In accordance with the Non-profit Organisations Act, a non-profit organisation (NPO) must table an annual report at an Annual General Meeting held for its members. As a NPO responsible for quality assurance and the HR profession, the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) is such an organisation. However, a significant proportion of the work of NPOs is done by volunteers as part of the committees or projects of the organisation. Thus, it can be said that together with its management and staff, committees are at the centre of the activities of a NPO. However, not all committees are always effective and I therefore want to discuss the effectiveness of committees in this article.
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. Positive outcomes from effective committees are rich, diverse, consultative and have impact.
Your communication skills and teamwork improve when you are part of a committee. In essence, committee work is about generating and consolidating ideas needed to culminate in effective projects. Additionally, 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.
When meeting with Lynda Smith from the Refirement Network this week, I also realised how important it is to tap into the wisdom and insights of our older generation. Imagine the collective wisdom of the 50 plus members of our society. All of them have three decades of solid work experience and they therefore possess a rich skills base that can be transferred to the younger generation as our future leaders and professionals climbing the corporate ladder and entrepreneurial businesses.
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 NPOs, I reflected on the successes and failures of committees. The key question is why some committees are more effective than others, and essentially three key factors emerged:
Leadership, talent and teamwork. Great committees achieving great work have great leaders. They tap into the talent of the committee members and the vast pool of talent outside the committee. Ultimately, they ensure good teamwork among committee members when they plan the way forward with projects after key decisions have been taken.
In the light of the above examples of high performance committees, it is evident that the three factors of leadership, talent and teamwork contributed significantly to their success. The full results of their work will be shared at the SABPP Annual General Meeting in Pretoria on 21 June 2018.
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.
I want to thank all SABPP committees for their great work in taking the HR profession forward. Ultimately, as professionals, we need to realise that our profession is as strong as our committees. Let us continue to build strong committees, drive sound governance and deliver effective projects advancing the HR profession in the process.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).