Secrets of Successful Committees Clear Goals, Following Rules Hallmark of Productive Committees

Being on a committee is no easy task. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. A three-month commitment can stretch into six months; meetings can go on forever; committee members may drift off topic; and precious, limited time can be hijacked by strong personalities.

Conversely, committee work can also be one of the most rewarding and enhancing “extracurricular” activities one can participate in. It can be a true community-building endeavor, drawing owners into the fold and pairing up individuals with common interests that might not have otherwise met.

From a board’s perspective, when committees work well they tend to work very well, serving as a vital and important tool in aiding the board. After all, a committee’s intended mission is to support and add the proverbial fuel to the board’s engine. However, when committees don’t work well they can cause long-lasting negative effects for both the board and the community at large.

Reasons for Failure

“Committees are fantastic structures; they serve to include the broader community,” states Jasmine Martirossian, author of the best-selling book “Deci-sion-Making in Communities: Why Groups of Smart People Sometimes Make Bad Decisions.” “Unfortunately, there exist a lot of anemic committees: committees that are lost, limping along and just existing, serving no purpose and having no clear goal,” says Martirossian. There are many ways to describe ineffective “anemic” committees, but at the core, three main descriptionsseem to best portray them.

No Commitment to a Goal

Erin Barnhart, director of volunteers at Idealist (an international non-profit organization that connects individuals with nonprofit jobs, volunteer opportunities, and organizations around the world) believes that when committee members lack a commitment to the common goal, “disillusionment with the process arises and the goal will fall apart.” Barnhart attributes this lack of commitment to potentially poorly-selected committee members. “When individuals are put on committees as a favor to a friend or for political reasons, they don’t necessarily have a vested interest in the cause or purpose of the committee.” Martirossian suggests that when recruiting committee members orgetting replacements, it is important to “clearly communicate the purpose of the committee, how the process will benefit them and what they will get out of the experience.” This will help to ensure a better-invested group of committee members.


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