Last Wednesday, I co-presented a webinar with my friend, and former colleague, Jaleh. We talked about establishing effective Technical Services/Public Services collaborations. It was a well-attended session and the attendees were engaged and asked great questions. Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience. When the recording goes up, you should give it a listen.
In the meantime, Jaleh storified the event because she is awesome. Check it out!
One of the questions during the Q&A portion of the event was about how to establish Technical Services/Public Services collaborations in a work environment that didn't encourage collaboration to the point of outright discouraging it.
I am not great at rapid-fire Q&A. I am one of those people who likes to think about something before I talk about it. In most meetings, I am the last person to give my opinion because I like to think about an issue and hear everyone's opinions before giving my own. So, in that moment, I kind of panicked and said what was true about my experience in libraries: I have never really been told no in my professional life. It's annoying and I recognize how fortunate I am.
Having spent almost a week considering the question, I feel like I have a better answer.
I should start by saying that I have never worked in a library that actively discouraged people from different departments working together collaboratively. More often, my experience has been that some departments have a more formalized structure where they require people to go "up and over" in the org chart in order to work with people in that unit. And even then, it wasn't a guarantee that you would be allowed to collaborate.
I feel like leaders put their departments under lock and key for a couple of reasons. One, I think, is that they are more oriented toward job duties than problem solving. A job duty orientation says that I am responsible for the processes and products that are mine--nothing more or less. And in that case, why would you collaborate? A person in that kind of department picks up a process where another functional area leaves off and drops off that process where the next department picks up. I think that this kind of mindset leads to problematic processes, full of unnecessary work and pain points for users. But it's a mindset that some leaders have.
Another reason I think leaders put their departments under lock and key is that the department has a lot of daily tasks to get done and the leader believes that the only way to get things done is to cut down on distraction. After focusing on one's daily work, there is little time left in their schedule for cross-departmental collaboration or problem solving. I think that those departments are often victims of the do more with less thing that libraries seem so fond of. This myopia also leads to pain points for users, but it's also a mindset that people have.
I think that quite often, we react to a situation where a department won't make space for collaborative work by going around them to get things done. So-and-so won't work with us, we think, so we just have to figure out a way to get things done. But here's the thing about that, it allows that group of people to continue not being collaborative. And if what you want is to build a culture of cross-departmental collaboration, you have to be deliberate about getting everyone to the table when it matters.
When we think about organizational silos, the thing to know is that different functional areas have different priorities. And sometimes those priorities compete. So the way to build collaboration is to build consensus by putting everyone's priorities on the table, knowing that everything is going to have to give something up to achieve that common goal.
So, how do you build collaboration between Technical Services and Public Services in a library that doesn't encourage collaboration?
When a process breaks down or a new service is about to be implemented, bring leaders from all of the functional areas together. Start by identifying the priorities of each functional area and being honest about where those priorities compete. Then, when you've done that, come to consensus about goals and commonalities and figure out how each functional area can both give something up and gain something.
And when you do this, invite everyone--not just the people who you know are good collaborators. It's how you start to build community.