagement as a fundamental part of the institution. The strategic orientation is guided by this vision and translates into institutional policies that support engagement on each level of the university, from the selection of university staff to manifestation in the educational pedagogy of the institution. For more on this .

A strategic orientation towards the societal and business engagement of HEIs is driven by individual and organisational motivations for meaningful impact. Universities should clearly define their desired social impact and the strategic orientation of the HEI should reflect the contextual realities of the local environment. See article on the ‘’Ecosystem Approach’’.


Administrative Structure & Policies that Facilitate Engagement

Although a culture of collaboration begins at the top level, it must also be present across all levels of the HEI’s overall mission and functioning. This should begin at the recruitment stage for university students, faculty and staff. Candidates should be selected based on their willingness for collaboration, informed of the importance that the university places on cooperation. Furthermore, they should be trained in the competencies necessary for engagement from the start. Ideally, this creates a positive feedback loop whereby the more engagement ready talent a university has, the more successful collaborations are initiated, and so on.

For this positive cycle to function effectively, an HEI must instate the structures and policies necessary to facilitate and ensure successful UBC. These structures can take various forms, such as Knowledge or Technology Transfer Offices (KTOs or TTOs) but must be staffed by individuals that are both passionate and knowledgeable about innovation and engagement with external actors. See article on the ‘’Key Organisational Resources’’.

Furthermore, university departments should be given opportunities and physical spaces to interact and collaborate, and adequate support should be provided for those interested in initiating collaborative projects. Collaboration successes should be celebrated and rewarded in various ways and administrative procedures should be streamlined to fast-track and simplify engagement and bridge the cultural gap between industry and HEIs.


Collaboration-Attuned Hiring & Career Advancement Policies

As mentioned above, to facilitate a strong collaborative culture, universities pay careful attention to the hiring of university staff as well as the policies for their tenure, promotion, and career advancement. Furthermore, one of the main barriers to engagement for academics is time constraints that exist due to their extensive teaching, publishing, research and advisory commitments within the university. Engagement, therefore, should be clearly defined in academic roles and contracts, and official time should be allocated for these activities.

The fostering of collaborative cultures can also be achieved through training and by the development of incentives for academics and researchers to engage with external actors, such as microgrants, recognition or promotion. Furthermore, it is necessary that the university possesses a failure tolerant culture, so that academics are encouraged to experiment and take risks, without the fear of punishment.

To read more about this topic, head to the Engagement Readiness Investigation Report.


Blog editors: Fleur Schellekens (UIIN) and Alexandra Zinovyeva (UIIN) 

Header photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

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