Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, working on and leading a committee – 12: subcommittees

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 10, 2012

This is my twelfth installment in a series on committees, and on joining, working on and leading them (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 206-216 for parts 1-11.) In a real sense this is also a direct continuation of Part 1: introducing a new series in which I outlined a basic model as to what an effective, well-run committee is. I at least briefly considered making this posting my second in the series, but decided it would make more sense to delve into a number of issues related to committee functioning and membership first. So with that more extensive foundation for discussion in place, I turn here to consider subcommittees. And in keeping with this posting being a continuation of the first in the series, I begin with the basics that I started setting up there.

• In the same way as well-run committee has and adheres to a charter – a set goal or objective that is worked towards according to an agenda, an effective, functionally significant subcommittee has a charter too.
• The subcommittee charter is carved out of the committee charter that it is to support the fulfilling of.
• This might be done for any of a variety of reasons, and there should be an explicit reason.
• A particular area or aspect of the overall committee charter might require particular hands-on expertise in some specific skill set for meaningful contribution to its resolution.
• A particular area of the committee charter might require delving into a great deal of detail that the entire committee need not be involved with, where the committee as a whole only really needs to see the fruits of a larger, more focused effort.
• A committee might need to see findings based on data that has to remain confidential in order to satisfy organizational or outside regulatory requirements. To take this out of the abstract, if a committee has a charter that involves the processing and management of personally identifiable, confidential customer or client information, or employee information for that matter, a subcommittee of members with permissions and authorizations for seeing and working with this specific information might work separately where it is necessary to look into the impact of committee work on individuals and their data. This subcommittee would then report back to the committee of the whole on their findings and on any issues they encountered that would connect into fulfilling the committee charter.

The basic idea here is that subcommittees should be set up with they could increase committee effectiveness, limit unnecessary work burdens on committee members as a group, or in order to satisfy due diligence or other organization-wide concerns. And like a committee as a whole, when a subcommittee charter has been resolved, has reached an expiration date for relevancy, or has reached a point where its chartered activities no longer need to be carried out, that subcommittee should be dissolved.

If committees are set up and continue simply because there has always been an X committee, or continue on and flounder without focus even when needed, this same experientially based cause of concern applies to subcommittees too. Subcommittees can make real sense and breaking out components of an overall committee charter that way may be both effective and even necessary. But subcommittees should be goals oriented and with a primary mission of completing their work as expeditiously as possible.

Do permanent, standing subcommittees ever make sense? The answer to that is yes, though a qualified yes. First of all, it does not make sense to even consider an open-ended goals-oriented subcommittee except for when you are dealing with a committee that itself needs to be maintained long-term and for managing an ongoing charter. And even within that context, a permanent subcommittee would probably only be needed for reasons of satisfying outside, ongoing legal or other regulatory requirements, as for example in my example above involving personally identifiable or otherwise confidential information.

And even in the event that a standing subcommittee appears to be needed, every subcommittee, like every committee, should undergo periodic, and regularly scheduled review, and both of its charter and its performance – two sides of the same coin.

I am going to turn to the issues of chairing a committee and committee leadership in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and others of this series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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