The change to online delivery in March 2020 provided an opportunity as well as a requirement to change the way we work in Higher Education (HE), from a traditional stance focussed on hierarchy and roles to one that embraced individual core skills and competencies. The Transformation Academy (TA), Solent University's response led by the Solent Learning and Teaching Institute (SLTI), had as its goal the preparation of 1100 modules for online delivery in September 2020, delivered via institutional cross-team collaboration to ensure success within a narrow timescale.

Collaboration is by necessity situated and dialogic, and most effectively driven by an affective and trust-based connection between collaborative partners as well as to the project goal. In bringing together previously disparate and siloed teams, the TA project’s success relied upon new collaborative partners quickly forming those connections, despite the prevailing neoliberal emphasis in UK HE on performativity and pressure from senior management to complete the work within 12 weeks.

Adopting a qualitative empirical research design and single, local, exploratory case study approach, data is derived from 11 semi-structured interviews with project members who collaborated with colleagues outside of their usual team structures, to explore the personal value they perceived obtaining from the TA project.

Preliminary findings suggest that Learning and Teaching (L&T) collaborations in a pressured environment benefit from authenticity in emotion and interpersonal affective connections, which in turn are engendered by openness and clarity in communication, a flattened hierarchy, and a sense of ownership for all participants.

Practitioner Notes

  1. A conservative approach to cultural change through formal, top-down hierarchical methods and processes has been criticized as time-consuming, costly, inflexible and unimaginative.
  2. Academic developers and similar roles occupy a liminal ‘third space’ which allows them to deploy flexibility, empathy, negotiation and conceptual criticality to encourage change in others’ practice
  3. Fluid, cross-team collaboration in a matrix environment allows the right person to undertake the right task at the right time
  4. Matrix leadership relies upon empathy, influence, self-awareness and conflict management to drive success
  5. A sense of personal reward and value enhances individuals' emotional commitment to a project