Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, working on and leading a committee – 14: adding the right levels and types of formal structure to meet committee charter needs

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 20, 2012

This is my fourteenth 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 206-218 for parts 1-13.) And in a fundamental sense I turn in it back to my first installment in this series where I outlined as a matter of best practices, what a well-run committee is. I have done that before in this series and certainly when discussing subcommittees. In this posting I go back to in effect question and reexamine the basic premises that I have built this series around. And my questions here all revolve around the central issue of when the structure and complexity that I offer here actually makes sense – and when and how to simplify the basic committee model in practice, where and when it does not.

• When do you need the full committee complexity and structure that I have outlined in Part 1 and subsequent installment? And when you don’t need that what can and should you dispense with and what should you retain, and under what determinative circumstances?
• If you begin with and continue with too simple and unstructured a committee and work process, you will find yourself facing avoidable delays, confusion, gaps, frustration and inefficiency. The work you set up the committee for, will not effectively get done and people who are involved in this as committee members and outside charter stakeholders will know that and resent it – and see this effort as a waste of their time.
• If, on the other hand, you start with and insist on too complex and baroque a committee structure and process people will resent and resist that, viewing the committee as more an exercise in ego and misuse of power and authority than anything else – and the result is that the committee charter might not get completed from getting lost in the committee’s excess complexity and regimentation.
• How do you find the right approach and the right level of structure and organized process?

Begin with analysis and review of the basic charter as defined in Part 1, and its requirements.

• What precisely has to be done?
• What members and types of member have to be included on the committee?
• Who are the stakeholders who would gain specific value from the completion of the committee charter?
• What types of records and documentation will be needed, and with this taking into account both charter and outside regulatory and due diligence requirements and the need for satisfying them?
• If this is a large and complex charter, are their specialized areas that could best be broken out of it for handing and resolution by a subcommittee?
• Basically, go through the checklist of areas and issues that I have successively touched upon to see if they would add value or simply contribute to wasted effort and clutter, here looking at all of this in terms of the charter and the people who would be directed affected by it as a focus point.

If the goal of a committee charter is simply to pick a new color to paint the employee break room in – you may still need to include some of the structure I have been writing of here. Otherwise you might find the new paint color committee members hounded by fellow employees who have to use that room even though the only people who seemingly like that color on the walls are the people who selected it. In this case, non-committee stakeholders cover a wide reach and the committee might best reach out more widely, and yes perhaps even give the entire involved community a voice and a vote with an online voting tool placed on the corporate intranet. My point here is that finding the right level is not always easy or obvious. And the level and selection of structure and process that is started out with may very well need to be adjusted or changed.

• A viable, effective committee is like a living organism and that means capacity for dynamic change and adjustment. Organization and process change may be needed, adding in details and structures, reducing excess complexity or both. So do not start out by setting how the committee works and is structured as if in stone.

Now look to the resources available to the organization that would include and utilize this committee.

• If you have a small enough business or organization so that everyone in it can meet in a single room and not only if you have access to an auditorium or stadium – a small room, you are probably going to want to keep any committees formed simple and even if their charters would be complex in nature.
• Add in committee complexity that makes sense for the organization and its scale and complexity, as well as making sense for the charter and its complexity.
• And keep things as simple and clutter-free as would make sense and work, only adding in the specific structures and complexities that would add positive value.
• I will add in that context that a well-developed and planned out intranet and information management system that supports standard and even off the shelf social media and information sharing tools and other online collaborative resources, can bring in a suite of basic organization-wide resources and essentially for free, to any committee that might be needed.
• Here, business as usual tools can best be viewed as free of any committee complexity overhead costs. So plan and run committees with the basic resources in place taken into account and do not reinvent the wheel in doing basic tasks differently except for specific reason. And I add that IT and the services it works and plans with should select the basic organization-wide resources in place with the potential needs of committees in mind too.

I have been discussing committees per se, and from a wide range of perspectives and in terms of a wide range of potential organizational and process needs. Now that I have laid out a basic model of what a best practices committee is and how it is set up and run, and scaled for complexity to meet realistic needs, I am going to turn to the issues of day to day and meeting to meeting committee participation – committee etiquette. Ultimately, a committee will fail and even if all of the details I have been discussing up to now are effectively planned for and carried out upon, if member behavior and participatory practices are systematically off.

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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