The leadership literature suggests that teams at the top of an organization face much greater challenges than other teams. A team leading an organization must deal with failure and adapt to success, deal with its own personnel conflicts within the team, adjust strategy to brutal new realities. Also must adapt to growth, resistance and reversals. With an endless list of dynamics that disrupt trust and bruise egos, highly effective teams are difficult to build and lead consistently.

From either perspective, it is clear that strategic planning has become the standard term for defining policy work in higher education. In fact, as we shall see, planning represents one of many types of strategy. However, this is the terminology that is mainly used on campus. As we will review and document at greater length in multiple contexts, there is no consistent or parallel consensus on how strategic planning should be done, nor the benefits of doing so. Although the broad outlines of these processes are often similar, the similarities end there. It is more of a category than a specific method, and planning often functions as a figure of speech. Ironically, the term strategic planning became popular in the corporate world in the 1960s to designate a process of detailed programmatic design and control that some colleges and universities have actually used.

If the nature of planning can change, his views on meritocracy bemoan its vagueness and lack of empirical evidence for its effectiveness, yet governing bodies and others on campus find it a useful or even invaluable process. Many, if not some administrators, view faculty members as a managerial threat or a colossal waste of time for academic administration. Perhaps the most common lament is that strategic planning makes no difference to the way organizations actually do things.

One of my primary motivations is the desire to respond to this mixed experience using strategic planning in higher education. I prefer the more basic terms strategy or strategy process, although I use and differentiate the meaning of strategic planning in various contexts. In the early years of the new millennium it became clear that strategic planning and management, or better the strategy process, needed to be reconceptualized and revised. When it fails, it is often not clearly defined. It is also due to non-alignment of values, mental models, complex leadership, governance systems of colleges and universities. Doing so has become an important priority, as issues that shape the future of higher education require ever more sophisticated forms of decision making.