Someone once said: “An effective committee consists of three people of whom two are absent”. In other words, if you want to ensure a task is executed successfully, rather give it to an individual. A similar cynical view is that if you want to fail in executing a task, give it to a committee! While there may be some truth in these negative perspectives about the role and impact of committees, the reality is that there is value in committees than these negative perspectives allude to:
Committees solve difficult problems that cannot be solved by an individual or in our case one company, a specialist/expert, etc; leveraging contributions from different people, often representing different departments, stakeholders and interest groups. The outcomes are rich, diverse and consultative.
Committees encourage learning. When you are part of a committee and are actively engaged, you always learn, you will research and find out more about your area of impact and you will also learn from the other committee members.
Your communication skills and teamwork improve when you are part of a committee.
In essence, an effective committee can play an important role in ensuring good governance, joint decision-making, growth and sustainability.
Jake van der Wilden, a member of the SABPP Professional Registration Committee says that committee success also depends on listening skills. Members must listen to one another and the stakeholders they are serving. SABPP Chairperson, Siphiwe Moyo warns against the current practice of a new generation simply discarding the values, wisdom and achievements of the previous generation. He reminds us of the importance of building on past successes and retaining institutional memory. While new ideas and innovation are always welcome in a committee, the reality is that you go backwards if you discard or undo the good work of your predecessors.
Having worked as part of committees for a very long time, and also being dependent on the contributions and outputs of committees in most aspects of our work as a professional body working closely with business, government institutions and other non-profit organisations, we reflected on the successes and failures of committees. We asked ourselves the question why some committees are more effective than others, and essentially three key factors emerged:
Leadership, talent and teamwork.
Building on these critical success factors for effective committees, in reality the best committees are really active; in other words they are able to make decisions and drive clear actions in making a difference in their area of impact. We formed the word ACTIVE as an acronym illustrating what good committees are all about:
In conclusion, good committees are active teams of committed people driving clear outputs. The role of the chairperson as leader is key in steering the committee in the right direction and to focus discussions on adding value to the organisation and its stakeholders. However, having the right talent at the table is a key factor in driving sustainable outcomes. Ultimately, effective committee work is about good teamwork, but it is the role of the chairperson to foster a climate of good teamwork in achieving the goals of the committee. Managing an effective meeting, and then steering the committee towards agreed actions is a unique skill that all good committee chairpersons have mastered. Moreover, staying in touch between meetings to keep the committee members engaged and focused is key in ensuring momentum and follow-through on decisions taken, in particular regarding the execution of key actions. The success of effective committees is all about good leadership, talent and teamwork.
Wishing all SABPP committees a good period of rest in the December holidays and the best for the year 2018. Let us get some rest, then come back rejuvenated to achieve great committee work and outputs in 2018.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and Vice-chairperson of the Talent Advisory Board of the University of South Africa. Elizabeth Dhlamini-Kumalo is a retired HR Executive, Executive Coach and former Chairperson of SABPP. She chairs the HR Governance Committee of SABPP.