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Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration: A Guide for Campus Leaders -- Review

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Kezar and Lester build a strong case for the advantages of collaboration. They draw on evidence from business, government, and higher education and on results from studies on student learning and teaching that illustrate how collaborative efforts such as learning communities and community service learning enhance student performance on many learning measures.



The posting below is a review by Connie D. Foster of the book, Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration: A Guide for Campus Leaders, by Adrianna J. Kezar and Jaime Lester. The review appeared in April/June, 2010 issue of Planning for Higher Education 38(3): 66-68. Copyright © 1998-2010 by Society for College and University Planning ( Reprinted with permission. Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at:(


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Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration: A Guide for Campus Leaders

Reviewed by Connie D. Foster



Adrianna Kezar and Jaime Lester's Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration makes a unique contribution to the literature by focusing on the connections between collaboration in higher education, institutional change, and campus culture. Creating a collaborative campus is an intentional and deliberate process. It does not happen by accident and, according to Kezar and Lester, it will not occur until major organizational systems are intentionally redesigned. The book provides a framework that is likely to make collaboration, or any change initiative, a reality on campus.

The authors bring considerable expertise to the subject. Adrianna Kezar is an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, where she serves as associate director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis. Jaime Lester, an assistant professor of higher education at George Mason University, has been involved with research projects focusing on the transfer and retention of community college students, in which collaboration emerged as a critical factor in student learning.

The book is divided into three sections: the first provides an introduction to collaboration, the second shares results of the authors' research, and the third presents a model for collaboration in higher education. Part one describes the existing research on why higher education must become more collaborative and why such collaboration is remarkably difficult to achieve. Kezar and Lester build a strong case for the advantages of collaboration. They draw on evidence from business, government, and higher education and on results from studies on student learning and teaching that illustrate how collaborative efforts such as learning communities and community service learning enhance student performance on many learning measures.

The authors also address the challenges to collaboration, naming departmental silos and bureaucratic or hierarchical administrative structures as the primary barriers. Leaders with a change agenda must be both aware of and knowledgeable about the existing structures, processes, and routines operating on their campuses. Many institutions have attempted to create a new initiative, such as team teaching, only to find that the traditional structures and processes and the existing campus culture hinder both the initiative's creation and its success. While most administrators already know about many of these structural problems, Kezar and Lester do an excellent job of articulating the significant number of challenges and barriers, such as specialization, professionalization, disciplines and departments, reward systems, the clash between academic and administrative cultures, and responsibility-centered management and budgeting.

Throughout the book, the authors use as their framework a model of collaboration from the corporate sector developed by Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman (1995). This model proposes that to support collaboration, organizations must move from "a context designed to support individualistic a team based organization or design. The organizational context features that need to be redesigned to enable collaboration include structure, processes, people, and rewards" (p. 36).

To test this collaboration model, Kezar and Lester conducted a study of four comprehensive regional public institutions with a variety of existing collaborative initiatives. They visited each of the institutions and interviewed faculty, staff, and administrators. They also observed meetings of collaborative campus groups and reviewed mission statements, strategic plans, accreditation reports, minutes from meetings, and Web sites. Based on their observations, interviews, and document analysis, the authors determined the number and type of collaborative activities in which the institutions were engaged, the systems in place to support collaboration, and what institutional members believed contributed to their success. This led to the authors' central research question: Did campuses with high levels of collaboration reorganize in some way and, if so, how?

The authors provide a vision of a collaborative by sharing a case study of a real example they call  "Collaborative University." Collaborative University redesigned its campus by creating partnerships between academic and student affairs; establishing cross-campus committees; and emphasizing a more transparent budget process, team teaching, service and experiential learning, and first-year experiences programs. While the vision of Collaborative University is helpful, this section is placed at the beginning of the book, before the reader is presented with the findings from the authors' research. Thus, some of this information is repeated in later chapters that describe the four collaborative institutions. Nevertheless, this is of minor concern, since both sections provide valuable suggestions for those interested in creating a more collaborative campus.

In part two, the largest section of the book, the authors address the question of how institutions reorganize to achieve their vision of greater collaboration. This section focuses on organizational context, which "refers to major structural, process, human, political, and cultural elements" (p. 34). Based on their research findings, the authors modified the Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman model by identifying specific organizational features that must be altered to support collaboration in higher education. These are "(1) mission and vision and educational philosophy, (2) values, (3) social networks, (4) integrating structures, (5) rewards, (6) external pressure, and (7) learning" (p. 60).

There is a chapter devoted to each of the seven topics listed above. Each chapter starts with a clear definition of the topic, followed by a brief but solid review of the literature on the topic's most pertinent studies and a discussion of how this information can be applied to higher education. Each chapter ends with a bulleted summary of the key ideas, which can serve as a checklist for thinking about how to address that specific topic. Descriptive stories from campuses that have become more collaborative and insightful quotes from faculty, staff, and administrators are included. There are also numerous examples of practical applications and a list of the challenges involved in redesigning a campus. It is clear that the authors understand the pitfalls of campus change initiatives.

The authors' research resulted in a number of valuable lessons learned. First and foremost, changes in organizational structure can facilitate initiatives that improve student learning, research, and service. Kezar and Lester enumerate the most effective institutional changes, including revising the institutional mission statement and the strategic plan to reinforce the value of collaboration; aligning budgeting, planning, and evaluation processes with the new mission; changing hiring processes, orientation, and faculty and staff development to encourage people to work in a collaborative context; and modifying the tenure and promotion processes to support collaboration.

In part three, Kezar and Lester present a new three-step model for developing collaboration in higher education, which shares some aspects of the Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman model and includes the seven organizational features that support higher education collaboration from the authors' study of collaborative campuses. The model involves combining specific organizational features in a series of activities that a campus will move through over time to become more collaborative. In stage one, building commitment, the campus must be convinced that collaboration is important. To accomplish this, a change agent would use the elements of external pressure, learning, values, and network. Stage two, moving to action, stipulates institutional priorities by focusing on mission, networks, and rewards. Stage three is about sustaining commitment through integrating structures, rewards, and networks. Conceptually, the model provides a way of thinking about what needs to happen to improve collaboration on a campus. It would be useful to follow when developing an action plan.

Throughout this process, the efforts of senior executives are vital in identifying organizational features and using them properly to promote change through collective responsibility. Part of shared responsibility is making sure that senior leadership does not create a top-down plan, but rather uses campus networks and external groups to create a more open and transparent process. Anyone interested in the practical application of creating change, either one step at a time or through a large-scale organizational initiative, would benefit from reading this book.

To create and sustain change means rethinking overall organizational structures, processes, and design as well as understanding the critical roles of mission, core values, and leadership skills. In The Courage to Lead: Transform Self, Transform Society, Brian Stanfield describes the journey of the organization. He states, "More and  more, organizations are beginning to realize that they have to change their whole network in many dimensions-a process that has been called whole-system transformation. A first step in this wholistic change is transforming the organization's current worldview" (Stanfield 2000, p. 151). Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration is a book that can help a higher education institution rethink its worldview, a valuable exercise in these challenging times.


Mohrman, S. A., S. G. Cohen, and A. M. Mohrman, Jr. 1995. Designing Team-Based Organizations: New Forms for Knowledge Work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stanfield, R. B. 2000. The Courage to Lead: Transform Self, Transform Society. Toronto: Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs.