Effective Committees: The Basics

best practices in committee effectiveness

Why Committees & Appointed Groups Don’t Work

Typically committees don't work well for many of the same reasons boards don't function effectively: the lack of long-term agendas, reliance on poor or incomplete information, and the failure to distinguish between board level and operational issues. Therefore committees can benefit from many of the same approaches that make board meetings more effective: an overview by the committee chair at the beginning of each meeting, a strategic focus for discussions, prioritized agendas, annual calendar of committee meetings and major decisions, consent agendas, and evaluation of committee meetings.

Elements Of Group Effectiveness

There are at least six elements of committee effectiveness:

Written Committee Description. First, there should be a written description of what is expected of each committee to guide the chair and members. The description should summarize the purpose of the committee, its composition and selection procedure, and the specific duties of the committee. There are several sample committee descriptions in the Tool Section of this chapter.

An effective chair. The next element is an effective chairperson. In seeking an effective chair, we're looking for two things: content knowledge and experience relevant to the work of the group as well as proven leadership and people skills that will be essential if the group is to work effectively. Of the two, the most important is leadership and people skills. Additional content knowledge is more easily acquired by a chair than the ability to lead others. Read YALSA's Job Description for Chairs to learn more.

You want a good leader of people and process, someone who feels confident in guiding group members to accomplish the task in a timely manner. The role of chair requires extra work, time for communication with group members and staff, a willingness to resolve conflicts among members, and a commitment to keep the board liaison informed at all times .

There are also some personal characteristics of the effective chair that also need to be considered:

  • Has confidence in other committee members;
  • Wants to release the potential energy of the group;
  • Is willing to relinquish some of the chair’s formal authority if the job requires it;
  • Is more interested in the committee's success than in his or her own feeling of personal importance; and
  • Is committed to creating a welcoming, inclusive environment for all and to uphold YALSA's commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

The good chair is one who can work with people, who can stimulate them rather than brow beat them and can help the group use all the abilities and experiences its members possess and new skills that they develop as they work together.

The chair will be responsible for preparing agendas for the meetings, assigning responsibilities to group members and doing some of the follow-up to make sure assigned work is being done by members.

Members thoughtfully appointed. The next element of committee effectiveness is members who have been thoughtfully appointed. Each standing committee is generally composed of a core of five to eight members. They should be recruited with the following question in mind: What tasks are the committee responsible for and who among our members possess the skills and experience needed to complete those tasks? As is the case with other forms of volunteer recruitment, every effort should be made to match the needs and requirements of the committee and the skills, knowledge and interests of prospective committee members.

Accountability to the board. The next element of committee effectiveness is clear accountability to the board of directors. This begins with the written committee function that describes what the board expects from the committee. There should also be an effort to link the committee description with relevant strategic plan language. Using a fundraising committee as an example, the committee description would reflect a major goal and supporting strategies that address the issue of association funding. Under the umbrella of the funding goal and strategies, committee leadership would develop an annual fund-raising strategy and supporting work plan in line with the funding strategic goal. This work plan would contain objectives incorporating measurable outcomes, and these measurable outcomes would be the basis for regular reporting of the committee to the board is a whole.

Well-run meetings. The last element of committee effectiveness is well run meetings. In a sense, if a committee reflects the first five indicators of effectiveness -- a clear description of its work, a chair that knows how to lead, a solid match between the interests, skills and experience of individual members on the one hand, and the needs and requirements of the committee on the other, a good mix of members, and direct accountability to the board --we will have the makings of excellent committee meetings. It will still be important to provide for meeting space that matches the needs of the group, a written meeting agenda and any necessary information mailed out to members in advance of the meeting.

Additional Practices to Enhance Group Effectiveness

Evaluating Group Meetings

At the end of each committee meeting, the chair can ask for written or oral comments about the session. In some organizations, this is a feature of every meeting and is referred to as the "check out.” A relatively small investment of time can produce continuous improvements in the work of the committees. Immediate feedback from members can be solicited on how well the meeting achieved its purposes, if members stayed on task, and if there is anything that can be done to improve effectiveness of future committee meetings.

Annual Calendar Of Major Decisions And Meetings

An annual committee calendar of major decisions and meetings is suggested. The committee calendar should also be tied into the overall annual board calendar so that efforts are unified and coordinated for maximum impact. Scheduling regular meetings of the committee in advance will also help busy people plan far enough in advance to assure good attendance.

Additional Suggestions

Committee effectiveness can also be enhanced through the following practices:

• Provide an orientation for new committee members.

• Make sure that committee members receive an agenda in advance of meetings and have all of the information they will need to complete their work.

• Provide regular and appropriate recognition to active committee members. The chair should also seek out unproductive committee members to find out what is getting in a way of performance and then devising strategies to overcome those barriers.

• Involve committee members in developing an annual committee plan of work and make sure that the committee plans are in alignment with the overall strategic plan of the association.


Sample Meeting Feedback Form

Date: _________________

Complete this form before leaving today.

Were the issues discussed substantive? Excellent Good Fair Poor

Were the materials provided helpful in understanding/resolving the issues? Excellent Good Fair Poor

Was the discussion future oriented? Excellent Good Fair Poor

How can our next meeting be more productive?

Based on today's discussion, what should we discuss in the future?

What was the most valuable contribution the committee made TODAY to the long-term welfare of the association, its members and the profession?

Please write additional comments below: