Just like eating, sleeping, and exercise, the work required to build and maintain relationships and to work collectively with colleagues has to be a priority. Those relationships are the foundation that makes a lot of other things possible.
You cannot leave it to whatever time remains. Nor is it helpful to enter every collective situation resentful of the time this is taking away from something else.
Like all of your other priorities, you also need boundaries. Collective activities are not always more important than things you do alone. They are some of the balls you are juggling.
Being part of a collective takes time
That involves a lot of low stakes activity like having coffee, attending receptions, going to seminars on topics that may not be directly relevant to your own work, stopping in the corridor to chat. Something as simple as smiling and saying hello as you pass someone is worthwhile.
It’s not always easy to judge how much time to devote to these things. There are no hard and fast rules. And you might have to step over a line to figure out where it is. Similarly, you will need to figure out a way to do these things that works for your personality. There is no one right way.
When you first join a new institution, or take on a new role, you may have to increase the amount of time and energy you devote to this foundational relationship building activity. Once established, relationships take less time to maintain.
Being part of a collective is hard
You need to listen to understand, not just to reply.
You need to figure out how to communicate what seems obvious to you but is not obvious to others.
You need to compromise to find ways of working that meet everyone’s needs.
Not everyone is like you. They don’t think like you. They don’t completely share your values. They are knowledgeable but about different things.
Some people are extrovert decision makers, needing to discuss options to come to a conclusion. Others are introvert decision makers who need to mull things over alone before discussing them with others.
Some people are big picture thinkers and often miss details. Others are focused on details and sometimes miss the big picture.
Some people dive into projects and figure out the details as they go along. Others need to research and plan in great detail before they can start.
The advantage of being a collective is that these strengths complement each other. The frustration is that it’s hard to communicate with people who approach things differently.
You may have more freedom and autonomy as an academic than you would in another job but you are still an employee. You work in a department, which is part of a faculty or school, which is part of a larger institution called the university. That has implications for what you do and how you do it.
As Professor Jeffrey Weeks said to me when I was complaining about departmental politics early in my career: “You will figure it out.”