Theses Doctoral

We Don’t Need Another Hero: Understanding Team Learning Processes within the Senior Leadership Teams of Middle Atlantic Universities

Woods, Nicole M.

The twin forces of complexity and change have created a volatile environment for higher education institutions. For many institutions, strategic institutional change has become an imperative, not a choice. These new demands have escalated the complexity of institutional leadership and changed the demands on the college and university presidency. Strategic responsibilities have expanded beyond the presidency in new ways, creating increased reliance by presidents on their senior leadership teams. In light of the key influence of senior leadership teams on strategic institutional change, a deeper investigation of these teams is critical for the sector’s positive transformation. This qualitative study of presidents and senior leadership teams at five Middle Atlantic higher education institutions sought to understand how presidents and their senior leadership team members work and learn together. The study was especially focused on the ways presidents and senior leadership team members described their roles, interactions between team members, and the practices and beliefs that inhibit or enable team learning. Using shared leadership, team learning, and sensemaking literature coupled with the Dechant, Marsick, and Kasl (1993) model of team learning as a foundation, the researcher conducted semi-structured interviews and administered an excerpt of the Dechant and Marsick (1993) Team Learning Survey. The study yielded insights that could be valuable to those who lead or are members of higher education senior leadership teams and those that educate, consult, and advise senior leadership teams in college and university settings. While strategic planning and long-term thinking were identified as key roles for senior leadership teams, team interactions were largely defined by institutional management activities, including information sharing, determining ownership and key decision makers, problem solving, and issue resolution. In particular, student affairs and finance officers reported fragmented learning processes and fixed views of their functional expertise. Senior leadership teams were primarily engaged in learning processes to support complex problem solving. To execute strategic change in higher education, intentionally cultivated informal learning practices that encourage explicit reflection on action coupled with deeper forms of relationship building between team members are needed. These activities require clear endorsement and consistent support by the institutional president.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Bitterman, Jeanne E.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 13, 2020