The Challenge of Committee Participation
A committee can be one of the most productive tools that an association has to work with. Whether one is chairing a committee or is a committee member, her or she faces the challenge of getting involved in the work the committee was formed to accomplish.
A committee member's contribution and participation on the committee will determine its success or failure. If committee members participate, get involved, and encourage others on the committee to do so, the committee will be successful. Enthusiasm is contagious.
The findings of a committee have a direct impact on the decisions made by the officers and the board of directors of the association. The energy a committee member puts into your work on the committee has a direct influence on the direction your association takes.
Functions of a Committee
The primary function of a committee is to contribute to the efficient operation of an organization. In most cases, a committee is concerned with the communication of information and with assisting the leadership in the decision-making process by providing needed information.
. . . the basic purpose of a committee . . . [is] to determine through its collective wisdom, which is usually superior to that of any one member, the best solutions to a problem.
- Should be appointed because they are knowledgeable about or interested in the committee's area of activity.
- Should know who the committee chairman is.
- Should know what the specific responsibilities of committee are.
- Should know what the association's practices, policies, and procedures are.
- Should know what the responsibilities of the association staff to the committee are.
- Should know what the past performance of the committee has been.
- Should know what the reporting procedure to the board of directors is.
- Should establish only realistic attainable goals.
- Should give recognition to the committee chairman and other members of the committee.
- Should get involved and participate.
Committee members are asked to:
- Study the meeting agenda carefully before coming to the committee meeting and ask for clarification if any items are unclear. Review the supporting material.
- Stick to the agenda during the meeting. Bring up new business only at the appropriate time.
- Determine in advance how and what they will contribute to the committee meeting.
- Keep replies short and to the point. Seek information, do not deliver an oration.
- Speak in a voice everyone can hear. Wait until one has the attention of all the committee members before speaking. The Committee Chair should insure you the floor.
- Repeat remarks if you think they weren't heard.
- Sum up remarks of a lengthy discussion. Someone may have forgotten your objective before you've finished.
- Don't hesitate to comment, criticize constructively, or disagree. Know your subject and ask for support from members who believe as you do.
- Make your comments at the proper time, if you disagree with the speaker.
- Ask for the floor rather than joining in aimless group discussion if you have a comment. If what you have to say is a genuine contribution and really does make a difference, don't let it get lost in confused conversation.
- Ask dissenters to summarize their convictions in a direct statement. This permits a more thorough examination of an idea that could be highly constructive when completely understood.
- Not hurriedly pass motions as they usually don't receive the consideration they deserve. Better to table them until the next meeting, when they can be discussed in detail, than to pass a motion you might regret later.
Effective committees don't just happen. They are a combination of the right individuals, a mission, good leadership, [and] good staff work.
Even with capable members on a committee, a firm goal to achieve, and the support of the Association staff, a committee without strong leadership will be handicapped. The most consistent help for a Committee Chair will come from the Association staff. To a great extent, a Chair's ability to work with the Association ED and staff will determine his or her success as head of the committee and leader in the Association.
The Association ED and President will assist with the selection of committee members, setting objectives, and reviewing the work and communications of the committee. By keeping the Association ED and staff informed and familiar with the committee's activities and progress, they will be able to advise you on problems and procedures and can point out possible pitfalls.
The success a Committee Chair achieves will largely depend on his or her ability to preside and guide the committee to a definite goal. The following guidelines should assist Committee Chairs with running productive meetings:
- Always start the meeting on time and work with a definite agenda that has been sent to committee members in advance. Committee members should receive all the information relating to an issue, both pro and con.
- Periodically review the committee's charge relative to the objectives of the Association.
- Speak clearly. If you can't be heard, you can't exercise control. Make sure that each individual taking the floor talks clearly and audibly. Sum up what the speaker has said, entertain discussion, and obtain a decision. (Request a microphone for committee meetings, if necessary.)
- Make sure adequate minutes are kept of each meeting and that they are distributed to all committee members, Association ED and staff liaison.
- Guide, mediate, probe and stimulate discussions. Let others thrash out ideas; committees are not formed to validate the thinking of the chair or staff. The committee belongs to the Association, not to the Chair.
- Encourage a clash of ideas, but not of personalities. Good decisions are made when committees examine all sides of an issue, but don't let members personalize the debate. Emotional discussion of an idea is good, but an emotional reaction to a person is bad. When emotions are high, return the floor to a neutral person, seek a factual answer, or take a break.
- Keep discussions on track; periodically restate the issue and the goal of the discussion.
- Monitor participation; control talkative members and draw out silent members. Deal with dysfunctional behaviors. Don't let a person who is blocking constructive discussion ruin the committee meeting.
- Use well-placed questions, seek points of information and clarification, and periodically summarize to keep the discussion focused.
- Keep the group focused on the central question and moving toward a decision. Call on the least senior members first to express their views; discussions tend to "close down" after senior members express strong views.
- Seek consensus, but unanimity is not required. Sometimes an idea is compromised by trying to get every last person to completely agree.
- Close the meeting by noting achievements. Check at the end of the meeting to see if members feel that all relevant subjects have been adequately covered. (See Committee Effectiveness Survey)
How a Committee Meeting is Structured
Following is the generally accepted sequence, or order of business, that is observed for a meeting:
- Call the meeting to order on time.
- Roll Call
- Review the minutes of the previous meeting
- Discuss and resolve agenda items as they are listed
- New Business
- Adjourn the meeting on time.
An agenda needs to be developed and sent to all members of the committee prior to the meeting. It should include all topics to be discussed at the meeting and should also include the date, location, starting time, scheduled breaks, and anticipated adjourning time. Any supporting or background material to further explain or detail the items on the agenda should also be included.
Committee Chair responsibilities
- With Association staff liaison, the Committee Chair develops a work plan that will allow the committee to effectively and efficiently discharge its responsibilities for the year. He or she plans agendas for committee meetings to accomplish the committee's goals.
- The Committee Chair and staff liaison are responsible for keeping leadership and appropriate staff fully informed of committee activities. A written, quarterly report of goals and achievements should be provided to the Board of Directors.
- The Committee Chair works with Association staff to ensure that the work of the committee is carried out between meetings. He or she maintains records and relevant information on committee work to interact knowledgeably with committee members and Association staff.
- The Committee Chair reports to the committee on decisions of the Board of Directors or other Association committees that may affect the committee's work or activities.
- The Committee Chair, where appropriate, guides the committee in proposing products and services that will further the goals and objectives of the association.
- The Committee Chair evaluates the committee's efforts and communicates accomplishments to the committee and Association leadership.
- In addition to the general committee charge, which outlines the committee's scope of activity, the Association ED or President may charge the committee with specific work. The committee Chair and staff liaison are responsible for keeping the work of the committee focused on the charge and aligned with the association's strategic plan. At the conclusion of each year, the chair and staff liaison are expected to make recommendations to the ED and President regarding future work of the committee.
- Committees may not commit to expenditure of funds and may not express opinions or represent positions in the name of the Association, unless specifically authorized by the BOD. In proposing a program or activity that may involve expenditure of funds, committees must submit a program description and budget to the ED for inclusion in the Association budget and approval by the BOD.
- The committee Chair and staff liaison are responsible for keeping committee members fully informed, with timely reports of all committee meetings and committee work.
Qualities of the Effective Committee Chair
- Demonstrates ability to communicate with committee members, staff, and other groups.
- Demonstrates willingness to listen (communication is not solely talking).
- Demonstrates active participation and interest in the association.
- Has knowledge of the subject in which the committee is involved.
- Thinks in terms of association goals.
- Commands attention and inspires others.
- Demonstrates ability to create a positive work atmosphere.
- Controls without dominating.
- Understands how the committee fits into the larger work of the association.
- Demonstrates willingness to take the initiative.
- Demonstrates ability and willingness to carry out responsibilities.
- Supports orderly procedures for conducting work.
- Understands the role of the staff.
Committees are not required to operate using parliamentary procedure; however, the objectives and principles of parliamentary procedure should be employed.
The objectives of parliamentary procedure include expediting business, maintaining order, ensuring justice and equity for all, and accomplishing the objectives for which the group is organized.
The principles of parliamentary procedure include courtesy and justice to all, rule of the majority while respecting the rights of the minority, partiality to none, protection of the absentee, and taking one item of business at a time.
Staff liaisons serve as an informed resource person to the Chair and members of the committee. He or she assists the Chair in facilitating committee discussions and activities which address the committee's charge. The staff liaison works with the Chair to ensure that all committee work is consistent with the Association's goals and objectives.
The Role of the Staff Liaison
- Provide thorough orientation for each new committee chair, and assist the chair in providing orientation for new and continuing committee members each year.
- Work with the Chair to develop a plan of work that will allow the committee to effectively and efficiently discharge its responsibilities for the year.
- Work with the Chair to develop agendas and conduct effective meetings of the committee.
- Provides administrative support, including but not limited to, planning and on-site execution of all committee meetings.
- Drafts reports of committee meetings for review and approval by the committee Chair for distribution to the BOD.
- Work with the committee Chair, other committee members, and Association staff to ensure that the work of the committee is carried forth between committee meetings.
- Facilitate communication of committee activities, including requests for action and/or proposed policies, to the ED and BOD.
- Report to the committee on decisions of the BOD, ED, or other association committees which impact the committee's activities.
- Where appropriate, assist the committee in proposing products and services that will further the goals and objectives of the Association.
- Be a valuable resource to the committee, not simply a recording secretary. Note that too large a staff role reduces the value of the committee and reduces the motivation of volunteers. Too small a staff role often results in the committee's drifting aimlessly and operating ineffectively.
- Be thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the committee's work, including the scope of work, subjects under discussion, and Association policies related to the committee's work.
- Answer questions, offer suggestions and raise questions.
Orientation of the Chair by the Staff Liaison
- Determine the committee's work. Review the committee's charge and goals for the year and link them to the Association's strategic plans. Review committee projects and programs as well as assignments of individual committee members. Develop with the chair a program of work for the year. Identify the level of staff assistance needed.
- Clarify governance issues, if applicable.. Review and clarify the bounds of the committee's activity and authority. Review the association's bylaws and relevant association policies, practices and procedures that affect the committee.
- Note where the work of other committees may overlap with or affect the committee.
- Clarify the Chairperson's role and duties, and emphasize the importance of this position.
- Clarify the role of staff liaison in relation to the chair.
- Determine the process to be used during the year for handling the committee's work.
- Provide the following background information: a committee roster (and perhaps the previous year's); minutes of previous committee meetings; background on recent committee activities and accomplishments; and a list of the board of directors, key staff, and other people with whom the chair is likely to interact.
- Include the name of the committee, date, time, and place of the meeting. Note the chairperson's name, members present and absent, and other key people in attendance.
- Note all formal motions and passage of defeat.
- Note all decisions reached, including motions passed and follow-up actions to be taken, with deadlines for implementation.
- Include a brief summary of discussions. Do not attribute comments to members, except possibly where formal motions are introduced (attribution for motions is not required).
- Provide information on the time and place of the next meeting.
- Distribute the report to all committee members, including those who did not attend, within thirty (30) days of the meeting.
- In most instances, meeting reports do not require formal approval by the committee. A good approach is to send the meeting's report out immediately after the meeting with a statement to contact the Chair or staff liaison if errors are noted.