Making Committees Work for You
How do you get things done in a committee?
We join many committees for many reasons, but generally we join them for a purpose: to get things done. If it is a pre-existing standing committee, however, we rarely find we can accomplish our goals initially. Rather, we have to gain permission (buy-in) prior to driving our agenda. How do we do that?
I can’t speak for everyone, because I am not an authority on committee dynamics, but I wanted to share a path that has consistently worked for me in my engagements in business, peer-professional, and non-profit committees.
Step 1: Show Up and Listen
There is an old saying in selling: half of winning is showing up. We have to be present and be present on a regular basis. Another trick from selling: make the customer talk more than you. The same goes for committee work. We have to listen: listen to gain the rhythm, dynamics, and concerns of the other committee members.
Before I can drive my agenda through the committee, the other members of the committee need to perceive me as non-threatening and reliable. They need to become comfortable with me. Being present and listening enables others to become comfortable with me.
Step 2: Participate
The committee will have a pre-existing work agenda and I need to participate in that work. If it is a “talking committee,” where the work to be done is to create consensus around an idea, I have to eventually chime in. If it is an “action committee,” where the work to be done is to take an action, organize an event, or execute a plan, I have to eventually take on tasks to achieve the desired action. One way or another, I eventually have to participate. I say eventually, because before I can participate in a positive manner, I have to complete step one: Show up and Listen.
The other members of the committee need to perceive me as supportive. They need to trust that I will help them accomplish the mission and goals of the committee. Chipping in to drive the pre-existing efforts to completion enables others to believe I am a trustworthy and positive contributor.
Step 3: Prep
The Four and Five Ps of execution apply to sales, marketing, and business in the same way as they apply to committee work. The Four Ps are: Proper Preparation Produces Performance. The Five Ps are its negative (put in clean language): Poor Preparation Produces Poor Performance. You have a choice.
As I gain an understanding of the mission, goals, and rhythm of the committee, I begin to prepare for each committee meeting properly. If there is a pre-read, I read it. If the meeting is about an analysis, I conduct my own analysis to compare to the formal analysis. Whatever the committee is meeting about, I try to come prepared. Otherwise, I am wasting both mine and the committee’s time, and it will be noticed.
Step 4: Follow-Up
To conduct a good, worthwhile committee meeting, a good bit of work needs to be done. This work will lead to action items, next steps, and further open questions.
Following a committee meeting, I share my notes. I try to do my work promptly. I communicate.
Committees can become bogged down in waiting for something to happen. I don’t want to be the barrier to effective work. I want to be the enabler for action. Other members of the committee will notice, and they too, if they are effective, will emulate this behavior (if they haven’t adopted it already).
Step 5: Align the Agenda
Once the other committee members have recognized that I come prepared, I do my tasks, and I listen to their concerns, I am in the position to shape the committee’s agenda towards the issues that drove me to join in the first place. Now it is time to put my goals on the agenda and make the committee work for me too.
I understand if you say “that may take a while, so let’s just define the agenda on Day 1.” That works when I have power over the committee on Day 1, but in peer committees that pre-exist my engagement, I find I don’t have that social authority. Instead, I have to create it. Maybe you have a better approach, but I thought I would share what has worked for me across many situations.
One more thing, which doesn’t really fit in the step-by-step framework provided but rather crosses all the steps: take notes. You will need them to understand the challenges the committee is facing and know what must be done.