During a recent business meeting, I heard a phrase that always makes me cringe: “I think we should form a committee.” What followed that statement confirmed all the reasons I dislike committees. Who should chair the committee? Who should be on the committee? When should the committee meet? What should the committee focus on?
Not one of those questions got answered. Why? I chalk it up to something simple. The very idea of forming a committee creates a breeding ground for indecision. Instead of people accepting individual responsibility, they look around and wait for other people to make the decision.
Look, committees have their place in business. Sometimes we need to cross pollinate ideas between departments or even from separate industries. However, if you want to avoid the pitfalls and get real work done, here’s a list of things you shouldn’t do.
1. Don’t suggest a committee unless you’re prepared to lead. A lack of leadership is the fastest way to kill a committee. If you really believe there’s value in a committee, be prepared to step up and lead. Don’t waste time hoping someone else will volunteer.
2. Don’t ignore pre-existing issues. Forming a committee doesn’t make underlying problems go away. For instance, what if two people that should be on your committee hate each other? How will you handle those interpersonal conflicts without distracting from the work of the committee?
3. Don’t let the committee go astray. It’s tempting to let other issues get sucked into a committee. After all, if we’re already working on improving customer service policies, shouldn’t we be dealing with all company policies? Keep the focus on the original goal unless there’s a specific reason for expanding the committee’s scope.
4. Don’t assume the committee will solve the problem completely. A committee may make huge inroads on solving an issue, but more work may be needed, separate from the committee. Understand what your committee can and can’t do to set realistic expectations for what work can be accomplished.
5. Don’t pretend that a committee is the solution to the problem. Forming a committee is just the first step. Don’t get sucked into the notion that the work is done once the committee exists.
Groups of smart people can collaborate and accomplish a lot of good. But for some reason, once these groups get called a committee, common sense seems to disappear.
So the next time you voice the words, “I think we should form a committee,” understand what you’re really saying and what you’ll need to do to make it a success.