America is a country of individualists. It’s in our national character, our national spirit, and is encoded in our founding documents. Even such notions as the “pursuit of happiness” point to an individualistic outlook that our country, states and people have wholly embraced. It’s not without purpose or value.
But there are times in life, and business, and academia when it’s important to build on the individual’s work in a way that strengthens it further. We can see it in our households when mom, dad and the kids all pitch in on housework. We do it through teams with mixed skill sets that combine those skills for a common goal. We see it through interagency cooperation and private/public partnerships.
It’s collaboration, and it often results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And it’s been a watchword at the State Board of Higher Education and the North Dakota University System for some time now.
That collaboration can come into being in different ways, for students, faculty, staff, and for the colleges and universities themselves. For students, it can manifest through study partners and classroom groups that allow a teamwork ideal to flourish in what could be a first major way in their young lives. For faculty or staff, it can come about through campus working groups for localized projects or through systemwide councils that aim to implement, or improve, policy on behalf of all. For our colleges and universities it can look like one of the dozens of memorandums of understanding or agreements which allow resources to be shared to deliver cross-campus programs.
All of those significantly aid our individual efforts, because they prove that through teamwork, anything can be accomplished. Individual efforts are vital to individual success, yet more collaborative efforts aid us all in ways that strengthen our campuses, system and state.
Which is one reason we on the Board looked forward to working with the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee between the regular 64th and 65th Legislative Sessions. Taking that opportunity afforded us a unique chance at working closely with our state lawmakers on how – and at times, why – our higher education system needed to go forward.
I personally believe that those opportunities helped build trust between the two bodies, and I’m looking forward to a continued, open collaboration now that session is in full swing at the North Dakota State Capitol.
That collaborative element has also been thriving through initiatives like Bakken U and Envision 2030. Both began as ideas from the system level which are now moving forward thanks to teamwork. For the former, that’s come about through brainstorming and partnerships among our five western colleges and universities. For the latter, it involves ongoing discussions with legislators and Advisory Teams of public and private stakeholder groups throughout the state.
In gathering together diverse perspectives in focused efforts, I believe we can solve any challenge. When we do face these challenges, then it won’t just be the teams who are responsible for any success, but the individuals who are creditable for the hard work.
That, I think, represents the best part of collaboration: it allows us to highlight our individual strengths in new, team-driven ways, which nearly always serves to make us stronger as system, and a state.