WHY COMMITTEES ARE ESSENTIAL
Committees are the operating system of an association. Committees involve voluntary members in the development and delivery of services, represent member opinion in decision-making, and help serve member needs through interaction. They also offer the opportunity for group problem-solving and can be a forum for presenting multiple points of view. Committees are also the training ground for future leadership and an arena where emerging leaders can test and refine their skills and abilities. For these reasons, committee effectiveness is critical for ensuring the needs of the members are met and helping to keep the Association moving forward.
Effective committees don’t just happen. They are carefully planned and constructed to have a balanced representation of members, a clearly defined mission or objective and work plan, a dedicated chair, and competent staffing.
There are two basic types of committees — standing committees and special committees and/or task forces. Standing committees serve an ongoing, continuous function and operate on an ongoing basis. Their function usually deals with organizational and operational procedures, or with specific permanent features of association programs. A special committee, often referred to as a task force, is assembled to accomplish a specific objective, with the expectation that the group will disband when the objective has been completed.
The areas of accountability for each standing committee within the association should be defined. The very process of clarifying each group’s mission establishes what results the board expects from the committees’ efforts and eliminates the possibility of having several committees undertaking the same tasks.
The overall success of a committee can often be directly linked to the effectiveness of the committee chair. This individual is ultimately responsible, along with the staff liaison, for planning the work of the committee, conducting meetings, and following established procedure to make sure objectives are met.
For the committee to be effective, the new chair needs a thorough orientation to their new role. That includes determining the committee’s mission, work agenda, clarifying governance roles — who does what, why, and how; what sort of checks and balances exist; the responsibilities and expectations of the chair (including outlining their duties); and complete background information. Background information should include the committee roster for the current year, minutes from past committee meetings, and background on the committee’s accomplishments and activities. It may also be a good idea to conduct an annual committee orientation planning meeting for all incoming committee members.
Once the committee’s chairs have been selected, they must communicate the obligations of committee participation to the current committee members. Committee members need to clearly understand exactly what a position on the committee entails, including the time commitment, job duties, meeting times, and so on. Without understanding this up front, people who are willing to serve may not be positioned to serve well.
Association staff should play an active role in the committee, working closely with the committee chair. The staff liaison performs a variety of tasks to ensure the committee follows the mission and goals for the year. Part of ensuring those goals are completed is for staff to develop and maintain committee descriptions, procedural information, and minutes and activity reports for committees and directors. They should also provide administrative assistance to the chair in setting up and conducting meetings, so that committee members can focus on the bigger picture.
-Mandi Meador with GTAR