Great Advising Teams Talk

Elizabeth Wilcox, Sr. Consultant for Advising

Advising is a collaborative activity and when great teams are carefully assembled and generously supported they achieve great things. But what sets a great advising team apart? We interviewed four phenomenal advising teams to find out. The following themes emerged from interviews with teams widely known for their excellence: The Berkeley International Office, Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships, the Fall Program for Freshman, and the Office of Undergraduate Advising at the College of Environmental Design.

A Vision Grounded in the University’s Intellectual Mission

Great teams agree that they operate with a clear vision deeply rooted in the intellectual mission of the University. They see advising activities as deeply connected to learning, student development and expanded opportunity. They have high levels of commitment to students and passion for the advising role and functions. They are guided by a strong sense of shared values and purpose (compassion, justice, equality, collaboration). This provides “compelling direction” (Hackman, 2002) for the team as well as a connection between team members. These shared values permeate all activities of the team and help to create a sense of unity, shared identity and pride in team activities and membership.

A Start-up Mentality and Flat Organizational Structure

Many teams identified their smaller, flatter organizational structures as a critical feature of their success. Smaller teams identified themselves as more flexible, adaptive, nimble and cooperative. Many mentioned a culture of continuous improvement similar to a start-up culture as helping to support creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and problem solving. Team members felt freer to experiment, test, and risk - resulting in greater innovation and improved programs. A shared willingness to try out new ways of thinking and doing was at the heart of their excellence.

These teams also search for and attract “bright star” talent and invest in cross training that encourages broad and deep knowledge. Team members see their work as truly shared and they use their varying strengths to extend team capability and to move between many advising platforms, roles and functions. They rely on “growth abilities” as opposed to “fixed abilities” and understand that change is not only constant but an opportunity for continuous learning and growth.

Generous Collaboration, Deep Trust and Mutual Respect

Great teams identified themselves as deeply interdependent and self-directed. Because team members are truly reliant on one another they are both dependable and accountable. They experience their environment and interpersonal dynamics as deeply professional, collegial, caring, collaborative, generous, honest, authentic and supportive. They communicate well and often. All team members had a common understanding of their complementary strengths (and areas of subject matter expertise) and make regular and effective use of their dynamic and broad skill base. They often referred to the ability to be vulnerable with one another as a source of tremendous strength. They felt safe to rely on one another, ask for help, and give and take feedback constructively. There is a powerful sense of shared responsibility for students. This collegial culture created an underlying feeling of support and informal recognition. Teams members comport themselves with high levels of integrity, trustworthiness, fairness and respect.  Similar to many successful sports teams, their winning strategy is based on “selfless play”.

Student at the Center, Quality Partnerships and a Focus on Results

Teams also identified their deep commitment to creating an outstanding student experience and their willingness to go the extra mile for students as part of their core identity (based on their deep admiration for students and love of the advising role). This was described as "putting the student at the center" of all activities. This commitment is expressed through a focus on quality partnerships, constant attention to the student experience, and the development of effective feedback loops that show results. This attention to the impact of advising helps teams experience their work as both meaningful and highly effective. Many mentioned the regular outpouring of positive affirmations they receive from students as a key source of inspiration (including student testimonials of transformative learning and expanded experience as the result of advising). This evidence of impact provides on-going direction, positive reinforcement, and is experienced as deeply motivating.

Multi-level Support (Executive, Faculty and Managerial)

Great teams, particularly those that reside within schools and colleges, felt that their excellence was in part shaped by and made possible because of support from Deans, Directors and the faculty. This improved their ability to lead, plan, organize, and control resources. They felt included in core educational activities, and were routinely recognized, consulted and included as key educational partners. Teams also identified executive collaboration and trust as major components of their success.

The Future of Great Teams

Teams were also asked to identify emerging needs that would support continuing excellence. They identified the following…

  • Positive coaching and regular recognition are essential. Greatness is often fueled and extended by sensitive and supportive managers who regularly blend recognition for individual and collective effort and excellence. Access to advanced mentoring and coaching opportunities focused not only on challenging advising questions, but on career growth and mobility were seen as critical future needs.
  • Enhancement of existing technologies and access to new technologies (general IT support) were seen as an emerging need as we continue to transfer some advising functions to new (virtual) platforms. Access to expert visual and other design resources was also seen as important to making the shift to these new and rapidly expanding platforms.
  • Partnerships that recognize the critical contributions of advising to learning and student development are essential. Great teams flourish in environments where advising is viewed as critical to educational mission.

Generous thanks to the individual and collective excellence that defines these outstanding teams and the important contributions they make every day to student learning, performance and progress.

Want to move your advising team from good to great? More on the conditions for great teams can be found here

What Makes For A Great Team?

Embracing Start-Up Culture

Team Effectiveness Assessment

Berkeley International Office Advising Team

A group of women posing in front of, and sitting on a willow tree.

Amy Griggs Veramay, Tatiana Djordjevic, Mimi Ghosh, Minh An Nguyen, Vanina Granell, Isela Pena Rager, Amy Azuma (not pictured), Ivor Emmanuel, Director (not pictured)

Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships

A group of people smiling and standing in front of a wooden wall, accepting an award.

From left to right: Alicia Hayes, Stefanie Ebeling, Mary Crabb, Leah Carroll, and Sean Burns (Director)

Fall Program for Freshmen

Group of smiling women standing in front of brick building.

From left to right: Ariana Lee, Emma Strong, Monica Bernal, Kimberly Cattarusa, Meaghan DeRespini, Allison Ramos (Director)

Office of Undergraduate Advising, College of Environmental Design

Group of people sitting on a ledge with laughing and smiling expressions.

From left to right: Omar Ramirez, Susan Hagstrom (Director), Rhommel Canare, Nancy Trinh, Renee Chow (Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies)