I have worked on committees, in communities and in schools, with truly brilliant, intensely motivated, and incredibly creative individuals. And, I’ve watched and felt as all of us over time ended up as less than the sum of our parts, looking around at each other like we are sedated, wondering why we still come to these meetings, like we don’t have something else to do with our time.
And, I simply don’t understand why/how otherwise strong leaders accept becoming members of committees that end up:
Now, I have also sat on some great committees, and it is these positive experiences that really highlighted for me how to make a committee work, so that bringing leaders together can be powerful rather than neutralizing.
So to start, here are a few red flags (sadly from lived experience) that might inspire some critical reflection on your committee work:
Red Flag: When I ask you what you do as an organization, collaborative, or initiative, and you lead with how many committees you have…
Red Flag: When I ask you what your committee does and you tell me when and where it meets…
Red Flag: When I ask you how long you have been on a committee and you can’t really remember…
Red Flag: When I ask you who else is on the committee and you include the people who used to, or only occasionally still, show up to the meetings…
Red Flag: When I ask you what a typical meeting is like and the long, meandering answer you kindly attempt to offer can be summed up by “we talk about stuff”…
Whether you enjoy working through committees, volunteering to serve on them, or you reluctantly have them imposed on you, it’s important to be mindful that they are merely means; they are not ends. A committee is not an outcome. It’s not a product.
A committee is an operational tactic, not a strategy.
So, here are a few thoughts on how to start and end a committee so that it serves its function and doesn’t linger:
The two most successful committees I have been a part of followed these four key recommendations. The ones that have not (and they are many) have ended up lost, without focus, evolved into “standing” committees and, perhaps most humorously, rebranded themselves as “working groups” without making any real process adjustments.
With all there is to accomplish in our schools and communities, we simply cannot afford to let our leadership die in committee.
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