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Nurturing academic community: cultivating collaboration for enhanced staff engagement and student success

8th July 2024

Authors

Dr Shobana Nair Partington

Head of Department, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Diane Hart

Department Education Lead, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Dario tom Dieck

Deputy Head of Department, Manchester Metropolitan University

Creating a happy and connected staff community is key to making our students happy and successful. When our staff thrive, our students thrive too! Established in 2017, the Department of Operations, Technology, Events, and Hospitality Management (OTEHM) at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School has grown significantly. It now boasts a team of 65 academic staff members, 40% of whom are of international origin. The department serves over 2000 students, offering a wide range of subjects. However, this rapid growth and diversity bring about challenges, including siloed disciplines and the need to foster a cohesive environment within a culturally diverse team.

OTEHM CONNECT: Cultivating community

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wenger et al 2002, p4). Wenger (1998) emphasised that “learning cannot be designed: it can only be designed for- that is, facilitated or frustrated” (p229). In this context, the role of a leader is not to impose learning but to motivate and facilitate social interactions that enable knowledge-sharing and collective learning.

Aligning with this perspective, the introduction of initiatives under the OTEHM Connect banner has proven vital. OTEHM CONNECT, standing for Cultivating Opportunities for Networking, Nurturing Engagement, Celebration, and Togetherness, actively promotes interdisciplinary dialogue, and cultivating engaging social activities has been crucial in unifying the department’s focus. For example, the hospitality and event academics showcased exceptional strength in their student initiatives, by forging meaningful connections with industry partners. The successful practices of this engagement were widely shared with digital colleagues, who subsequently embraced a similar approach in their programmes. Academics specialising in digital innovations shared their expertise and teaching methods with colleagues in the hospitality/events subject areas. This collaborative exchange of strengths not only enriched the curriculum but also empowered students to gain a unique competitive edge in their academic journey.

Making sure everyone has the right resources and support, like connecting activities and mentoring, helps our team do their best. Our equity-driven approach underscores our commitment to promoting fairness and equality, ensuring that every voice is heard, respected, and considered. Celebrating achievements is not just an act but a culture; it boosts morale and reinforces our shared commitment to excellence.

Positive outcomes for staff and students

The impact of these initiatives is evident in the exceptional results of the Employee Voice Survey 2024, an annual staff satisfaction survey conducted by People Insight for the university. The survey outcomes not only surpassed the institution's overall results, but also exceeded the results of other Higher Education institutions employing People Insight, underscoring a remarkable level of satisfaction and engagement among the department's staff. Some of the comments from the staff included:

“Community and sense of belonging in our own department and also in the faculty is strong and means a lot to me. Communication and involvement in decision-making are welcomed. Opportunities for professional development are strongly supported and encouraged, which is very motivating for me to do my best and also support each other.”

“Friendly and supportive colleagues. Inclusive environment to work. The balance between employees' capabilities and job demands. Easy and timely communication with HoD and line managers. Supportive and professional line manager. Balanced schedule.”

Furthermore, the key educational outcomes (NSS & Graduate Outcomes) for the department consistently exceed sector standards. These initiatives have been instrumental in fostering a cohesive and motivated staff community, which in turn creates a positive and supportive learning environment. Engaged and happy staff are more effective educators, and their enthusiasm and dedication directly translate to enhanced student success.

Reflections on our success factors

In our journey towards nurturing an academic community and cultivating collaboration for enhanced staff engagement and student success, we have discovered that our accomplishment is not a solo act, but a symphony of diverse elements. These elements, working in harmony, create an environment of organisational excellence. The establishment of effective social and communication channels, the promotion of social cohesion, an equity-driven approach, and the celebration of achievements are all integral components. The synergy created by these elements is significantly amplified by a supportive leadership style, serving as the crucial adhesive that binds all these elements together. By integrating these additional factors into your leadership approach, you can create a department environment where connection, collaboration, and mutual support thrive, ultimately leading to greater team cohesion and success.

References

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W. M. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.