Competency B: Organizational Structure

An organizational chart can be a helpful tool to give a new employee a sense of the reporting structures in place in a particular department or alignment. However, an organizational chart provides only a slim understanding of the actual structure of that workplace or institution. Institutions and workplaces are much more complex than an organizational chart can show because they are made of people. And people, being dynamic and adaptable in nature, create systems and structures for organizations that are dynamic and adaptable in nature. Institutions and organizations are essentially living systems, which absorb resources, react to threats, capitalize on strengths, and produce. I have learned about organizational structure in several ways in the CSSA program, through my work in Career Services and in AHE 553, Organization & Administration of College Student Services, but also during my previous employment in various organizations: a non-profit arts organization, a real estate agency, an English department, and various restaurants and theatre companies. Reflecting back, I can see how these many organizations both worked well and did not work well using a framework of the complex, adaptive, living system.

Much can be learned from scholars working in business as we attempt to organize our institutions to react quickly and adapt readily to the constantly changing circumstances of our modern world. Margaret Wheatley (2006) encourages us to think of organizations as webs of interconnected individuals and networks that are in relationship with one another. She encourages leaders to nurture these relationships in order to inspire healthy organizations. However, many of our higher education institutions were developed using an industrial model, a factory assembly line with educated students as the final product. This model devalues people and their relationships with others; it also discourages learning, growth, and self-motivation. For instance, if the leaders in my department, my alignment, or my institution do not value professional development for all employees, than I have very little incentive to want to learn and grow and improve my performance. If I am a member of an assembly line, I am only responsible for my task, which provides little motivation to work collaboratively across departments or take responsibility for the holistic student experience. However, when relationships are valued and the model of the institution is a web of interconnected people who are all responsible for educating students, or when leaders recognize that everyone deserves professional development opportunities and provides resources for them to grow, than employees will be encouraged to work collaboratively, take initiative, and develop new programming to fill emerging student needs.

I know how this concept of the living system succeeds in action from my time as an actor working at a small repertory theatre company in Colorado, Creede Repertory Theatre. Here is an institution where most of the employees are getting paid very little to work more than 60 hours a week. Those outside of this institution might not understand why everyone involved works so hard, with so much enthusiasm, for so little reward. However, this company is an organization that has learned how to motivate people to care about each other and the work we do together so much that I believe many would work for free if need be, as long as their basic human needs were met. How have they accomplished this? They do this by inspiring the company with the knowledge that we are changing peoples’ lives when they come see a show at our theatre, by valuing failure in art and understanding that in order to create amazing artistic experiences, we must sometimes fail, and by building in social experiences that connect people in those valuable webs of relationship. As this arts organization has grown larger, it has not forgotten the values that make it successful in these ways. I take quite a lot from my time working with this company into my work in higher education. Sometimes, higher education strives to do what Creede Repertory Theatre is doing but falls short. I am positive that this happens because leadership is not willing to inspire, to focus on why we do the work we do, instead of what we do or how we do it. Creede Repertory Theatre never forgets to return to why what we do is important with each season, each company, and each new crop of employees. Everyone understands that together we make amazing things, but individually, we can accomplish very little. In higher education, it is imperative that everyone understand how important they are to the process of educating students, whether they work directly with them or support others who do.

8 Responses to “Competency B: Organizational Structure”

  1. Norm Baron says:

    I really like the way you have been able to incorporate your CRT experience. It really ties together your various academic and professional background.

    • Thanks, Dad! I’ve been thinking about CRT a lot this term as an organization that works well and trying to see how I might incorporate those practices into creative leadership in higher education. Also, I’m trying to use all of my experiences to fulfill these competencies and not think of my learning in the isolation of the past year and a half. I think higher education can learn a ton from other kinds of organizations.

  2. Cat says:

    Great post, Jessica! Right now, the year-round team at CRT is reading “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. It’s helping us articulate our purpose and why it’s so important that we continue to create excellent theatre in this unlikely place. For us, especially with Mo’s departure this past fall, it’s been really important to focus again on our organizational values – the things that make CRT the organization that people keep coming back to. Thanks for sharing how your experience with Creede Rep has influenced your own life and career.

    • Thanks for sharing, Cat! We actually studied Simon Sinek’s concept in my Organization & Administration in Higher Education course this fall, and he came up as a large part a conference I attended in Hawaii this past November for the higher education professional organization NASPA. So many folks are currently incorporating his ideas into their work because they make a lot of sense. Bravo for being on the cutting edge in your professional development as a team!

  3. Melissa Yamamoto says:

    Great post! I think we could all be more effective in our work if we focused on the “why?” and the interconnectedness.

  4. Anne Lapour says:

    Nice post; I’m interested in how your role as a supervisor of undergraduates (the CAs) has influenced your understanding as well. What have you learned and how do you promote interconnectedness with your own staff?

    • I think that this was a tricky balance for me at first to promote a sense of interconnectedness with a student staff. Because I had never been supervisor of others before (except for in a classroom, which is a different relationship) it took some time for me to adjust my perception who I was supposed to be versus who I wanted to be as a supervisor. I had this notion of a disciplinarian and evaluator and rule provider, which was just not me! So, over the past year, I’ve worked toward creating a cohesive team of which I am a member, not the overseer. By delegating projects to folks based on their strengths, admitting when I’m struggling with stuff and need help, keeping communication lines open, and reminding everyone that those who are treated with respect will give respect, I think we’ve built an incredible team, where each individual is responsible and dependable but also takes initiative and helps one another. The other piece of it is that they all have dynamic and changeable lives outside of this office, and it is really important for me to acknowledge and provide space for them to talk about those lives, especially if what they’re going through has an impact on their well-being. I try to be a support to them, as well as team member and supervisor.

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