In the twenty-five plus years I have worked in the professional services community, I have served and worked on numerous committees. A well-run committee is critical to the management of any organization or firm to get work completed efficiently, effectively and creatively. All too often, I have watched committees fail when they had formed with all of the best of intentions.
So what is it about committees that seem to go wrong? And, how can you improve your chances of forming a successful committee that will get a job done and get it done right? Here are some lessons I’ve learned behind the many closed committee doors that you might find helpful when managing and/or forming a successful committee:
1) Decide if you really need a committee or a smaller task force. If you are undertaking a large firm-wide assignment then you will most likely need a committee. However, if your assignment is for a smaller, single task – then a task force may work best.
2) When you are faced with forming larger committees try to include multiple segments of the firm so that most people will feel appropriate representation. And, when asking folks to work on the committee, make sure they have a genuine interest in the assignment. Include members with differing opinions – hearing naysayers early on will help you address any push back that might come up later when your ideas are presented to larger audiences.
3) Clearly define the purpose of the committee and the roles of its members. Without a defined purpose or goal, timelines, budget and measures for success, your committee may likely flounder and fail.
4) Whenever possible, meet in-person, via videoconference or by phone so that people have the opportunity to actually hear and listen to each other. Meetings via email, while seemingly efficient, do not allow for creative interaction and often result in the misinterpretation of a responder’s ideas or thoughts.
5) Start each meeting with a brief review of your last meeting and revisit your plan to insure everyone is on task with your overall objectives. Consider adopting the de Bono method of parallel thinking and his Six Thinking Hats® communication approach to help people be more productive, focused and creatively involved.
6) Process is important. Many committees fail due to a lack of operational structure of the meeting. At a minimum try to:
- Start on time.
- Record meeting minutes.
- Follow an agenda.
- Listen to each other.
- Assign specific action items to those that have expressed interest or have expertise in a particular objective.
- Agree upon the date for the next meeting that is mutually convenient for all members.
7) Report to management. Recognize individual’s contributions in these reports so that everyone shares in the success of the assignment.
There are many reasons why committees may fail including; the lack of a strong leader or having a leader that’s intimidating, unclear committee objectives, personality conflicts, fear of criticism from other committee members, dismissing committee members’ suggestions, not allowing outside consultants you’ve hired to have access to firm leadership to help support or explain something where they may have expertise, getting sidetracked or off task, you get the idea.
Bar none, the most common mistake I’ve witnessed and the most sure fire way to kill the work of any committee is to allow the group into the tar pit thinking of: “But that’s not the way we’ve always done it before.” Should anyone start to say these ten words – stop them as soon as possible. Consider making it a rule that this phrase is banned from all meetings. Today’s committees should be formed to do things in new and innovate way and to pave the way for the future. As my friend Jonathan Fitzgarrald, author of “Bad for the Brand”, has written “…you can be a first-class passenger or business-class participant.” The same is true for committees. It may take more effort, but with a little practice, an open mind and the willingness to work as a team, your committee you can accomplish almost anything.
What other ways do think committees can function better? Let us know.