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Getting Committees to perform

Committees like all tools are powerful. If wielded properly committees can be useful and highly effective.

Why are committees necessary?

Committee means entrusting matters to some persons to achieve a desired outcome.

No individual can know everything, nor can devote time to think about all matters.

Committees can be of several kinds. A committee can be a small group of people who examine challenges, situations and problems and recommend solutions on behalf of all members of an organisation.

In many cases committees do not simply recommend, they also manage. Meaning they plan, direct, staff, deploy, coordinate and control resources to achieve certain desired goals.

Committees work on the principle that many heads are better than one. Hoping that there will be less nepotism, and corruption and higher quality of decisions and actions.

I pointed out the problems with committees and why they tend to be dysfunctional. Take the example of the construction of three European cathedrals, which took more than 500 years to build simply because of using committees. There were simply too many people involved in decision making and hence the plans and strategy kept on changing. Cologne Cathedral took 632 years to build (1248 - 1880), St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague took 585 years (1344~1929), and Milan Cathedral took 579 Years (1386~1965). History is replete with such examples.

How then to make committees effective?

It is best when the committee and its members are responsible both for making recommendations for evolving solutions and also for delivering results.

The challenge arises when people who have no stake in the outcomes or are far removed from the reality of the challenge make recommendations that are ineffective even regressive. Stakeholders, that is people affected by the decisions participate in the committee both in formulating and in managing.

Committees are excellent for getting a particular outcome. When it appears many people were involved the public believes it must be right.

In reality, it is what a few individuals game the committee proceedings. They manipulate and manage the majority of the committee (who are mostly disinterested or incompetent) to vote or act in a particular manner. This is called 'group think' where everyone believes someone else is doing the thinking and so just gives their assent to decisions without thinking. Before we know it everyone goes with the group and we have very bad or unsatisfactory outcomes.

The smaller the number of people in a committee the faster it moves to decide and give effect to decisions. The greater the number of members in a committee, the slower and more sluggish the pace of deliberation, decision making and taking action. Quality also suffers.

The problem with committees is that they follow a process, but are usually not accountable for outcomes.

Sometimes the committee members break down into semantics and focus on behaviour rather than on desired results. As a result committee, the committee fails to deliver on outcomes.

Every individual is unique. Each is full of quirks, biases, individual mannerisms and style. If we focus on obtaining desired results rather than on behaviour, desired outcomes are easier to achieve.

I almost always adopt what is called a task force approach. A task force for delivering an outcome that is specific, measurable, timebound and within a budget.

To give effect to a task force, a task leader is elected, chosen or assigned a task. He or she then chooses a team from within the group that agrees to support him or her in the achievement of that task. They work out the mechanism of their teamwork and each team member has smaller tasks within the overall task goal.

I believe that 'What is not reviewed is not done' so progress is reviewed periodically with corrections, and modifications if any being made to remain on track to achieve the goal.

Voila! The task force approach performs well and inevitably they achieve the desired outcome, often exceeding their expectations.

There is also the possibility that occasionally the task force is not able to deliver the desired outcome. In that case review the task expectations, the leadership, the team members, available resources etc. and either abandon the task or make necessary changes and try again. When individuals are clear about their responsibility and are well supported, it is rare for them to fail unless the leadership is corrupt, insincere or grossly incompetent.

An African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Committees bring us closer and help us achieve what we want, provided we hold the committee responsible for the outcomes. This is the way to go far in the right direction.


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