Search for books on “organizational culture,” and you’ll find more than 46,000 listings on Amazon. The notion that institutions have distinct cultures that influence members’ experiences has been around for years, but the concept is so rich that experts continue to find new ways to think about culture and how to improve it. As the role of technology in higher education has expanded, its influence on organizational culture has also grown — significantly.
Organizational experts have shown that positive, healthy cultures support recruitment and retention, improve productivity and customer service and boost innovation. Is a great culture a magic bullet for everything that ails a department? Culture advocates would respond, “Yes, it is.”
Why Culture Matters for IT Teams
In an IT department, a positive culture can make the difference between lackluster, bare-minimum performance and the innovative, exceptional customer service that makes top IT teams stand out. Departments that engage and motivate staff are also better at recruiting — and keeping — talented employees, a key ingredient for a high-performing organization. Such workers are more productive and more likely to go above and beyond expectations, a huge benefit at a time when many IT teams are doing their best to accomplish more work with fewer resources.
Creating such a culture may be easier said than done, but time-tested strategies for success include sharing a well-defined mission and making employees a part of it; providing training and development opportunities that are meaningful to staff; building a cohesive team through high morale and camaraderie; and setting policies that support a healthy work-life balance.
Cooperation for IT and Beyond
It’s important to realize, however, that the importance of culture goes beyond the walls of IT. As technology has transformed the nature of work, it has become a major factor in the creation of culture throughout an organization. This is true across campus and may be especially true in higher education, an environment where people use technology not only for work, but also for learning, research, entertainment, community events and, in the case of students in residence halls, day-to-day living.
Each of these areas is touched, in some fashion, by the tech solutions that IT delivers. Such influence goes beyond specific software or mobile apps to encompass the way that people engage with technology, the capabilities it makes possible (or not), the way tech initiatives are communicated and the way decisions around tech are made. All of this means that IT departments have a direct bearing on campus culture through the day-to-day experiences of staff, faculty and students.
Creating Variations on IT Culture
Do campus users view IT as the department that enables them to work smarter, better and faster, or do they view IT processes as a hurdle to overcome? Certain solutions — collaboration systems, virtual desktop infrastructure, mobile devices, the cloud — support the anywhere, anytime approach that many staff and students have come to expect. Yet as much as IT strives to make this approach possible, it also seeks to manage risk and keep users — and institutional resources — safe from cyberthreats.
Balancing these two concerns is a perennial and central IT function, but how IT leaders communicate related initiatives to users can go a long way in shaping culture. When IT can’t accommodate users’ requests, or can’t accommodate them quickly, do staff explain the rationale or the reasons behind a delay? Does IT have a positive track record of collaborating with outside departments to identify ways that IT services can enhance productivity while maintaining security? Is IT seen as a leader in initiating innovative projects that contribute to high-level strategic goals?
Each of these areas offers opportunities to exert a positive influence on the culture of a campus. The flip side is also true: Not doing these things, or not doing them consistently, may lead to a perception that IT culture is stagnant or even opposed to innovation — a perception that might not be true.
Without question, IT has an unprecedented opportunity to play a big role in shaping the dynamics of work, play and life on campus. What kind of culture will you create?
This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.