Although students, faculty, and administrators are now back on campus at most higher education institutions, the effects of the pandemic loom. Research confirms what many have suspected to be the case: the social isolation caused ...
Although students, faculty, and administrators are now back on campus at most higher education institutions, the effects of the pandemic loom. Research confirms what many have suspected to be the case: the social isolation caused by the pandemic has left people feeling lonely (Ernst et al., 2022) and disconnected from colleagues (Chaker et al., 2021). Loneliness combined with COVID-19 worry is an especially bad combination, predicting depression and anxiety (Mayorga et al., 2022). The increase in the sheer number of people experiencing mental health issues is an indicator of the magnitude of its effects. Most everyone in higher education knows a student, a coworker, or an administrator who is suffering with a mental health issue. Despite faculty and administration suffering with these issues, providing safe, high-quality, and engaging educational experiences to students and collegial, supportive, and nurturing work environments for faculty members remains the expected norm.
But it is not always clear how to cultivate such environments. From deciding the best communication method and frequency to ensure transparency to balancing faculty workloads in response to enrollment changes, the pandemic has only exacerbated administrative challenges. Experts cannot even reach consensus on how the pandemic will continue to affect our world (Grossman et al., 2021). Uncertainty makes it challenging for leaders to know the “right” course of action with many competing perspectives and needs to consider. In this polarizing environment, chairs and deans still need to meet with faculty, students, administrators, and community members to accomplish all the tasks necessary to have a department or school run smoothly. They often work in multiple teams simultaneously with competing demands to balance priorities. Since the pandemic began, many of these teams have met remotely or virtually rather than face-to-face, creating challenges that did not exist before.
In addition, the stakes couldn’t be higher with universities fighting for ever more dwindling resources. It is likely that only universities with innovative, creative, and flexible approaches will succeed. For universities to remain relevant, chairs and deans must prioritize the development of resilient departmental teams. Unfortunately, gathering a group of resilient individuals will not necessarily create a resilient team. Coordination breakdowns, miscommunication and misinterpretations, and technology disruptions are a few of the challenges that chairs and deans are currently facing. Using a model of team creativity (Paulus & Dzindolet, 2008; Dzindolet et al., 2012) and research on team and group performance, we offer the following suggestions to chairs and other administrators:
Following these steps will foster creativity in the groups you lead—whether they be faculty in a departmental meeting or a cross-disciplinary team convening community members and administrators for a particular project. Remember that psychological safety is necessary for creativity. Although creating a “safe” place for team members to be creative is especially challenging right now, it is essential that you do all you can to encourage trust. It can be in the most challenging of times that people and groups reach their highest levels of creativity. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.
Chaker, N., Nowlin, E., Walker, D., & Anaza, N. (2021). Alone on an island: A mixed-methods investigation of salesperson social isolation in general and in times of a pandemic. Industrial Marketing Management, 96, 268–286. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2021.05.009
Dzindolet, M. T., Paulus, P. B., & Glazer, C. (2012). Brainstorming in virtual teams. In C. N. Silva (Ed.), Online research methods in urban and planning studies: Design and outcomes (pp. 138–156). IGI-Global.
Ernst, M., Niederer, D., Werner, A. M., Czaja, S. J., Mikton, C., Ong, A. D., Rosen, T., Brähler, E., & Beutel, M. E. (2022). Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review with meta-analysis. American Psychologist, 77(5), 660–677. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0001005
Grossman, I., Twardus, O., Varnum, M. E. W., Jayawickreme, E., & McLevey, J. (2021). Expert predictions of societal change: Insights from the world after COVID project. American Psychologist, 77(2), 276–290. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000903
Holtz, K., Orengo, C. V., Zornoza Abad, A., & González-Anta, B. (2020). Virtual team functioning: Modeling the affective and cognitive effects of an emotional management intervention. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 24(3), 153–167. https://doi.org/10.1037/gdn0000141
Mayorga, N. A., Smith, T., Garey, L., Gold, A. K., Otto, M. W., & Zvolensky, M. J. (2022). Evaluating the interactive effect of COVID-19 worry and loneliness on mental health among young adults. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 46, 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-02110252-2
Paulus, P. B., & Dzindolet, M. T. (2008). Social influence, creativity and innovation. Social Influence, 3(4), 228–247. https://doi.org/10.1080/15534510802341082
Mary Dzindolet, PhD, served as chair of the Department of Psychology at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, for 10 years until 2020. She has published in the areas of group creativity and automation reliance. For the past five years, she has been dedicated to reducing the stigma toward those with mental health issues.
Krystal Brue, PhD, serves as the chair of the Department of Business at Cameron University. She has over 25 years of human resource, organizational behavior, and training/development experience and has presented and published numerous articles on work-life balance, women in leadership, and current HR employment trends.
Stephanie Boss, PhD, served for 10 years as chair of the Department of Sports and Exercise Science and for two years as interim chair of the Department of Education at Cameron University. She was awarded B. H. & Flora Brewer Endowed Professorship in Instructional Technology in 2018 and has also been recognized with OAHPERD’s Honor Award.
Shaun Calix, PhD, serves as chair of the Department of Psychology at Cameron University. He has published in the areas of adolescent substance abuse treatment, intergenerational relationships, and emerging adulthood and serves on the Mayor’s Commission on Youth and Families.
Jennifer Dennis, PhD, serves as the dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and acting dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Cameron University. She served as chair of the Department of Education for 10 years prior to becoming dean.