June 6th, 2022

Academic Administrative Teams: Forming, Sustaining, and Changing

By:

academic administrative teams

Most academic leaders will serve more than one institution across their careers. In fact, it will be rare that many do not work for at least four or five institutions.

If one must create and then recreate an academic team in different institutional circumstances and under differing scenarios of succeeding a previous administrator, it is useful to think of that challenge under three headings. Those headings are creation or formation of the academic team; sustaining the energy and responsiveness of the academic team to current institutional needs; and changing members of the team to accommodate changes in presidencies, institutional direction, or team member burnout or lack of growth.

Creating the administrative team

  • Search for relevant needed talents/skills that fit the institution.
  • Recruit on the basis of likelihood of being good team player.

Look for candidates who will:

  • Be able to inform the team of pressing issues in an area of expertise.
  • Have the capacity to be a vital contributor to a spirit of collegiality.
  • Reflect a professional career path compatible with the institution’s current needs.
  • Have a clear understanding of one’s skills and how one will fit in the new organization.
  • Have had successful experiences in previous organizations that are of relevance to current institutional challenges.
  • Have the confidence and capability to challenge the head administrative leader when necessary in the best interests of the institution.

Sustaining and growing the administrative team

  • Provide mentoring and a career development path compatible with the aspirations and talents of each academic team member.
  • Run meetings at the individual and team level structured to bring out best thinking and free exchange of views and evidence from each team member.
  • Help each member search for and find a peer administrator from a non-competitive institution to bounce ideas off.
  • Finance a professional development plan for each academic team member compatible with his or her goals and institutional needs.
  • Require each team member to present topics of trends in their subfield likely to affect the overall institutional direction and its success at periodic intervals.
  • Hold an academic retreat each year with an outside speaker and select institutional direction topics and mission statement reinforcements to bond team members with one another, the institution’s direction, and current understanding of mission.
  • Provide necessary technologies and training to allow administrators to remain current in their discipline and areas of administrative competence.
  • Intervene at the earliest moment to mitigate any forms of tension and disagreement between members.
  • Find opportunities to publicly praise and compliment the merits and accomplishments of each team member.

Changes to the academic team

  • Be prepared to accept needed changes to the team, as requested by new presidents.
  • Be rigorous in annual evaluations to identify either burnout or lack of growth and challenge specific members to areas of needed improvement.
  • Be aggressive in removal of any toxic interpersonal relations within the team.
  • Provide for a dignified and supportive exit plan that is reasonable to the institution and the administrator that needs to leave for the welfare of the institution and the team.
  • Be on the constant lookout for team replacements in the meetings of academic administrators that one attends.
  • Be self-critical of when it is time to leave the team and the institution for the benefit of both yourself and the president.
  • Be forthcoming on the reasons for changes in the administrative team to undercut rumors and ill feelings among key members of the team and informal leaders within the faculty and staff.

While daily pressing issues will be uppermost in the minds of most academic administrators, it is the management of the academic team that is most critical for success for the institution. The decisions made about team formation, development, and change will go a long way toward producing a lasting legacy.


Dr. Henry Smorynski earned his doctorate in government from Georgetown University. He had 40 years of teaching and administrative experience serving 10 higher education institutions in five states. He has taught more than 45 different public policy, international relations, public administration, health administration, and political science courses. He has led academic administrative teams as dean, vice president for academic affairs, and provost for 22 years at five different institutions.