“A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”
Sir Barnett Cocks
It happens all the time in the legislative process. We’ve all heard the term “the bill died in committee,” or a more prevalent comment heard today “they failed to reach a consensus.”
I was once asked to chair a meeting because the person appointed couldn’t be there. Having participated as a committee member I knew the several members were accustomed to speaking when they wanted, on whatever they wanted, and at great length I might add. It wasn’t my place to fix the problem (I also didn’t think it could be done) so I just let those people ramble on.
These types of results can be avoided if you follow some simple guidelines when appointing a committee.
- Make sure there is a need for a committee – Is the issue complex enough and requires further study or are there diverse opinions that require consensus? If not maybe all the issue needs is someone with authority to make a decision and then everyone moves on.
- Appoint a chairperson who knows what they’re doing – nothing is more frustrating and time consuming than a meeting that gets out of hand because the chair doesn’t know how to control the other members by letting debate get out of hand away from the subject matter
- Make sure the committee’s purpose is clear and the items to be decided spelled out
- Select committee members carefully – nothing is more annoying that a committee member who likes to hear him or herself talk. Also make sure the members all are thinkers and are able to understand how the decision the committee will recommend fits into the overall organizational mission and vision.
- Set a deadline on producing results – don’t let the committee meet perpetually. Require periodic reports.
Although all of this seems pretty common sense stuff but it’s usually ignored a great number of times. For further study read Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meeting.